Five Things from Blackhawks-Predators: Net-front presence

Five Things from Blackhawks-Predators: Net-front presence

Finding another way to win, even with one of the more different hat tricks the Blackhawks have ever seen. You take ‘em how you can get ‘em, and Ryan Hartman and the Blackhawks felt that way, whether it was with his first career hat trick or their 5-2 victory over the Nashville Predators.

Indeed, that hat trick made the score look more lopsided than it actually was, but the Blackhawks will take their third victory in a row.

Speaking of heating up, as we look to warmer temperatures – yes, 30 degrees sounds downright balmy right now – let’s look at the Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ victory over the Predators.

1. One interesting, but effective, hat trick. With less than 1:15 remaining in regulation you wouldn’t have expected Ryan Hartman, with one goal at that point, to finish with a hat trick. But two empty-net goals later that’s what Hartman did. Hartman, who also had the reviewed game-winner, got his first empty-net goal with 1:14 remaining and the next with 31.6 seconds remaining. But hey, does it matter two were empty netters? As Patrick Kane said, “I think it’s one of those things where you get your first hat trick and then three or four days from now, no one’s going to even remember that he had two empty net.”

2. Getting to the net. We really can’t underestimate how valuable Artem Anisimov has been, even when he doesn’t score a goal. Exhibit A came in the first period, when Anisimov screened Pekka Rinne as Niklas Hjalmarsson’s fifth goal of the season got through. Richard Panik and Hartman got to the net late, and again the result was a goal. Said coach Joel Quenneville, “normally you need traffic and presence. It’s not easy to get there but that’s the reward, by getting to the front of the net.”

[RELATED: Ryan Hartman's hat trick lifts Blackhawks over Predators]

3. Getting the right response. Artemi Panarin had barely given the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead before the Nashville Predators tied it up in the first period. Part if it was a bad line change, and the Predators took advantage. While the Blackhawks had the right response following Hjalmarsson’s goal the Predators pushed – and just about scored – again following Hartman’s go-ahead goal in the third. Even without P.K. Subban and James Neal, the Predators were still dangerous.

4. Niklas Hjalmarsson’s career-high fifth goal. Sure, Hjalmarsson’s chief job out there is blocking shots, and he does that well. But on Sunday he added some offense, recording his fifth goal of the season. Any time the Blackhawks defensemen are engaged on the offensive side it usually leads to good things. Hjalmarsson will take it. “I just get more pucks through now, I guess. At the same time, it’s a little luck, too,” he said. “I probably could’ve had a couple more the past few seasons. Sometimes you get those lucky bounces. It’s been going in so far, so hopefully it can keep going.”

5. Panarin, anywhere near the left circle, does it again. OK, Panarin was slightly above his normal shooting area – “his backside might’ve been touching the boards,” Kane said. But it was the same result, as Panarin scored his 17th goal of the season. The kid just has an incredible shot and if he’s anywhere in the vicinity you’ve got to expect him to fire it. Again, it’s still stunning how much space he gets around there to take that shot.

Ed Belfour reflects on fulfilling 'childhood dream' of playing for Blackhawks

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AP

Ed Belfour reflects on fulfilling 'childhood dream' of playing for Blackhawks

While Troy Murray was attending summer school at the University of North Dakota he was also working out in offseason skates and practices there. Getting goaltenders for those skates wasn't easy. But a guy from Carman, Manitoba would drive down to Grand Forks, N.D., play in those games and then drive back home that night.

That guy was Eddie Belfour.

"He'd come in, put his gear on, and we thought this was just some kid that came from somewhere and, ‘Hey, thanks for coming, kid.' Little did we know, that's how he was making himself better," said Murray, who would later play with Belfour with the Blackhawks. "He walked onto UND, made there and the rest is history in how good he was at the collegiate level and as a pro."

The drive was there for Belfour then and it lasted throughout his career, which included eight seasons with the Blackhawks, a gold medal with Team Canada in the 2002 Olympics and a Stanley Cup with the Dallas Stars in 1999. On Thursday night the Blackhawks honored Belfour in their latest installment of "One More Shift."

For Belfour, it was a chance to be back where it all started – "it's always emotional coming back to Chicago. I had a lot of great times here," he said – with his favorite childhood team.

"The fans are always fantastic for me here in Chicago. I'll never forget the "Eddie, Eddie" chant. They're the ones who started it," Belfour said prior to taking his shift. "For me, getting a chance to play in Chicago stadium in front of the fans and how close they were and how loud the building was and the anthem was amazing. It was boyhood dream come true."

Ask Belfour's former teammates how best to describe the goaltender and the answer was pretty unanimous: intense.

"Intense is a good word. I think competitive is a really good word, too, because he was one of the few guys, few goalies who took working out very seriously [then]," Steve Konroyd said. "He used to train for triathlons, and this was in the late 80s, early 90s. For NHL players that was probably odd, but for NHL goaltenders that was crazy. He was ultra-competitive, different in ways but in a good way. He was a real character."

Denis Savard said Belfour's preparation for games was, "second to none."

"He always came prepared for a game, from focusing on that night and sharpening his own skates. He'd work on his own skates after practices sometimes for two hours. He was very meticulous about everything," Savard said. "We already know goaltenders are on their own program with how they prepare, but he was a special one. He was a battler, he was a winner and he was a great goalie for a long time."

Murray would face Belfour in 1996, when Murray was with the eventual Stanley Cup-winning Colorado Avalanche and Belfour was still with the Blackhawks. Patrick Roy got the best of that postseason series (Belfour led the Stars past the Avalanche in 1999 and 2000 playoff matchups). But Murray remembers Roy's confidence no matter who was in the other net, and Belfour had that same mentality.

"You need that as a goaltender. You want that challenge," Murray said. "You have to have that mindset because if you think you're second best, you're not going to succeed. That's what drives all these great players and Eddie had that mindset."

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For Belfour, those Chicago days were bittersweet. His first trip to the Stanley Cup final came with the Blackhawks. There were a lot of great times. There were a lot of tough times. But it was all worth it.

"Going to the Stanley Cup final was awesome to do in my first couple of years. Unfortunately, we didn't win and that's probably my biggest regret is that we didn't play well. It still haunts me some days," Belfour said. "But that happens sometimes when you're a younger player and you learn from it and get better. That's what I tried to do."

Belfour's body of work speaks for itself. The kid who first started honing his craft in pickup games at North Dakota had a tremendous NHL career. As for that competitiveness, he's still got it – even in jest.

"I was joking, ‘If I'm doing this [One More Shift], I gotta play at least five minutes,'" he said.

Blackhawks, Tanner Kero agree to two-year contract extension

Blackhawks, Tanner Kero agree to two-year contract extension

The Blackhawks have agreed to terms with Tanner Kero on a two-year contract extension that runs through the 2018-19 campaign, the team announced Thursday.

Kero, 24, has five goals and seven assists in 38 games with the Blackhawks this season, along with six goals and nine assists in 55 games across two seasons.

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He has become a reliable, versatile forward on the bottom six for Joel Quenneville and has also played a role in the team's penalty-kill unit that has been terrific in March after a rough start to the year.

Kero signed a two-year deal that carries a $667,500 cap hit with the Blackhawks on April 2, 2015, as an undrafted free agent.