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Blackhawks Buzz: Offense looks to keep rolling against the Coyotes

by Eric Lear / Chicago Blackhawks


1. DESERT DWELLERS

The Coyotes will miss the playoffs for the fourth straight season, but they are still impacting postseason seeding as they play out the string. Mike Smith gave up five unanswered goals Monday night in St. Louis as the Coyotes watched a two-goal lead disappear in a hurry. An Arizona victory would have kept St. Louis in second place in the Central Division; however, now the Blues are tied with Dallas for first place with two games remaining on the schedule. The Blackhawks, who face St. Louis in their regular-season home finale on Thursday, will play whichever team finishes second in the Central. As for the Coyotes, they’re in the midst of a four-game road trip to wrap up the season, and they’ll likely finish fourth in the Pacific Division. The Blackhawks picked up two wins in their two previous meetings this season with Arizona, although both outings were not the most impressive defensive efforts, with final scores of 7-5 and 5-4.

2. FIRST STAR

After a nine-game stretch without lighting the lamp, his second-longest goal drought of the season, Artemi Panarin has quickly made up for lost time. The left winger has tallied three goals in the past two games to go along with five assists. Panarin, who was named the NHL’s First Star of the Week, is the first rookie in Blackhawks history to tally back-to-back four-point games. The last rookie on any team to achieve that feat was Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom during the 2007-08 season. With less than a week remaining in the regular season, Panarin is the favorite to win the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie. The Russian leads all rookies in goals (28), game-winning goals (7), assists (44) and points (72). If he does win, he’ll be the ninth Blackhawk to be named rookie of the year and first since Patrick Kane in 2008. If Panarin picks up a point in any of the final three games, he’ll become the Blackhawks’ all-time leader in points for a rookie, passing Kane’s record of 72 set during the 2007-08 season.

3. TRIPLE DIGIT CLUB

Panarin accounts for one-third of the Blackhawks’ dominant second line that flexed their collective muscle on Sunday against the Bruins. Panarin, Artem Anisimov and Kane combined to tally 11 points in the 6-4 win. That line has created matchup issues for other teams all year, and the Coyotes will have to deploy their best defensive unit to try and slow them down. The trio, which has played together almost exclusively this year, has combined for 91 goals and 123 assists. The bulk of those points have come off the stick of Patrick Kane. With four points on Sunday, including his second career regular-season hat trick, Kane has become first American-born player to reach 100 points in a season since Doug Weight did so in the 1995-96 season, and the first Blackhawk to reach triple digits since Jeremy Roenick in 1993-94.

4. YOUNG GUNS

Panarin won’t be the only high-scoring rookie featured in Tuesday’s tilt. Arizona boasts two players who have been impressive in their first full NHL seasons. Maxi Domi, a 21-year-old left wing, is just one point behind Buffalo’s Jack Eichel in the race to finish second to Panarin in points by a rookie, and he ranks second on the Coyotes with 51 points in 78 games. The former London Knight was scoreless against the Blues, but has at least one point in five of his last seven games, tallying a goal and five helpers over that span. Fellow rookie Anthony Duclair netted his 20th goal of the season in Monday’s loss. He’s up to 44 points on the season, which ranks sixth among rookies leaguewide. The 20-year-old, who sports a team-high 19.2 shooting percentage, has averaged a point per game over the last seven outings.

5. CHICAGO'S DARLING

Scott Darling has filled in admirably for the injured Corey Crawford, who Joel Quenneville announced might be back in net for the Blackhawks’ regular-season finale in Columbus. Darling is coming off a 42-save performance in his last start, a regular-season career high, and he’s posted a 4-1-0 record in his last five starts while not allowing a single power-play goal over that span. On the year, Darling is 11-8-3 with a 2.63 goals-against average and .912 save percentage. The Illinois native will make his 10th consecutive start on Tuesday, by far the most active stretch of his career.

“We’re comfortable with him in net,” Coach Q said on Monday. “He’s quick. He’s big. That size is a great attribute to have…He’s a battler as well.”

THE FINAL WORD

The Blackhawks are coming off a strange game. They exploded for six consecutive goals and played a nearly perfect two periods, but ended up allowing Boston to rally and make it a 6-4 final. Chicago can pull a lot of positives from that game, but the team will also need to find consistency in their execution with the postseason around the corner and a tough first-round matchup no matter who their opponent ends up being. The bright spot has been their offense, which has produced 11 goals in their last two tilts, and 12 against Arizona this season. If the Blackhawks can replicate Sunday’s hot start—they tallied 19 shots on goal in the first period—and not take their foot off the gas, they’ll be four points behind St. Louis heading into Thursday’s showdown with the Blues.

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