By the bye: Blackhawks keep rolling following break

By the bye: Blackhawks keep rolling following break

When you're on a roll, you hate disrupting it for anything.

The Blackhawks probably felt that in some respect heading into the new NHL-mandated bye week on Feb. 12, but the need for rest usurped any worry on that front. Still, when the Blackhawks reconvened last Friday, the question remained if they could pick up where they left off on that pre-bye, five-game winning streak.

As coach Joel Quenneville said of the unusual break, "we talked about it going into it: you don't know how you're going to come out of it."

Apparently it hasn't been a problem.

The Blackhawks have won two of their first three out of the bye, including their 5-3 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night.

Coming out of this break hasn't been easy for a lot of teams. The Blackhawks, like 11 other teams up to this point, lost their first game out of it. But in that loss to Edmonton, the Blackhawks played well. That continued on Sunday in Buffalo and on Tuesday in Minnesota. Now back in a rhythm schedule-wise, the Blackhawks are hitting their stride performance-wise.

"I thought we played a good game against Edmonton but we still felt there'd be some good will down the road. I thought we continued on with these next two on the road, probably played the same way going into it. So it's been a good stretch for us, and much better than we were at the beginning of the year," Quenneville said. "I like the improvement in our game."

A big part of the Blackhawks' success is finding their four-line rotation.

Jonathan Toews was joined by Nick Schmaltz and Richard Panik early in the Ice Show trip, the three were given time to mesh and it's paying productive dividends. The second line is always a threat. Their third and fourth lines are a great combination of defense, skill and youth.

As the lines have started rolling, so have the Blackhawks. Each line had someone score against Buffalo. The top line thrived vs. the Wild. 

"I think all year we kind of expected the offense, coming from Arty's [Artem Anisimov's] line and maybe my line, but what's making us a really good team is our third and fourth line going out there and just battling every shift, just working, giving other teams no time, no chance to make plays with the puck," Toews said. "I think when you can rotate four lines like that, everyone starts to pick up their pace and their speed and then you just rotate in and it doesn't matter who scores on a given night. We're getting contributions from all over the place and it makes you a dangerous team and a tough team to beat."

Instead of taking steam out of the Blackhawks' sails, the bye appears to have re-energized them.

"Yeah it was good for our team," Ryan Hartman said. "We had a few guys who didn't get [rest during] the all-star break. They were still playing, and it was nice for those guys to get away from the rink and kind of get in the sun and take your mind of hockey for a bit, refresh the brain and body. I think we all needed those couple days of rest. As it's looked the last couple of games we've looked fresh and we've been bringing it almost a full 60. I wouldn't say we're quite playing a full 60 but we're really close and that was crucial for us."

Playing a full 60 was one of the Blackhawks' biggest problems earlier this season. Much like the four-line rotation, it's showing up at the right time. The Blackhawks have a great opportunity this week to get closer to the Wild, who started their break on Wednesday.

The issues that plagued the Blackhawks earlier this season are starting to dissipate. They weren't sure how they were going to come out of this break. So far, they've followed rest and relaxation with a rejuvenated game. 

"We're just rolling four lines now. Every line can score and every line's playing the best hockey," Panik said. "That's helped us."

Quick Hits: Blackhawks respond the right way in win over Wild

Quick Hits: Blackhawks respond the right way in win over Wild

ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild have faced each other a lot the past few seasons, especially when you factor in the postseason series. But if we got a whole series like Tuesday night's game, I don't think anyone would argue against it.

Great energy, great action, great performances, including a big one from the Blackhawks' captain. But we'll get to that soon enough. Here are the notables from the Blackhawks' 5-3 victory over the Wild.

What Worked: The Blackhawks' second-period response. The last time the Blackhawks were here they took a lead but watched the Wild come back with a fury. You wondered if the same would happen on Tuesday night after Mikael Granlund's power-play goal tied the game 1-1 early in the second. But the Blackhawks turned up the intensity, retaking the lead just 41 seconds later (Richard Panik) and putting the Wild on the defensive the rest of the period. The Blackhawks outshot the Wild 13-5 in the second.

