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Kristi Loucks The Hockey Writers

Published on Monday, April 4, 2016





Kane and Panarin Campaign Hard For Hart and Calder

Patrick Kane has had a spectacular season. On Sunday afternoon he added another milestone, getting his 100th point of the season (he started the game with 96) and a hat-trick for good measure in a 6-4 win over the Boston Bruins. Kane is the first Blackhawks player to record 100 points since Jeremy Roenick (107) did it in the 1993-94 season. He is also the first American-born player to hit the century mark in 20 years.

Artemi Panarin also had a great game on Sunday, adding two goals and two assists (his second four-point night in a row). Kane and Panarin may not win the Hart or Calder Trophies (respectively), but they are determined to make it tough to ignore them.

Step aside Sidney Crosby, because Kane wants this one.

Kane and Panarin Deliver

The Blackhawks just hammered the Bruins with six goals unanswered on Sunday afternoon. Kane had three, Panarin one, Anisimov one, and Toews one.

Unfortunately, they let off the gas a bit after that and allowed the Bruins to score four on their way to a comeback, but the Bs fell short with their playoff hopes taking another hit in the process. The Bruins are just one point out of the final wildcard with the Philadelphia Flyers hitting the ice on Sunday as well.

If the Flyers manage to get a point or better against the red-hot Pittsburgh Penguins, the road ahead will get even more difficult for the Bs.

Even though the Blackhawks let the Bruins back in, their offensive push was a positive sign as the regular season closes out later this week. The second line started to emerge in Friday’s victory over the Winnipeg Jets with Panarin adding his first of consecutive four-point games and Kane earning a goal and an assist. Panarin followed up with his second in a row on Sunday, further solidifying his Calder bid. With both Kane and Panarin finding their stride, the second line has found their spark and reclaimed their dominance after hitting a wall for a bit.

Sunday’s matchup was Panarin’s ninth game with three or more points. The last Blackhawks rookie to put up those kinds of numbers was his linemate, Kane. Kane recorded 21 goals and 51 assists for 72 points in his rookie campaign. With 72 points for Panarin already and three games remaining, there is a good chance Panarin will finish the regular season with more points than his linemate in his rookie campaign. Perhaps Panarin’s choice in number was a bit of foreshadowing?

Bang, Bang

With the departure of Brandon Saad the Blackhawks nation was in a panic, but since October the talk has been all Panarin. Certainly, Saad is missed on that top line, but Panarin has easily picked up some of the scoring slack left in his absence, as well as Patrick Sharp’s. The added bonus has been the almost instant chemistry with Kane and Artem Anisimov, who was part of the return for Saad.

The trio has added 91 goals, 122 assists, and 213 points over the course of the regular season.

Kane and Panarin have been one of the most electrifying pairs on the ice all season as they continuously find the back of the net and generally do so in highlight-reel fashion. They are one of the most dangerous combinations in the league and have certainly been orchestrating a lot of the Blackhawks successes throughout the year along with netminder Corey Crawford. Crow has finally hit the ice after suffering what may have been a head injury that resulted in symptoms of vertigo last month.

The Blackhawks stars have certainly found their rhythm in the last few games, and it couldn’t have come at a better time, as the Blackhawks are winding up for what they hope is another deep playoff run. Fans had reasons to be concerned as the Blackhawks had another subpar March, especially as they were playing without Crawford. However, the confidence appears to be heading up for the Blackhawks.

A Day for Milestones

Coach Joel Quenneville has added another milestone to his already impressive resume with his 800th victory on Sunday afternoon. With Kane getting his 100th for the first time in his career., the only thing that would have made it even better would have been Hossa’s 500th goal, but unfortunately, an awkward collision sent Hossa to the locker room early. No word yet on the severity of his injury, but Quenneville didn’t seem too concerned in his post game commentary saying, “seemed to be OK. We’ll know more tomorrow.”

Of course, Quenneville is notoriously tight-lipped about injuries, especially later in the season. However, he has ruled Andrew Shaw out for Tuesday. He will miss his second game after an injury suffered on Friday night against the Jets.

Defense Muscles Through Without Keith

The Defense is notably thin, especially without Duncan Keith, who sat his second straight game after a six-game suspension was handed down on Friday for an ill-advised high stick against Minnesota’s Charlie Coyle.

The Blackhawks and Keith caught a huge break as the punishment could have been, and perhaps should have been, much stiffer. Keith may have gotten a slap on the wrist because there was no major injury (though Coyle was sporting a few stitches and a shiner) on the play and the playoffs were nearing. However, many players and fans alike are outraged by the relatively short length of his ban.

The ruling is what it is, and the Blackhawks will muscle through without Keith. That will mean heavier minutes for Brent Seabrook (24:39) and Niklas Hjalmarsson (24:19), but they have been up to the task. Hammer had two key blocks on Sunday while Seabrook added two assists, three shots on goal, one hit, and three blocks. Incidentally, this was also Seabrook’s second multi-point night in a row as he had an assist and the overtime game-winner on Friday against the Jets.

Trevor van Riemsdyk added two shots, two hits, and a block in his 20:26 minutes on the ice while Michal Rozsival added a shot and two hits in 18:34. Viktor Svedberg (16:20) also saw his minutes increase and added three shots and a block, but his four giveaways left a little to be desired.

There’s No Easy Path to the Stanley Cup

The road for the Blackhawks never gets easier as the playoffs draw near, as there is always a team waiting in the wings ready to knock them off their pedestal. This season will be no different. To find the success they are looking for, they will have to get Crawford back in his early season form, and get Shaw, Hossa, and Keith back into the lineup as quickly as possible.

Even then, the road is full of landmines. The Blackhawks will have to get through a stacked Central Division, and then face off against a Western Conference rival that will undoubtedly be either the Los Angeles Kings or Anaheim Ducks barring a major upset. From there, it’s anyone’s guess.

The East has its own challenges with the up and coming Florida Panthers, the red-hot Pittsburgh Penguins, the dominating Washington Capitals, and the deep and talented Tampa Bay Lightning, who gave the Blackhawks a run for their money in last year’s Stanley Cup Final. However, the Lightning may have to go into battle without Steven Stamkos (blood clots) and Anton Stralman (fractured left leg), putting their hopes of a second appearance in the Finals in jeopardy.

The Lightning have the depth to make a run, but it may not be enough to get through the other powers in the East. Perhaps Stamkos’ injury opens the door a crack for Jonathan Drouin to return, provided his recent injury isn’t a factor. Both Stamkos and Stralman hope to return this season, but there is no guarantee the Bolts will still be playing when they are able to return. If he doesn’t return, there is a good chance that Stamkos has played his last game with the Bolts.

The general consensus is that the lack of an extension in Tampa would indicate that Stamkos will be dipping his toe into the free agency pool come summer, but Tampa Bay should make one last push to try and keep the sniper in the fold. Players like Stamkos are not that easy to come by in the NHL.

Wrapping the Season Up with a Bow

There are certainly a lot of candidates for both the Hart and the Calder, but Kane and Panarin have chosen the right time to put their stamp on things. They’ve been hot for most of the season and while Chicago has run on Duncan in the past, this season they have run on Kane and Panarin. When they score good things tend to happen, and the offense is starting to catch fire with the pair leading the charge once again. Timing is everything they say, and these two seem to have that mastered.

Many believe the two are a lock; however, if you asked the pair whether they care about the awards, I’d be willing to bet they’d let someone else have them if they can play their way to back-to-back Cup wins instead. Both Kane and Panarin know that it’s a team game, and the individual accolades mean nothing if they don’t get the NHL’s most coveted prize, the Stanley Cup.


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