Blackhawks shut out by Niemi, drop 3rd straight

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Blackhawks shut out by Niemi, drop 3rd straight

SAN JOSE, Calif. The Blackhawks were a much better team on Wednesday night. They were smarter, they were tougher and they were stingier.

Unfortunately for them, the opposing goaltender was just a little bit better.

Antti Niemi collected his first shutout of the season again his former team, as the Sharks edged the Blackhawks 1-0 at HP Pavilion on Wednesday night. The Blackhawks, missing Brent Seabrook for the fourth consecutive game and giving up 14 goals in their previous two games combined, were much better defensively.

For them, it was a start in the right direction.

Thats the standard for how we want to work, Jonathan Toews said. Were not happy with the result but were not going to let that hurt our confidence. We played the way we were supposed to play. Every guy was making predictable plays to the next guy. When you do that, team game flourishes.

Coach Joel Quenneville said shoring things up defensively being more responsible around the net, keeping quality chances down was the focal point.

Thats the way we wanted to play going into that game: play tight defensively, make sure the pucks ahead of us, he said. I thought we checked well and they got the fortunate bounce and scoring first was the difference. But if we play like that well find a way to get points.

The Blackhawks stronger defensive game was evident from the start. The Sharks werent getting much time in the Hawks zone, and when they did they didnt stay there long. The Sharks had just 11 shots in the first two periods combined.

The Sharks lone score came when Jason Demers power-play goal deflected off Toews and past Corey Crawford, who stopped 20 of 21.

It was a weird bounce, Crawford said. I thought it was going to stay on the ice but it just kind of jumped up.

Only problem was the Blackhawks couldnt get anything on the other end despite tons of time in the Sharks zone and 34 shots on goal. Credit Niemi for that frustration, as the netminder was stoic against his former team. Niemi came up big throughout the night, from his stop on Bryan Bickells breakaway early to denying Toews late.

He made big saves back there; we had a couple good opportunities to put a few by him. Im sure that was a big win for him, said Patrick Sharp. Weve had success against him in the past and well see him again in the future. Overall, it was just two good teams playing a pretty good 60 minutes on both sides.

The Blackhawks certainly arent happy that they lost their third in a row. They werent happy they couldnt get one past their former teammate. But they regained their defensive game. If they keep that better game, it will lead to better results.

Obviously you want a couple of points from this game. But when we we lose games like this we can take those, said Niklas Hjalmarsson. Its nothing like we lost in Edmonton and Calgary. At least today we had a good effort. If we keep playing like this well get points.

Briefly

Duncan Keith played a game-high 29:18, firing six shots on goal and blocking three shots.

Patrick Kane had a team-high seven shots on Niemi.

Michael Frolik returned to action after missing the last two games with a shoulder injury. He played just over 11 minutes.

Scott Darling shines in fill-in duty as Blackhawks break late tie to best rival Blues

Scott Darling shines in fill-in duty as Blackhawks break late tie to best rival Blues

Scott Darling found out at 8 o'clock this morning that he was starting for an ailing Corey Crawford. Considering he did this back in December for a few weeks, adjusting quick for one game was fine.

"It's kind of my job," Darling said.

And Darling, once again, did his job.

Darling stopped 30 of 32 shots and Patrick Kane scored his 24th goal of the season as the Blackhawks beat the St. Louis Blues 4-2 on Sunday night. The Blackhawks have won nine of their last 10 games. They're one point behind the Minnesota Wild, who made their splashy trade-deadline move in acquiring Martin Hanzal on Sunday. But the Blackhawks, thanks to veterans regaining their form, a top line finding its rhythm and youth consistently improving, are just rolling right along.

"We had a great start to the game. I thought Darls was excellent all night, great stretch there in the last 10 minutes where we fight through some tough shifts, particularly in the last couple of minutes in our end. But good win," coach Joel Quenneville said. "You look at the nice plays on the goals, it was kind of a comparable ending to the outdoor game: tied and about the same time they scored, we scored (tonight). Big two points for us."

Jonathan Toews scored his 16th of the season and Artem Anisimov scored the game-winning goal with 5:20 remaining in regulation. Tanner Kero added an empty-net goal with 2.6 seconds remaining in the game.