What Didn't Work: The penalty kill. The Blackhawks only took two penalties on Tuesday night but they were both costly. The Wild – namely Mikael Granlund – made them pay with two power-play goals, including one with less than seven minutes remaining in regulation. The Wild have shown this season that they won't go away quietly in any game. They just about came back in this one, thanks to their power play.

Star of the game: Jonathan Toews. Yeah, you're all shocked at this one, aren't you? The goaltenders stole the show in the first period by the end of this one, it was all Toews all the time with a five-point night that included his fourth career regular-season hat trick. Coach Joel Quenneville said during Toews' struggles that he figured the captain would turn it around at some point. And here we are. "Jonny's done so many things for us," Quenneville said. "An amazing player, as competitive as you'll ever find. What a great leader, great captain."

He Said It: "We want to get that top spot and chasing that [Minnesota Wild] team, it's a huge win on the road. Hopefully we can keep playing that same style. It's a lot of fun to play. We have all four lines going and we're doing a lot of good things. Hopefully we can keep this going." Nick Schmaltz on the Blackhawks' current game.

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By the Numbers: 

400 – Career victories for coach Joel Quenneville behind the Blackhawks bench. 

7 – Consecutive road victories for the Blackhawks which, according to them and Elias Sports, ties a franchise record originally set Dec. 9-29, 1964.

13 – Points for Richard Panik (six goals, seven assists) since Jan. 22.

100th – Career game for Dennis Rasmussen.

2 – Career five-point games for Jonathan Toews. His previous one came Nov. 25, 2011 against the Anaheim Ducks.

Jonathan Toews has five-point night, including a hat trick, in Blackhawks' win over Wild

Jonathan Toews has five-point night, including a hat trick, in Blackhawks' win over Wild

ST. PAUL, Minn. – The points weren't there for Jonathan Toews earlier in the season. His confidence waned, too, as the Blackhawks captain's frustrations built.

Fast forward to the present, when Toews is starting to look like himself again. And on Tuesday, as the Blackhawks continued to play their best hockey of the season, Toews had his most productive game of the season.

Toews had a five-point night, including a hat trick, as the Blackhawks beat the Minnesota Wild 5-3. The Blackhawks won their seventh consecutive road game, tying a franchise record first set during the 1964-65 season. The Blackhawks have won seven of their last eight games and are now five points behind the Wild, who enter their bye week. 

As much as the Blackhawks wanted to be rounding into form at this point of the regular season, so did Toews. The visible frustration he showed earlier this season, when nothing seemed to work offense-wise, is gone. He, Richard Panik and Nick Schmaltz have formed a strong and productive top line, with all three having great nights on Tuesday. Schmaltz had a goal and two assists and Panik had a goal and an assist.

"I think even the other night in Buffalo we had a ton of chances and the puck wasn't going in much. But sometimes you just have nights like that. Either way it's a lot of fun to play with Schmaltzy and Panner right now the way they're working, the way they're holding onto the puck," Toews said. "It's nice for us to get some results. It definitely changes the way you see yourself and your confidence. It's a lot of fun to come to the rink to come working at it and keep improving off efforts like that."

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The Blackhawks needed every bit of what they got on Tuesday, be it from Toews or from the team overall. The Wild, once again, weren't going away quietly. Mikael Granlund's second power-play goal of the night, with less than seven minutes remaining in regulation, cut the Blackhawks' lead to 4-3 at the time. Toews' lengthy empty-net goal with 1:02 left in the game sealed it.

"He just wasn't getting the bounces at the start of the year. He always worked so hard. You knew at some point tides were going to change for him," said Schmaltz, whose slick behind-the-back pass led to Toews' second goal of the night. "Pucks are going in, he's hanging around the net and he's burying a few lately. It's great to see."

The Blackhawks are finding their four-line rotation and their more complete game at just the right time. Toews is doing the same thing with his production.

"I think for me the biggest change in my approach to the game is just my expectation. Just try and go into every game with no expectation, focus on the process, focus on playing well, playing the right way, staying in the moment, especially if things don't go in or things don't go your way," Toews said. "Just building one game after another to try and follow up good efforts and put weeks together, multiple games back to back."