It seemed like it was only a matter of time before the Chicago Blackhawks started playing like the Blackhawks we’ve come to know and love. The Hawks’ came out flying in this game and jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first period and never looked back. Here are five thoughts from the big win over the Penguins.
5. The Blackhawks Are Legitimate Cup Contenders
Okay, so maybe we’ve known this for a while but it’s hard not to think about this even more given the performance the Blackhawks had against the Penguins tonight. They were dominant from start to finish and they never looked back once they struck early against the Penguins. It was the first time in a while that the Hawks played a full game and they happened to do so against one of the best teams in the NHL. If they can play like this against a great (although injured) Penguins team, then it’s hard to imagine that they won’t be a favorite to make it to the Stanley Cup coming out of the Western conference.
4. Panik Is Heating Up
Panik now has four goals in his last six games after going 11 games with only two goals. Panik started the season on fire and he cooled off quite a bit since then so it’s good to see him scoring and making a big impact once again. Not only is it a benefit to see him scoring, but the better his play gets, the better Toews is going to be and the more chances he’ll have. If Panik can keep it up when the playoffs roll around, that will help to solidify the top line even further.
3. Rockford Was A Huge Benefit For Nick Schmaltz
If you look at the pass by Schmaltz to set up Panik for the Blackhawks second goal, you saw something that was virtually non-existent for Schmaltz at the beginning of the season and that’s confidence. Schmaltz was sent down on December 4th and recalled on January 14th and the difference in his game has been remarkable.
Before heading to Rockford, Schmaltz played in 26 games and registered one goal and three assists. Since being recalled, he has played in 30 games and scored five goals along with 18 assists. Not only does the score sheet prove it, but just watching Schmaltz feels like you’re watching a different player and the more his confidence grows, the better he’s going to play.
2. The Blackhawks Finally Played 60 Minutes
Over the last few games, it seems as if the Blackhawks have had serious problems putting together a 60-minute game of hockey. After falling behind early to the Avalanche and the Canucks and then blowing a 4-1 lead against the Lightning, it was refreshing to see the Blackhawks finally figure out how to play the whole 60 minutes of the game. From the defense to the offense to the special teams, the Blackhawks were on it the entire time. We know they’re capable of it, but it’s good to see in general, especially against a great team like the Penguins.
1. Kero Is Relishing His Second Line Role
For the game against the Lightning, Kero was bumped up to the second line to center Panarin and Kane while Anisimov is still out with his injury. Since then, Kero has recorded a goal and two assists, with the goal coming on a breakaway to put the Hawks up 5-0 over the Penguins. Obviously Kero is in that role as a temporary replacement until Anisimov is healthy but it’s good to see the way he is playing.
Earlier this month, the Blackhawks signed Kero to a two-year extension, so obviously there is belief within the organization that Kero has a role with this team for some time. In addition to his goal and assist, Kero finished tonight with 6 shots on goal and 2 blocked shots.
The Blackhawks now own a 9-point advantage over the Minnesota Wild for first place in the division with five games remaining while the Wild have six games remaining. The Blackhawks next take the ice on Friday night at home against the Columbus Blue Jackets.