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Wednesday Night Rivalry

Artem Anisimov, Blackhawks off to hot starts

Center headed for best NHL season, Chicago takes six-game winning streak into game vs. St. Louis

by Brian Hedger / NHL.com Correspondent

CHICAGO -- It was a goal Artem Anisimov will never forget, might never outlive and taught him a lesson he still abides by five years later.

The Chicago Blackhawks center, who leads the team with 17 points and eight goals through 13 games, was 23 at the time. He was in his fourth NHL season, playing for the New York Rangers.

The Rangers were on a penalty kill with the game tied 1-1 in the second period against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Madison Square Garden. The date was Dec. 8, 2011.

The Rangers got the puck for a 3-on-3 rush with defenseman Michael Del Zotto, forward Brandon Dubinsky and Anisimov, who capped a tic-tac-toe play with a shorthanded goal.

"It was long time ago that it happened," said Anisimov, who has become an integral piece with the Blackhawks at age 28. "It was a bad decision by me, like, to celebrate this goal."

After scoring, Anisimov threw his arms skyward. He drifted backward to the blue line, went down to one knee, held his stick like a rifle and pointed it toward Lightning goalie Mathieu Garon. He even appeared to "fire," which he later told teammates was just his way of "reloading my weapon."

Lightning players were angry and, led by then-captain Vincent Lecavalier, went after Anisimov.

Video: CHI@NJD: Anisimov snipes the game-winning goal in OT

Sixteen penalty minutes later, including an extra two for unsportsmanlike conduct, Anisimov sat alone in the locker room waiting for the period to end. It's an experience that still resonates. It's the reason his goal celebrations these days are tame.

"If you see, after that, like … I don't celebrate goals anymore," Anisimov said. "I don't want to get wild and be in a bad situation or offend somebody. I'm just myself now and calm. It was a learning experience, too. Don't do stupid stuff on the ice. You'll get punished for that."

Anisimov now does a lot of smart things on the ice. He's rarely out of position, is still used as a penalty-killer and his 6-foot-4 frame allows him to buzz the net and retrieve pucks for his linemates. He's one of the reasons Chicago enters its Wednesday Night Rivalry game against St. Louis (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NHL.TV) on a six-game winning streak.

It didn't take long for the Blackhawks to realize Anisimov's value after acquiring him from the Columbus Blue Jackets in a trade on June 30, 2015, that sent forward Brandon Saad and prospects to Columbus.

"He's been a really good fit for us," coach Joel Quenneville said. "I don't think we had a great handle on him here, right off the bat, but he does so many little things well and he's around the puck. He's got good instincts, with and without it, in tight areas. He's got production here. His wingers last year had special seasons as well. He quietly helped them along the way to have their success, and this year he's gotten off to a tremendous start."

Video: DAL@CHI: Anisimov crashes net, slams home rebound

Last season, Anisimov was flanked most often by right wing Patrick Kane and left wing Artemi Panarin. Kane led the NHL with 106 points (46 goals, 60 assists) to win the Art Ross Trophy, the Hart Trophy as the League's Most Valuable Player and the Ted Lindsay Award as the NHL's most outstanding player as judged by the NHL Players Association.

Panarin had 77 points (30 goals, 47 assists) and won the Calder Trophy as the NHL's best rookie.

They've played together at times this season, but Kane is playing on the top line with Jonathan Toews. His absence hasn't slowed down Anisimov, off to the best start of his NHL career.

Outside of a struggle to win enough faceoffs, Anisimov's success is no surprise to Marian Hossa, the 37-year old veteran filling Kane's former role.

"Such a smart player," said Hossa, who scored his 500th NHL goal on Oct. 19, off a crisp pass from Anisimov on a power play. "He's got the skill, he's got the size, he's got the strength … but he plays the game really smart. He's always in the right spot."

Video: CGY@CHI: Anisimov deflects Kane's pass, scores PPG

Columbus coach John Tortorella holds the same assessment.

Tortorella coached Anisimov with the Rangers and had high praise for his former player during Chicago's trip to Columbus on Oct. 21. Anisimov feels the same about Tortorella, whom he credits for much of his early development.

"It's actually hard, but it's a very good learning experience," Anisimov said of playing for Tortorella. "He [taught] me to do the little things right. Do it the right way."

One of those lessons followed that infamous goal celebration. Tortorella's glare from the bench said more than any words he spoke about it afterward. Anisimov got the message and still lives by it.

"Everybody kind of thought it was funny afterward, but back then on the ice, it was not funny at all," he said. "Good learning experience, though."

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