Strong finishes becoming Blackhawks signature

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Strong finishes becoming Blackhawks signature

CALGARY, Alberta Remember last season when the Blackhawks struggled in third periods, too often squandering one-goal leads and coming up empty?

Yeah, so do the Blackhawks. They werent too fond of losing slim leads and point opportunities. So this season, and especially in recent games, the Blackhawks have been turning up the offense in the third period.

The Blackhawks are playing more from start to finish this season, especially the finish part. Counting their three goals against Vancouver on Wednesday night, the Blackhawks have now outscored opponents 22-12 in third periods.

Not bad for a team that hung onto leads by their fingernails last season. So whats been the difference this season? The personnel changes? A more confident attitude?

I think its probably a combination of those things, defenseman Duncan Keith said. Weve got depth now, and it gets everybody into the game, everybodys playing. A (good) start to this season was important and something we stressed; and I just think were committed to winning and doing what it takes.

Depth, as well as a few recent line tweaks, has helped plenty. The Blackhawks arent just depending on one line to score for them. Several lines have scored, as have several defensemen.

And theres balance. The whole four-lines-rolling mantra that coach Joel Quenneville preaches has been put into practice a lot lately, which means everyones staying fresher through 60 minutes.

More energy in the third period means more finish.

The Blackhawks endings have also compensated for some slow beginnings. They werent thrilled with the way they came out against the Canucks, who had more jump than they did in the first period. But by the end it was no contest.

We always feel like we can play better, and we seem to be getting better as the game goes on and on. You saw that last night, too. They took it to us early, and we came back roaring after that, Patrick Kane said. It seems like we keep getting better.

Viktor Stalberg said veterans have also spoken up when they feel the Blackhawks have needed to close out strong.

There have been a few occasions where we may not have played the way we wanted to in first two periods and guys like Johnny (Toews) and Jamal (Mayers) say, We have a chance here, thats not all weve got. So lets go prove it to ourselves, Stalberg said. We want to keep getting better and we are and its a good sign for our hockey club.

The Blackhawks are taking advantage of their third periods this season. They know the dangers of just holding on or just doing enough late in games. They want to go into the later part of this season with a stronger playoff position. Their late-game production should help toward that cause.

When the games are on the line were doing the right things, Quenneville said. Were more predictable in our team play. Were thinking more on the defensive side of things, which usually enhances offensive side. If were committed to that, well find a way to get it done.

Blackhawks gear up for Wild in 'extremely important' game

Blackhawks gear up for Wild in 'extremely important' game

ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Blackhawks knew their meeting against the Minnesota Wild two weeks ago was a critical contest. This one is right up there, too.

The Blackhawks are trying to keep pace with the front-running Wild, who are seven points ahead of them entering tonight's game.

"There's certainly always something to play for," said coach Joel Quenneville, whose Blackhawks are 10 points ahead of third-place St. Louis. "We want to keep getting better and we're starting to improve over this part of the season. But the point of importance of today's game and keeping it close is important for us, so we'll approach it that way. We were going into the break a week ago, and I'm sure it's an important game for them but it's an extremely important game for us."

Meanwhile the Wild will be trying to do tonight what the Blackhawks did on Feb. 11: go into their bye on a high note. The Wild haven't had many hiccups lately, going 7-2-1 in their last 10 games. Devan Dubnyk will get the start as the Wild look to keep extending their lead.

"It's one of those games that's a great challenge for your group," Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. "You're playing a team that's still won three Stanley Cups in the last seven years and they've been in every battle you can imagine. That team gets up for every important game, and I think they'll think this is an important game. It's just about being an athlete. It's one of those things, you love to play in these situations."

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Tuesday marks the Wild's 59th game of the season; they had caught up to Chicago during the Blackhawks' bye week, yet will go into their break with a game in hand. Still, the Wild are ready for the respite.

"We're not complaining about it," Charlie Coyle said. "It's a little different, yeah, but in the long run it's going to help us. Just get this rest period, rest the legs, the body, [rest] mentally, come back and get ready for the grind. It's going to be crucial for us and we'll try to take advantage of it."

Matt Dumba (knee) could return to the Wild's lineup tonight but Boudreau wouldn't say for sure.

Broadcast information

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

Blackhawks

Forward lines
Nick Schmaltz -Jonathan Toews-Richard Panik
Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane
Dennis Rasmussen-Marcus Kruger-Marian Hossa
Ryan Hartman-Tanner Kero-Vinnie Hinostroza

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

Goaltender
Corey Crawford

Injuries/illnesses: None

Minnesota Wild

Forward lines
Nino Niederreiter-Eric Staal-Charlie Coyle
Jason Zucker-Mikko Koivu-Mikael Granlund
Zach Parise-Erik Haula-Jason Pominville
Chris Stewart-Tyler Graovac-Jordan Schroeder

Defensive Pairs
Ryan Suter-Jared Spurgeon
Gustav Olofsson-Jonas Brodin
Marco Scandella-Matt Dumba

Goaltender
Devan Dubnyk

Injuries/illnesses: None

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks clash with Wild tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks clash with Wild tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Minnesota Wild tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 6:30 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. Road warriors.

The Blackhawks have won six straight games away from the United Center, and are looking to make it a seventh in Minnesota tonight. They've scored the game's first goal in four of those wins, and in the other two, overcame 1-0 deficits to beat Dallas 5-3 and Edmonton 5-1, the latter of which they scored five unanswered goals.

2. Corey Crawford vs. Devan Dubnyk.

Crawford hasn't quite been the same since undergoing an emergency appendectomy on Dec. 3, but he turned in probably his best outing since then in the Blackhawks' last meeting against Minnesota on Feb. 8 when he stopped 35 of 38 shots in a 4-3 overtime win. He essentially stole two points, and prevented the Wild from picking up the extra one. Across from him tonight will be Dubnyk, who leads the league in wins (32), goals against average (1.97) and save percentage (.934).

3. Jonathan Toews on fire.

After a tough offensive drought earlier in the season that lasted longer than expected, the Blackhawks captain has six goals and 10 assists in his last 12 games, and upped his point total to 37, which now ranks fifth on the team. In the last meeting against Minnesota two weeks ago, Toews had a three-point night and scored the game winner in overtime. 

4. Mikael Granlund among league's most underrated players.

File Granlund under the category of players who don't get enough attention. He has 17 goals and 36 assists in 58 games this season, and his 53 points is tied with Jeff Carter and Artemi Panarin for 13th in the NHL's scoring race. The next highest point total on the Wild is Eric Staal with 45, an eight-point gap between him and Granlund. The 24-year-old forward registered his first career hat trick earlier this month, and also had a 12-game point streak just two weeks ago.

5. Ryan Hartman's closing in on 15 goals.

In Saturday's 3-1 loss to Edmonton, Hartman defended his teammate by fighting an Oilers defenseman that was practically twice his size. He called it a "no-brainer" to stick up for Tanner Kero and did well in the scrap, but it led to an Oilers power play and 10-minute misconduct which didn't do the Blackhawks any favors. He responded in a great way Sunday by scoring the game's first goal that helped his team win 5-1 in Buffalo. The next goal he scores will be No. 15, which would give the Blackhawks six 15-plus goal scorers on the year. They had only four a season ago.

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