After much-needed break, Blackhawks better be ready

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After much-needed break, Blackhawks better be ready

The Blackhawks will go their separate ways for the next few days. Some will stick around town. Some will head to their hometowns. Some will head to warmer locales.

But one thing is certain: they all have to come back focused and ready to go for the final stretch run. And they have to come back ready to do it in some unfriendly places.

The Blackhawks didnt go into the break the way they wouldve liked, suffering two straight losses to the division-rival Nashville Predators. But thats in the past. With 32 games remaining, the Blackhawks need to shore up some inconsistencies and stake their claim to one of the Western Conferences top spots.

Weve got to get away a little bit. But this is all about getting rest and making sure were ready to go the last 32 games, Duncan Keith said. I think thats what everybody needs to use this break for is to rest up, get strong and make sure were taking care of ourselves and feeling good when we come back.

Theyll need to be, because the schedule out of the break is a daunting one. The Blackhawks face a mammoth nine-game road trip beginning with Northwest front-runner Vancouver on Jan. 31. Other opponents include the division rival Predators against whom the Blackhawks are now 1-2-0 this season the Easts best New York Rangers and Pacific leader San Jose.

Its not a fun schedule. Yes, the Blackhawks will get home twice to break up the three-week trek across the country. But between the travel and the opponents, its going to be a taxing three weeks nonetheless.

Its going to be a lot tougher going on the road now, going out west. Its not going to be easy, Dave Bolland said. The breaks going to be good for us to recharge and get our batteries back.

Itll also be good if they can get two of their best players back. Jonathan Toews (left armhand) and Patrick Sharp (wrist) will be on the Blackhawks trip to Vancouver at the end of January. They could play in that game, or soon after. Having this week off gives both a chance to get a little healthier.

Crunch time is just about here. The Blackhawks have a few days to get away from the daily grind, rest and heal. Come Monday, theyre back in the Western Conference fight.

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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.