Comfortable Kero: Quick hits from Blackhawks-Penguins

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USA TODAY

Comfortable Kero: Quick hits from Blackhawks-Penguins

PITTSBURGH – Well, that looked more familiar, didn’t it?

The Blackhawks put talk into action on Wednesday night, storming out to an early lead and never letting up in a 5-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. They’re sitting in a good spot right now, sporting a nine-point lead over the Minnesota Wild – yes the Wild still has that game in hand – and, with five games remaining, they once again played the complete game they’d been missing.

The schedule doesn’t let up, so let’s get to the notables.

What Worked: The Blackhawks’ first period. If there’s such thing as a statement 20 minutes, the Blackhawks made it in Pittsburgh. If the Penguins made a bad pass, the Blackhawks turned it into an opportunity and, a few times, a goal. The Blackhawks had a similarly sharp first period against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday. On Wednesday, however, they didn’t lose any steam later.

What Didn’t Work: The power play. Yeah, you really have to reach to find something that didn’t work for the Blackhawks in this one. Their power play, however, didn’t do much. Their best chance on it was a Jonathan Toews shot on their second power play; that shot was blocked before it got to Marc-Andre Fleury. Their third power play, which came on a phantom tripping call on Conor Sheary, was their quietest of the night.

Star of the game: Tanner Kero. The kid’s been alright at second-line center, and he did a little bit of everything on Wednesday night. Kero had five shots on goal, the secondary assist on Artemi Panarin’s early goal and added a breakaway goal of his own early in the third period. He also won five of 11 faceoffs. Centering Patrick Kane and Panarin could be daunting but in his short time there, Kero’s handling it very well.

He Said It: “It’s a nice opportunity that he’s taken advantage of in a short amount of time. You get a little more defensive responsibility. The upside with him is we wanted him to get better offensively as well, so it’s been a good couple of games.” Coach Joel Quenneville on Kero.

By the Numbers: 

850 – Career coaching victories for Quenneville.

524 – Career goals for Marian Hossa, who scored his 25th of the season late in the first period.

39 – Time, in seconds, in which the Blackhawks scored two goals late in the first period (Marcus Kruger at 19:05 and Marian Hossa at 19:44).

6 – Consecutive victories for the Blackhawks over the Penguins. They’ve outscored the Penguins 20-8 over that span.
 

Big first period paces Blackhawks over Penguins

Big first period paces Blackhawks over Penguins

PITTSBURGH – There are certain trends through which the Blackhawks tend to go sometimes. They can be so-so against teams on the bubble or out of the postseason. But face a playoff-bound team and the Blackhawks usually come with a top-notch game.

Exhibit A on that came on Wednesday.

Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane each had two-point nights, and Marian Hossa scored his 25th of the season as the Blackhawks beat the Penguins 5-1 on Wednesday night. The Blackhawks snapped a three-game winless streak and now have a nine-point lead over the Minnesota Wild in the West.

Corey Crawford stopped 31 of 32 shots and Richard Panik scored his 22nd goal of the season. Bryan Rust had the Penguins' lone goal 5:46 into the third period.

The Blackhawks had played well here and there over the last month but putting it all together has been a challenge. On Wednesday, however, the Blackhawks were looking more like themselves. From slick passes to opportunistic goals to playing the same from start to finish, it was a much-needed effort.

"We did a lot of good things. Great start, nice plays on the goals," coach Joel Quenneville said. "That Tampa Bay game [on Monday] was like that for 30 minutes, but I liked the continuation of today's game. A couple of shifts they had some good momentum but I think we stabilized it, played a safe and smart game with the lead."

The Penguins, much like the Blackhawks, entered this one with 103 points. But while the Blackhawks are missing Artem Anisimov right now, the Penguins are missing several, including Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Trevor Daley. Still, it's the Penguins, and you underestimate them at your own risk. The Blackhawks didn't.

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The Blackhawks got the early lead, then really pounced in the final five-plus minutes of the first period. The Blackhawks got stellar set-up passes from Patrick Kane, Ryan Hartman and Nick Schmaltz and finishes to accompany them. Two of their goals (Marcus Kruger and Hossa) came in the final minute of the first period for that 4-0 lead.

"We knew we wanted to have a good start. Sometimes you have guys in here who can see plays and things open up. A lot of good plays by everyone tonight, a lot of scoring across the board so that was good to see," Kane said. "That's kind of the game we've been hoping for the past few weeks. You get a great start that obviously helps the rest of the game."

The Penguins had the first six shots of the third. But the Blackhawks would score on their first of the period when Tanner Kero, who had another good game at second-line center, took the turnover from Justin Schultz and finished on a breakaway.

This road trip was a mixed bag for the Blackhawks. It started off in forgettable fashion. It ended the way the Blackhawks hoped, with the complete game they've been looking for the past few weeks.

"Really good start," Crawford said. "Obviously we scored a bunch of goals, but I thought our game was even better after that. We had some good kills, [didn't] give them momentum on their power play and it was great game, a full game for us."

Ryan Hartman returns for Blackhawks vs. Penguins

Ryan Hartman returns for Blackhawks vs. Penguins

PITTSBURGH — Ryan Hartman has played on the right side of that line for most of this season. Now back in the lineup, he knows he has to stay on it.

Hartman will play after missing Monday's game as a healthy scratch when the Blackhawks face the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night. Hartman took a few bad penalties, including an unsportsmanlike conduct, against the Florida Panthers last weekend, so he sat vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning. The rookie knows he has to get back to the more disciplined hockey he's played most of the season. 

"I don't change my game. I think you take the message and deliver the message," Hartman said. "Obviously, no one likes to not play, everyone wants to play games and no one likes to sit out games. It's definitely something that I took to heart. I'm just going to go out there and just try to play like I've been playing and get on the scoresheet. Just stay off it for the wrong reasons."

Coach Joel Quenneville said Hartman has to stay on the right side of the line.

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"Know there are boundaries and sometimes you get watched a little bit more," Quenneville said. "The way they're calling the game, the way it's being officiated, be respectful. You still have to be hard to play against and find that limit, how far you can push it but you get a good feel on that early in games."

The Penguins are on a three-game winless streak (0-2-1) and are dealing with some injuries. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that, while Evgeni Malkin (shoulder) is close to returning, he won't play against the Blackhawks.

Broadcast information

Time: 7 p.m.
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: NBC Sports app
Radio: WGN 720 AM

Blackhawks lines

Nick Schmaltz-Jonathan Toews-Richard Panik
Artemi Panarin-Tanner Kero-Patrick Kane
Ryan Hartman-Marcus Kruger-Marian Hossa
John Hayden-Dennis Rasmussen-Tomas Jurco

Defensive pairs 

Duncan Keith-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Johnny Oduya-Brent Seabrook
Brian Campbell-Trevor van Riemsdyk

Goaltender

Corey Crawford

Injuries 

Artem Anisimov (left leg)

Penguins lines

Conor-Sheary-Sidney Crosby-Bryan Rust
Chris Kunitz-Nick Bonino-Patric Hornqvist
Scott Wilson-Carter Rowney-Phil Kessel
Tom Kuhnhackl-Oskar Sundqvist-Josh Archibald

Defensive pairs

Brian Dumoulin-Justin Schultz
Ian Cole-Chad Ruhwedel
Cameron Gaunce-Mark Streit

Goaltender

Marc-Andre Fleury

Injuries

Evgeni Malkin (shoulder), Trevor Daley (knee), Daniel Sprong (shoulder), Jake Guentzel (concussion), Olli Maatta (hand), Kris Letang (upper body), Carl Hagelin (foot), Ron Hainsey (upper body)