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.

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"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."

Tanner Kero latest to try and fill Artem Anisimov's skates

Tanner Kero latest to try and fill Artem Anisimov's skates

PITTSBURGH – Tanner Kero's been thrown into a lot of different situations in his time with the Blackhawks, be it third- or fourth-line center or penalty kill.

But with Artem Anisimov out, the second-line center spot has become new top-line, left-wing spot: The Blackhawks will keep trying guys out until they find one that works. Kero's the latest to get that opportunity, and since it worked well on Monday, he'll be there again on Wednesday.

Kero will center Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane again when the Blackhawks host the Pittsburgh Penguins. The line had a good start to Monday's game against the Lightning in Tampa, scoring the team's first two goals — Kero assisted on Panarin's opener.

Coach Joel Quenneville liked Kero's first go-around there.

"Defensively he's in a good spot — he's usually in a reliable spot in his own end — he made a couple of nice plays offensively and didn't change his game too much," Quenneville said. "It's not easy playing with guys at that next level. It's certainly a great challenge and a great opportunity, so I thought he did a great job, took advantage of it. We'll see how he does going forward but we'll keep him in there for [Wednesday's] game and that gives us some more options."

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Learning on the fly can be part of a rookie season, especially when injuries arise. Jonathan Toews said Kero's handled everything well this season.

"Come to think of it, it's one of those little things that maybe goes over my head but he's definitely one of those versatile players who's as consistent as ever," Toews said. "He has, for his age, an incredible level of maturity and he carries that with him wherever he goes. You're seeing offensive improvement, too. He was making some good plays with Bread Man and Kaner. He's showing he can do it all and I think his work ethic and attitude's a source of that success."

Earlier this season Kero was with guys like Ryan Hartman and Vinnie Hinostroza. They were all familiar with each other from their Rockford days, and that showed. Playing with two guys you don't know so well? It's a bit of a challenge, and one the three talk out. But ultimately, Kero said you have to rely on your instincts. 

"You go over things before the game and on the bench, get a feel for what you might want to do. But then you just have to play hockey," Kero said. "You have to trust your game, make plays. You know they're going to make plays with the puck so you try to use your speed and get open and try to go to the net, create space for them and a little traffic in front and try to capitalize on opportunities."

Anisimov will be out another 1-2 weeks. Asked if Anisimov has started skating back in Chicago yet, Quenneville said, "I don't think so but I'm not positive. But he's progressing." Filling Anisimov's skates isn't easy, as evidenced by the Blackhawks' search for his temporary replacement. Kero is the third guy to get that shot, and he took advantage of his first showing.

"Obviously it's a great opportunity to play with two great players," Kero said. "You just try to do everything you can and do the little things right."

Briefly

- Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith didn't practice on Tuesday but both are expected to play against the Penguins.

- Corey Crawford gets the start against Pittsburgh.

- Hartman, scratched after a rough game against the Florida Panthers, is probably back in against the Penguins.

Blackhawks sign prospect Matheson Iacopelli to entry-level contract

Blackhawks sign prospect Matheson Iacopelli to entry-level contract

The Blackhawks officially agreed to terms with prospect Matheson Iacopelli on a two-year entry-level contract that begins next season and runs through the 2018-19 campaign.

He will report to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League.

The 22-year-old forward recently completed his sophomore season at Western Michigan, where he scored a team-high 20 goals and added 16 assists in 40 games. It was a huge bounce-back year after recording only one goal and six assists in 27 games during his freshman season.

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A third-round pick (No. 83 overall) by the Blackhawks in 2014, Iacopelli possesses a dangerous shot and is a big-bodied winger at 6-foot-3, 206 pounds. His two-way game still needs fine-tuning, something he will certainly work on in Rockford, but he gives the IceHogs another much-needed scorer.

Iacopelli is the fourth Blackhawks prospect to sign this season out of college, joining John Hayden, Anthony Louis and Luc Snuggerud.