Blackhawks-San Jose preview: Panarin could be out with illness

By Peter Dawson

Tonight the Chicago Blackhawks (36-16-4, 76 points) will return home to the United Center for the first time in over two weeks to face the San Jose Sharks (27-20-4, 65 points). Since their return from the NHL All-Star break on Feb. 2, the Blackhawks have gotten back to their winning ways with three straight road victories over Western Conference opponents (Colorado, Phoenix and Dallas).

The Blackhawks have won each of the two previous contests with San Jose this season (5-1, and 4-3 in overtime), and will seek to extend their seven-game home winning streak that dates back to Jan. 3.

Panarin only potential lineup change

After participating in Monday’s practice, forward Artemi Panarin missed Tuesday’s morning skate with an undisclosed illness. According to Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville, Panarin might still suit up for tonight’s matchup with San Jose.

If Panarin is unable to go, forward Jiri Sekac is likely to fill his spot in the lineup. Sekac was acquired from the Anaheim Ducks on Jan. 21, but has been played in just two games since he arrived in Chicago.

“(Sekac) adds depth to our team and has some experience and is waiting for an opportunity and could play tonight,” said Quenneville after the Tuesday morning skate. “You treat practices like games, you get educated on how you have to play and take advantage when you get that opportunity. And hopefully he gets acclimated in games and in between games as well. But just be patient as well.”

Toews addresses 3-game winning streak

Even though the Blackhawks compiled a franchise record 12-game winning streak in January, the team dropped its last four games games before the All-Star break. All four of those losses came in regulation, and two of them (at Florida and at Carolina) came by a combined score of 9-0. After the morning skate, captain Jonathan Toews spoke about the importance of the team’s last three victories.

“It’s good to get right back on track,” Toews told reporters. “Sometimes if you get blown out a few times it can hurt your confidence and things can snowball in the wrong direction, so I think we’ve overcome that and controlled it.”

Schedule allows Crawford more work

Corey Crawford was once again the first goaltender off the ice at Tuesday’s morning skate and will start tonight’s game. Perhaps being arguably the biggest All-Star snub was a blessing in disguise. With some extra motivation and some extra rest, Crawford has continued his high level of play in his three post All-Star Game victories, stopping 82 of 88 shots (a goals-against of 2.00 and a save percentage of .931).

Scott Darling’s story drawing attention

It’s been almost two days since the details were confirmed, but the story about Scott Darling’s recent act of kindness continues to spread. Last week while the Blackhawks were in Phoenix, Darling paid for groceries and a month’s worth of nights at a hotel to a man in need that he met on the side of the road. Darling’s Uber driver later retold the incident to a passenger, who quickly shared the anecdote on Twitter. Darling confirmed the details of the tweet on his Twitter account and later for a story in the Chicago Tribune.

Since he joined the organization, the Blackhawks’ backup has been open about his battle with alcohol addiction that plagued the early years of his career. According to Darling, that history has played a factor in his approach to life on and off the ice.

“I definitely have a soft spot in my heart for that situation — people battling stuff that other people don’t understand,” Darling said. “He seemed like a really nice person. I’m in the position to help somebody like that. I’m happy to do it.”

Photo at top:Chicago Blackhawks gather for their Tuesday morning skate at the United Center. (Peter Dawson/MEDILL)
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