Blackhawks aim for 3rd straight win
CHICAGO — For a team in any professional sport to succeed, they must beat less talented teams consistently. That long-known formula is working for the Chicago Blackhawks.
Looking to extend a pair of winning streaks, the Blackhawks welcome the Florida Panthers to United Center on Tuesday night.
After losing five straight from Nov. 28 to Dec. 6, Chicago (14-11-5) goes for its third straight victory. The Blackhawks followed Friday’s 3-2 overtime win against the Buffalo Sabres with a 3-1 victory Sunday against the Arizona Coyotes.
“We could probably play a little bit better, but at the same time we found ways to win even when we probably haven’t had our best. … It’s huge points for us right now,” Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane told the Chicago Tribune.
More points could follow. Chicago, which defeated the Panthers 4-1 on Nov. 25, has limited Florida to eight goals while winning six straight at home in the matchup.
Kane snapped a four-game points drought with two assists against the Coyotes. He also scored last month in South Florida, and has four goals and eight assists in eight career home games versus the Panthers.
In 13 games since Nov. 12, Kane leads the Blackhawks with 14 points (five goals, nine assists), followed by Nick Schmaltz (two goals, 10 assists) and rookie Alex DeBrincat (seven goals, four assists). Artem Anisimov has notched eight of his team-leading 13 goals this season in that span.
That could be a problem for Florida (12-14-4), whose 106 goals allowed are the second-most in the league behind Arizona
While Chicago is getting scoring from multiple sources, the return of Corey Crawford after missing three games with an undisclosed injury cannot be overlooked. Crawford has stopped 57 of 60 shots over the last two games, including a 31-save performance versus the Coyotes.
“It was another good win for us at home. Something to build off of and keep going with this,” he said.
Crawford is 6-0-2 with a 2.22 goals-against average and .932 save percentage since Nov. 15. His best outing over that stretch came versus Florida as he turned aside 37 shots.
Facing the Panthers at United Center, Crawford is 3-0-0 with a 0.91 GAA, a .964 save percentage and one shutout in four games.
Chicago is 9-4-2 against the Eastern Conference in 2017-18.
Florida began a grueling stretch of five road games in nine days by rallying for a 2-1 overtime victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Monday. Vincent Trocheck tied the score with a power-play goal midway through the third period before Mike Matheson potted his first goal of the season 2:02 into the extra session.
“I think it’s huge for us. Whenever you go on a long trip like that, it seems like when you win the first game it just gets you off on the right foot and really creates some momentum going into the rest of the road trip,” Matheson told the Panthers’ official website.
The Panthers are 3-0-1 in their last four road games after starting the season 3-8-0 away from home.
With his marker on Monday, Trocheck has three goals and five assists in a five-game points streak. The fifth-year pro leads the team with 13 goals, and his 31 points are one behind scoring leader Jonathan Huberdeau.
Trocheck is the only player currently on the Panthers to score in Chicago with two goals in three games. Aleksandr Barkov, Nick Bjugstad and Aaron Ekblad each have one assist.
With Roberto Luongo sidelined by a leg injury that is expected to keep him out of action for what first-year head coach Bob Boughner has called an extended period of time, the Panthers are going with James Reimer and rookie Harri Sateri in goal for now.
Reimer made 34 saves against the Red Wings to improve to 6-7-3 with a 3.61 GAA and .894 save percentage in 17 games (15 starts).
“Reimer was fantastic for us,” Trocheck said. “He kept us in the game with all of those saves.”
However, Reimer has allowed 11 goals while losing both career starts on Chicago’s West Side. Sateri, who turns 28 on Dec. 29, has yet to make his NHL debut.
This season, Florida is 3-2-1 in the second of back-to-back games.
“(Tuesday) is going to be huge for us,” Huberdeau said.