Myers: Top line pacing Blackhawks reversal

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Myers: Top line pacing Blackhawks reversal

Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011
Posted 5:21 p.m.

By Tracey Myers
CSNChicago.com

ST. LOUIS The numbers have been coming up on the score sheet in bunches lately: Nos. 10 (Patrick Sharp), 19 (Jonathan Toews) and 88 (Patrick Kane) in some combination or another.

Perhaps its just obvious given the talent. Or the natural chemistry. Or maybe its the overriding urgency of the situation.

Its that time of year where theres nothing to save it for, Toews said. Theres no more time to wait.

The Chicago Blackhawks top line is its top line for a reason. Sharp, Toews and Kane are opportunistic goal-scorers and play makers in their individual rights. Throw them together and just watch the fun.

But as good as this group is supposed to be with that No. 1 tag attached to them, theyre flat-out stellar right now. Theyre pacing the Blackhawks, who have now won three of their last four. And for the most part lately, theyve been the bulk, if not all, of the Blackhawks offense.

They know where each other is going to be but their level of intensity has picked up, said acting coach Mike Haviland. They really try to show the lead here in what needs to be done each night. Theyve been around, they know what it takes to win and we need to follow their lead for sure.

Indeed. Sharp scored his 31st goal of the season on Sunday against Pittsburgh. Toews and Kane each hit the 20-goal mark on Monday in St. Louis. They know their role, know everyones looking at them to lead the offensive assault, and theyre obliging.

I guess were just skating well, thats the difference out there. Were moving our feet and coming up with a lot of pucks, said Sharp, who needs five goals to tie his career-high 36 set in 2007-08. Jonathan and Patrick like to hold onto (the puck) and get open to shoot it. Weve gotten a lot of goals. Hopefully there are more to come.

Those three are doing their part, but as Haviland said, they cant be the only ones. The team finally got more across-the-board goals and points on Monday, when they came back to beat the St. Louis Blues 5-3. As the Blackhawks keep clawing back into the Western Conference playoff race, everyone else will have to help with the point production.

Nevertheless, that top line will point the way.

Its a sprint to the finish and were feeling that pressure to go out and score, Toews said. Were getting chances and eventually theyre going to go in. Were just working hard and keeping things simple.

Tracey Myers is CSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow Tracey on Twitter @TramyersCSN for up-to-the-minute Hawks information.

Marcus Kruger activated off IR ahead of Blackhawks-Lightning

Marcus Kruger activated off IR ahead of Blackhawks-Lightning

Dennis Rasmussen or Marcus Kruger could play Tuesday night and Corey Crawford will start when the Blackhawks host the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night.

Rasmussen did not skate Tuesday morning due to illness but coach Joel Quenneville said the center could still play vs. the Lightning. Quenneville said Kruger is "close" to playing — he was activated off injured reserve on Tuesday afternoon — and his status could depend on how Rasmussen feels.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

The Blackhawks, sitting in second place in the Western Conference, are on a three-game winning streak entering Tuesday's game. The Lightning, the Blackhawks' 2015 Stanley Cup opponent, has struggled with injuries (Steven Stamkos has been out since November) and is last in the Eastern Conference. Despite the Lightning's struggles, Quenneville isn't taking the team lightly.

"Obviously they've had some health issues, significant guys missing big stretches of their year, but they still have guys out there that are skilled and it's an extremely dangerous team and a very competitive East side," Quenneville said. "I'm sure they'll be ready for tonight."

Andrei Vasilevskiy will start Tuesday night for the Lightning. Coach Jon Cooper said J.T. Brown and Jason Garrison are game-time decisions.

BLACKHAWKS VS. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

7:30 p.m.
TV: CSN
Live stream: CSNChicago.com or NBC Sports app
Radio: WGN 720 AM

Chicago Blackhawks

Forward lines

Ryan Hartman-Jonathan Toews-Richard Panik
Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane
Vinnie Hinostroza-Tanner Kero-Marian Hossa
Andrew Desjardins-Dennis Rasmussen-Nick Schmaltz

Defensive pairs

Duncan Keith-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Michal Kempny-Brent Seabrook
Brian Campbell-Trevor van Riemsdyk

Goaltender

Corey Crawford

INJURIES/ILLNESS: Marcus Kruger (right arm), Dennis Rasmussen (ill).

Tampa Bay Lightning (projected; some are game-time decisions)

Forward lines

Ondrej Palat-Vladislav Namestnikov-Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn-Tyler Johnson-J.T. Brown
Bryan Boyle-Valtteri Filppula-Jonathan Drouin
Michael Bournival-Cedric Paquette-Gabriel Dumont

Defensive Pairs

Victor Hedman-Anton Stralman
Jason Garrison-Andrej Sustr
Braydon Coburn-Nikita Nesterov

Goaltender

Andrei Vasilvskiy

INJURIES/ILLNESS: Steven Stamkos (knee), Brayden Point (upper body), Ryan Callahan (lower body), Jason Garrison (illness).

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Grab the first goal.

The Blackhawks have scored the game's first goal in seven of the last eight games, and of those seven, they've won six of them. Meanwhile, the Lightning have scored the first goal only 17 times in 48 games this season, and are 12-5-1 in those games. They're 9-17-4 when they allow the first goal, so getting out to a lead first will be important against a struggling Lightning team looking for signs of life.

2. Will the floodgates open for Jonathan Toews?

After a four-point game in a 4-2 win over Vancouver, the Blackhawks captain matched his point total over his previous nine games. He's up to 26 points on the season, which is now fifth among Chicago forwards. When Toews has offensive droughts, they usually last longer than they should. But when he gets hot, he gets extremely hot. Perhaps we'll see the floodgates open offensively.

3. A chance for the team lead in scoring.

With an empty-net goal on Sunday, Marian Hossa tied Artem Anisimov for the team-lead with 18 goals. Artemi Panarin is right behind with 17, and Patrick Kane isn't far either at 15. The Blackhawks had four 20-goal scorers last season, and haven't had more than that since the 2013-14 season. They're definitely on pace to hit four, but could they surprass that? Richard Panik, who scored another goal Sunday as well, is fifth with 11 goals while Ryan Hartman has 10. Toews is at eight, but a flurry after a drought could make things interesting.

4. The triplets reunited?

In an effort to jumpstart a struggling offense, Lightning coach Jon Cooper reunited the triplets line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat that was so successful during their 2015 playoff run in their latest game, a 5-3 loss to Arizona. It's unclear whether they will begin tonight's game on the same line, but if not, it's worth watching throughout the game whether they do. The Blackhawks have been coming at opponents in waves lately, so Cooper could look to separate the three to distribute the scoring.

5. Take advantage on special teams.

The Lightning have racked up the fifth-most penalty minutes in the league, and own a bottom-10 penalty kill unit at 80.1 percent. The Blackhawks are the second-least penalized team, and have converted on 17.9 percent of their power plays, which sits at 16th. But they haven't scored one on the man advantage in five straight games, going 0-for-9 during that span. Here's a chance to change that.

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