The Blackhawks already knew they'd be without Niklas Hjalmarsson (upper body) for at least a day or two when they found out Crawford couldn't go this morning. As Quenneville said Darling was strong once again, denying the Blues all but twice (a 2-on-1 goal from Magnus Paajarvi and a power-play goal from Alex Pietrangelo).

Toews and Kane (power-play goal) staked the Blackhawks to a 2-0 lead early before the Blues tied it in the second. But late in the third period Anisimov took the feed from Artemi Panarin to give the Blackhawks a 3-2 lead.

"I saw the puck all the way. It was easy to pick up," Anisimov said. "When you don't see the puck at the last moment and it comes, it's hard to receive and prepare for the next move. But I saw it all the way. Easy to prepare for the next move."

Speaking of next moves, do the Blackhawks make any more before the trade deadline. General manager Stan Bowman said on Friday, following the acquisition of Tomas Jurco, that he'll keep talking and listening but likes the group he has right now. If Bowman's made moves it's for what the Blackhawks have needed, not because of another team's trades. The Blackhawks like what they have right now. Winning nine of 10 and continuing to trend in the right direction, they should be careful not to disrupt what they've got going.

"I think we're, as we've said lately, trending the right way. We're playing solid. I think all four lines are contributing in every which way," Toews said. "I love our group right now. Everyone is getting better individually, contributing more and more and it's a lot of fun to see the way we're playing right now. We know that the ceiling is way higher and we can keep getting better too."

Quick hits: Blackhawks start strong in win over Blues

Quick hits: Blackhawks start strong in win over Blues

No Niklas Hjalmarsson, no Corey Crawford, no problem for the Blackhawks.

Certainly you want those two back as soon as possible. But while Hjalmarsson nurses an upper-body injury and Crawford deals with an illness, the Blackhawks just keep going. Credit their all-around game, which has continually gotten better in recent weeks and was there for the most part again in their 4-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Sunday night.

The Blackhawks did what they wanted to during the Minnesota Wild’s bye: they won both games and just trail the Wild by a point now. So onward we go. Will anything happen by Wednesday afternoon, when the trade deadline hits? We’ll see but we’re also going to caution messing up what’s becoming more of a good thing by the day.

Anyway, onto the notables.

What Worked: The Blackhawks’ start. For the first half (or so) of the season you wondered why the first 20 minutes were so difficult. Like a few other glitches to their game, they’ve gotten past this one, too. The Blackhawks looked sharp at the start on Sunday night, with the top-line players (Nick Schmaltz pass and Jonathan Toews finish) once again giving them the 1-0 a few minutes into the game.

What Didn’t Work: The second period. A few things went wrong during the next 20 minutes. The Blackhawks’ possession dipped, their penalty kill failed and their power play had a quiet second chance. Perhaps some of that was the Blues waking out of their first-period slumber – they’re coming off a bye, and we’ve documented what happens off of those. But the Blackhawks did not follow up their great start accordingly.

Star of the game: Tempting to give it to Scott Darling, given the fact that he found out this morning he’d be getting the start after all in Corey Crawford’s illness absence. But Patrick Kane had a tremendous evening, too, from the power-play goal to the secondary assist on Artem Anisimov’s goal to playing extra minutes down the stretch. Can we call it a draw?

He Said It: “It’s certainly been fun to watch Schmatzy, particularly the last three games where he’s gone to a different level. And Hartsy’s [Ryan Hartman’s] been pretty good all year. Their development is important four our team success right now. We’ll need these guys right on through. We’ll still need some young guys as we’re going into it as well. The lineup on Wednesday, who knows? We’ll talk about it over the next couple of days and we’ll see what happens. Tough to say.” Coach Joel Quenneville on if the team will look any different following Wednesday’s trade deadline.

By the Numbers:

500 – Career points for Duncan Keith, who hit the milestone with his secondary assist on Patrick Kane’s power-play goal.

13 – points (five goals, eight assists) for Jonathan Toews during his current six-game point streak.

22 – Goals for Artem Anisimov, which ties a season high for him previously set in 2013-14 with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

6 – Consecutive games in which Richard Panik has had at least one point, a career high. He has four goals and five assists in that stretch.