Defense strikes, Emery shines in Blackhawks win

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Defense strikes, Emery shines in Blackhawks win

Ray Emery has just focused on improving his game in his short time with the Chicago Blackhawks. And on Friday, it culminated in his best game this season.

Emery stopped 24 of 25 and Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook scored their first goals of the season as the Blackhawks beat the Calgary Flames 4-1.

The victory was the Blackhawks second in as many nights; it was also their seventh consecutive victory over the Flames at the United Center.

Emery was solid from start to finish, denying the Flames early when the Blackhawks, who played last night in Columbus, were committing some early mistakes. One of his biggest stops came on a Curtis Glencross breakaway, when the Blackhawks were holding a 2-0 lead in the second period.

We were joking with him; we thought hed be one of the stars of the game. We definitely thought he deserved it, captain Jonathan Toews said. But he stepped in there when we needed him to. He was a big help in the win tonight.

Emery said hes felt better as the season has gone on.

You want to get more comfortable in there and Im definitely working on things, said Emery, who wasnt upset when Olli Jokinens third-period goal denied him the shutout. You just want to win and they buzzed around a bit from the start. Its good when you get the early lead. You just want to keep the lead and limit the other teams chances.

Viktor Stalberg also scored for the Blackhawks; Patrick Kane added an empty-net goal with 3.4 seconds remaining in the third. Patrick Sharp had three assists and Marian Hossa had two.

Emery did his job in net, and once again the Blackhawks defensemen did theirs on the score sheet. Keith, playing in his 500th career NHL game, gave the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead midway through the first period. Seabrook added his, a power-play goal from the blue line, in the second.

Blackhawks defensemen now have 10 points in the last two games.

I think thats part of our game that needs to be there, Keith said. Its nice to get points and things like that, but the main thing is keeping plays alive, having good gaps and supporting our forwards.

The Blackhawks are back on the winning side. Theyre back atop the Western Conference standings and theyre getting that team game they know they need.

I thought that the whole team played great tonight, really fast paced out there on both sides, Keith said. It was nice to get the first (goal) and gather the momentum.

Hawks Talk Podcast: What's the cause of recent struggles?

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USA TODAY

Hawks Talk Podcast: What's the cause of recent struggles?

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle and Steve Konroyd discuss the latest slump and how much does Artem Anisimov's injury play a role in their struggles?

Konroyd tells us he was surprised by Ryan Hartman's benching in Tampa.

The guys play the game, playoff minutes or press box minutes?  They run through the players who are on the bubble when it comes to postseason play.

They also discuss the Hawks chances of overtaking Washington for the President's trophy.

Plus, Konroyd breaks down possible first round opponents: St Louis, Calgary and Nashville.

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.