The Chicago Blackhawks may be starting to turn their fortunes in a positive direction with two straight wins and could gain a big boost if they can go into the holiday with a road victory against the red-hot Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night. The Blackhawks responded to giving up seven goals against New Jersey by beating the New York Rangers 6-3 and then knocking off two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh 2-1 on Saturday.
“I find that we’re moving better and skating better,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville told reporters. “We still think there’s better puck management internally, on every single line, and that could make us better. That’s where the upside has to come from.” Artem Anisimov posted five of his team-leading 10 goals in the last three games for the Blackhawks, who will need to put together another strong offensive effort against the NHL’s top scoring team Wednesday. Steven Stamkos leads the league with 35 points and Nikita Kucherov has an NHL-best 17 goals for the Lightning, who are putting up 3.95 per contest with points in 17 of the first 20 games. Tampa Bay tries to avoid its first losing streak of the season after dropping a 5-3 decision Saturday to the New York Islanders at home.
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network, NBCSN Chicago
ABOUT THE BLACKHAWKS (10-8-2): Rookie forward Alex DeBrincat has also played a big part during Chicago’s 3-1-0 run while posting four goals and two assists during the stretch to push his season total to 13 points (seven goals). Patrick Kane leads the team with 19 points, recording a goal and four assists in the last four games, and fellow forward Nick Schmaltz registered six assists in the past three contests. Corey Crawford (9-7-0, 2.19 goals-against average, .933 save percentage) allowed four goals to win the last two games after allowing six versus New Jersey.
ABOUT THE LIGHTNING (15-3-2): Yanni Gourde emerged last season when Tampa Bay’s injury list grew and has not lost his spot, putting up six goals and eight assists with a plus-11 rating in the first 20 games. Gourde has played on right wing with center Brayden Point (eight goals, 20 points) and left wing Ondrej Palat (five, 12) on a second line that has produced offensively while often also being matched against the opponent’s top line. Defenseman Jake Dotchin, who missed the last two practices with an undisclosed injury, is considered day-to-day.
1. Tampa Bay G Andrei Vasilevskiy (14-2-1, .928 save percentage) beat the Blackhawks twice last season.
2. Chicago LW Brandon Saad recorded six goals in the first six games of the season but managed one in the last 14.
3. Gourde had the overtime winner against Chicago last March and the Lightning have earned a point in the last four meetings (3-0-1).
PREDICTION: Blackhawks 3, Lightning 2