CHICAGO (AP) Patrick Kane and the Chicago Blackhawks pushed aside the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Kane had his second hat trick in three games, Scott Darling made 36 saves and the Blackhawks beat the Penguins 4-1 on Wednesday night for their fifth straight victory and 10th in 11 games.
Richard Panik also scored to help Chicago pull within three points of first-place Minnesota in the Central Division and Western Conference. Kane, last season’s MVP, has a team-leading 27 goals – scoring 12 times and adding seven assists in his last 11 games.
Kane said he was pumped up for first meeting this season between the last two Stanley Cup winners.
”It felt like a playoff game out there,” Kane said. ”It’s a team we don’t really see a lot. ”We knew they’re coming off a back-to-back game, but they still played hard tonight. A tough team to play against.”
It’s tougher to play against the Blackhawks right now, especially with Kane at top speed.
”He’s made some great shots,” coach Joel Quenneville said. ”He’s a threat to shoot and he’s a threat to make a play, so I think you’ve got to respect the other option which is not easy on goalies.”
Darling started a second straight game in place of Corey Crawford, the No. 1 goalie who has been fighting an illness. Crawford said he felt much better following Wednesday’s morning skate and was on the bench to back up Darling.
”Scotty had some huge saves, and we got some timely goals tonight,” Kane said.
Scott Wilson scored for Pittsburgh as the Penguins fell short again after a 3-2 loss at Dallas on Tuesday night. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 25 shots for Pittsburgh in his first start in two weeks.
Despite the second straight loss, coach Mike Sullivan wasn’t upset with his team’s effort, just a couple of breakdowns the Blackhawks jumped on.
”I thought we competed hard,” Sullivan said. ”I think we can play a little bit smarter in a couple of the areas where we gave up a couple of odd man rushes, but what I really liked is I thought we had a heightened intensity.”
Chicago center Artem Anisimov left the game in the second period with a lower-body injury.
”He might miss a little bit of time, not a lot of time,” Quenneville said with a grimace. ”We’ll know tomorrow.”
Rookie Nick Schmaltz moved to Anisimov’s center position on line with Kane and Artemi Panarin and had two assists.
Kane opened the scoring at 8:49 of the second.
Rookie Nick Schmaltz stripped the puck from Jake Guentzel at the Chicago blue line, then quickly whipped it the other direction to Kane who closed in on a 2 on 1. Kane fooled Fleury with a low shot between the legs,.
Wilson tied it at 1 with 3 minutes left in the second on a rising backhander from the right circle that slipped over Darling’s glove.
Wilson’s shot popped back out of the net so quickly that the goal wasn’t immediately ruled a score. Play continued for 29 seconds before the horn sounded, and the goal underwent a video review by the NHL office in Toronto and was allowed.
Panik put Chicago back in front 2-1 with 24 seconds left in the period with 17th goal. He made a power move down the slot around Chris Kunitz and beat Fleury high on the glove side.
Darling was at his best in the third to preserve the lead.
Kane made it 3-1 on a wrist shot from the right circle with 3:08 remaining. He completed his fourth career regular-season hat trick with an empty-netter with 40.7 seconds remaining.
NOTES: Blackhawks D Niklas Hjalmarsson missed his second game with an upper-body injury. Although Hjalmarsson is on IR on retroactive to Feb. 23, GM Stan Bowman said the condition is not serious. … Oduya, a member of Chicago’s 2013 and 2015 Stanley Cup teams, returned from an ankle injury and played his first game in more than a month Sunday for the Stars against Boston. Coach Joel Quenneville said he wanted to give the 35-year-old a chance to settle in.
Penguins: Host Tampa Bay on Friday night.
Blackhawks: Host the New York Islanders on Friday night.