Kruger finding his groove for Hawks

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Kruger finding his groove for Hawks

VANCOUVER, British Columbia Marcus Kruger had his motivation.

The Blackhawks center had a slow start to training camp before improving toward the end, and he was briefly sent to Rockford early in the regular season. His assignment was based on roster numbers and not his performance. But when he was recalled, Kruger nevertheless used it to fuel his game.

I wanted to show that I can be an NHL player, he said recently.

And he is.

Kruger has been a solid checking-line center in Dave Bollands absence, as the young forward continues to hone his North American game with the Blackhawks. Kruger came to Chicago late last season and adjusted quickly to the different ice surface and Blackhawks system.

The fourth-line center moved up a line when Bolland suffered a right-foot injury last week and coach Joel Quenneville said you have to commend Kruger for doing a nice job there.

And if that quick trip to Rockford was a boost, so be it.

It wasnt our intention to get his attention (with that), but you certainly like his response to the immediate call back up and how hes played since that day, Quenneville said. In Game 7 (against Vancouver), he was arguably one of our top players that night here. We had him being a big part of our team coming in, had a slow camp, but at the end of the day hes where he belongs and hes useful in a lot of ways.

His ability to adapt did help make him an easy fit on that checking line with Bryan Bickell and Michael Frolik. The three have done just fine together in these last three games, and Kruger said he sticks to the same mindset no matter his partners.

Its pretty much the same, just try to give them the puck on the tape all the time and go from there, and of course be aware of whos on the other team, he said. But you cant worry about the other team too much. You just go out there and play your game.

And Kruger doesnt mind the added defensive responsibility out there. Its something hell especially have to be mindful against Vancouver on Wednesday if Bolland cant go.

Its more, of course, but you cant think too much when youre out there. You have to go with your instincts, he said. Thats what were trying to do.

Kruger has given the Blackhawks a viable center option among their lines. Oh, and he can go on the power play, too. The Blackhawks saw the potential in Kruger when they selected him in 2009. Hes tapping into it now.

We saw him early in camp there and thought it was a matter of time, Quenneville said. Theres more to his game than how he plays defensively. His anticipation offensively is in the right spots, and he should keep improving his game.

Quick Hits from Blackhawks-Stars: Another slow start but better finish

Quick Hits from Blackhawks-Stars: Another slow start but better finish

It wasn't pretty, but the Blackhawks found a way to pick up another two points and improved to 6-0-1 over their last seven games, and 18-3-1 over their last 22.

With Minnesota's loss to Philadelphia, the Blackhawks have taken an eight-point lead for first in the Central Division and are only two points away from the Washington Capitals for home-ice advantage throughout the entire Stanley Cup playoffs.

Let's take a look at Quick Hits from the 3-2 shootout victory over the Dallas Stars on Thursday night:

What Worked: The finish and shootout. While the Blackhawks scored the game's first goal, it was another slow start by a team that has had a few of those over the last several outings and has preached working on turning in more of a complete effort. They recorded only 14 shots on goal in the first two periods, and it took more than six minutes after Patrick Kane's goal to record their next one.

But they finished on a positive note yet again, and went 2-for-3 in the shootout thanks to Kane and Artemi Panarin, who potted the game winner. Kane said after the game that he tried his move on Scott Darling during morning skate and it worked. So he went with it tonight in an effort to snap a mini shootout drought and he did.

What Didn't Work: Controlling the puck. The Blackhawks seemingly have the puck more than their opponent does almost every game, but it doesn't reflect in the shot department because they often look for the perfect pass or shot and fail to record one at all. They had 50 shot attempts with 26 of them on goal compared to the Stars' 64 attempts with 44 on goal. They know they must get better at that.

Star of the game: Corey Crawford. After allowing four goals on only 10 shots in Tuesday's overtime loss to Vancouver, the Blackhawks netminder bounced back in a huge way. He matched a season-high with 42 saves, and recorded his 30th win of the season.

He Said It: "He played amazing tonight. Reason we won the game. Hats off to him, he's done that a lot this year. For a goalie it's probably tough to show up every night, even the goals he let in last game you can't put all the blame on him, but he was outstanding tonight." — Kane on Crawford's performance

By the Numbers:

167 — Niklas Hjalmarsson blocked one shot in the win, and it was enough to set a new career high in that department, previously established during the 2010-11 campaign (166).

15 — Trevor van Riemsyk assisted on Marian Hossa's goal in the third period, giving him a career-high 15 points on the season in 50 games. He had 14 points in 82 games last year. He also extended his point streak to three games.

6 — With the victory, Crawford has earned at least 30 wins in six of his seven NHL seasons as a full-time starter. The only time he didn't reach that mark was during the lockout-shortened year in 2012-13 when he went 19-5-5.

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