Blackhawks stay hot, beat Jets for fourth straight win

Blackhawks stay hot, beat Jets for fourth straight win

WINNIPEG, Manitoba – The Blackhawks came into the back half of this Ice Show trip knowing some of their opponents had had their way with them this season. On Wednesday, the Blackhawks exacted some measure of regular-season revenge against the Minnesota Wild.

On Friday, they did it to the Winnipeg Jets.

Corey Crawford stopped 28 of 30 shots and Duncan Keith's goal proved to be the game winner as the Blackhawks beat the Jets 5-2 at MTS Centre. The Blackhawks remain in second place in the Central Division but still trail the Minnesota Wild by five points. The Wild beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in a shootout on Friday.

Patrick Kane scored his 269th career goal, moving him to sixth place all-time among Blackhawks goal scorers. He's also now the team's leading U.S.-born goal scorer. Artem Anisimov scored his 19th goal of the season. Keith, Kane and Anisimov all had two-point nights while Artemi Panarin turned in a three-point game.

As much as the Blackhawks would've loved to gain some ground on the Wild, this trip has been about snapping losing streaks against some of their foes and improving their overall game. So far, they've done both.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!] 

"I liked our game, I liked our trip here. I think each game we've done a lot of good things, may have been our most complete game," coach Joel Quenneville said. "Crow was good in the net and made some big, timely saves for us. We've always been chasing the game against them. Last game we got ahead of them late but couldn't hold on. Tonight I like how we finished it."

The finish came in the form of late empty-net goals, first from Marian Hossa for his team-leading 20th goal of the season, then from Artemi Panarin. But from defense to offense to goaltending, the Blackhawks played well. Crawford nullified the Jets' prime opportunities. Brent Seabrook's late second-period save kept the momentum – and the lead – for the Blackhawks. And the late third-period offense stymied any last-second comeback chance the Jets hoped to have.

"We did what we had to," Kane said of the third period. "We were not generating much throughout the first 17-18 minutes there but we didn't give up much, either. You get a [Keith] shot through you get a goal, all of a sudden it's 3-1 and a couple of empty netters and it looks like a good third for us."

Kane also noted the Blackhawks' start, which was also strong. His goal gave them a 1-0 lead and the Blackhawks dominated the Jets in the first 20 minutes, outshooting them 16-9. One of the Blackhawks' big problems in previous games vs. the Jets was not getting enough shots or traffic around Winnipeg's goaltending. They did both on Friday.

The Blackhawks will be going into a break soon. During that time other teams, including the Wild, will catch up to them on games. The Wild could pull ahead more. The Blackhawks can't control what happens during their bye week but they can finish this trip positively in Edmonton on Saturday night. So far, they've been trending the right way in just about every facet of their game.

"Just a solid game from us," Crawford said. "We've gotta keep rolling here, build more momentum. That could be one of our best games here. We have to keep playing like that."

For the Blackhawks defense, change is the new normal

For the Blackhawks defense, change is the new normal

Ulf Samuelsson saw the changes the Blackhawks made this season, his hiring as assistant coach being one of them. Soon he’ll be working with the team’s defensemen, another area that’s had some upheaval.

“I think there’s a lot of opportunity here, some uncertainties and some moving parts that I probably, typically haven’t seen going into a season. So that makes it even more interesting and challenging,” Samuelsson said. “So I’m looking forward to this opportunity to really develop and work with some of the younger players.”

From its immediate coach to its personnel, the Blackhawks’ defense is dealing with plenty of change that will continue when the season begins this fall. The Blackhawks have had some addition (Connor Murphy, Jan Rutta and Jordan Oesterle) but dealing with the subtraction (Niklas Hjalmarsson and Trevor van Riemsdyk) will nevertheless be tough. Coach Joel Quenneville said on Friday that pairings are a work in progress.

“We’re going to see when we’re putting the pairs together, whether we're going to reunite [Duncan Keith] and [Brent Seabrook] or look for some balance,” he said. “There are a lot of options. We’ll look forward to that and sorting it out.”

For Murphy, who was acquired in the deal that sent Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes, there are no set expectations as to where he fits yet.

“With any team you go into training camp proving where you’re going to be. Everyone has to come in and earn certain positions, especially me being a guy who they’re not as familiar with; I have to show what I can do,” Murphy said. “I definitely want to bring a more physical edge to defending at times and be able to skate well, have a good reach, make smart reads and try to help out with whatever’s needed with that.”

As for young players, the opportunity is there. Gustav Forsling admits he wasn’t happy that fellow Swede and role model Hjalmarsson was traded. But Forsling, who looked strong coming out of camp last September, knows he has to take advantage of the situation.

“Of course, I want to take the next step and play more,” he said. “I want to keep progressing my game and keep developing.”

The same goes for Jordan Oesterle, who the Blackhawks signed to a two-year deal on July 1.

“When I wanted to come here the opportunity was tremendous. Just the chance to come in and try to make the top six is there, it’s a battle with a number of us guys but that’s all you ask for in the situation I’m in,” he said. “Just the amount of opportunity that is in front of me just drives me even more. I want to be here and force their hand to keep me here.”

Again, the Blackhawks could re-address defense once they implement Marian Hossa’s long-term injured reserve after the season begins. General manager Stan Bowman said there’s “no exact plan” right now on how they use that space – “that’s probably going to be dictated by where we’re at when we get to October, how the team’s playing, what areas are strong, what areas we want to add to,” he said.

It remains to be seen on that front. Regardless, from coaching to personnel, much has changed with the Blackhawks defense. 

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Blackhawks Convention Opening Ceremonies

saad.jpg
AP

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Blackhawks Convention Opening Ceremonies

On the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast, we're live at the 2017 Blackhawks Convention. 

Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp join David Kaplan and Pat Boyle to talk about returning to Chicago. 

Later Boyle, CSN Blackhawks Insider Tracey Myers, Chris Kuc and Sam Panayotovich discuss the huge roster changes this offseason. 

Listen to the STL Pod below.