Chicago’s top line appears secure
Yes, Pittsburgh was down three defensemen in Kris Letang, Olli Maata and Trevor Daley. And yes, the Penguins were coming off a game Tuesday in Dallas. But that doesn’t mean the Blackhawks’ top line didn’t look really, really good Wednesday.
Schmaltz showed some impressive backchecking ability on Chicago’s first goal, stealing the puck from Jake Guentzel in the neutral zone and flinging it to Kane for a 2-on-1 with Artemi Panarin. Kane went low and beat Marc-Andre Fleury.
Panik did pretty much all the work on the Blackhawks’ second goal. After stealing the puck in his own zone by lifting the stick after Patric Hornqvist, Panik danced around Evgeni Malkin with a between the legs and off the skate puck move before potting the puck over Fleury’s right shoulder. It was a beautiful goal.
On Chicago’s third goal, Schmaltz dragged the puck through two defenders between the circles before dishing a backhander to a wide-open Kane late in the third period.
All three of these plays showed major confidence from Schmaltz and/or Panik in situations they might not have excelled in just a few months ago. And though I didn’t mention Toews in any of these plays, he won 50 percent of his faceoffs and carried a 57.14 Corsi-for rate at 5-on-5. The captain was doing his part — it just didn’t show on the scoresheet.
Strong goaltending on both sides
Matt Murray started Tuesday for Pittsburgh, while Corey Crawford was given a little extra time to deal with an illness the Blackhawks swear isn’t mumps. That meant it was Fleury against Scott Darling.
NBC execs didn’t have to worry about the backup goalies providing a poor show. The two were all over the place. Fleury turned in a sprawling, highlight-reel save in the second period on Brent Seabrook, while Darling stoned Matt Cullen on a point-blank one-timer. Sidney Crosby was so sure Cullen would score, you can see him celebrating behind the net before realizing Darling came up with the puck.
Some on Twitter noted this was a great showcase for two guys who may very well not be with their current teams next season. Fleury is an aging, big-contract guy who has been supplanted by Murray, while Darling is due for a nice pay bump and isn’t taking Crow’s position.
Showcase away, gentlemen.