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Chicago Blackhawks

Chicago Blackhawks

The trip that will have kept the Blackhawks off their United Center ice for 18 days hasn’t resulted in a complete fall.

The Blackhawks have lost four games, a starting goalie and a second-line center during their seasonlong six-game suitcase swing that concludes Wednesday night against the Rangers in New York.

Somehow they’ve managed to stay within striking distance of a playoff spot despite winning just one game — 4-3 against the Oilers in overtime Friday — of the five they have played so far. This despite losing starting goalie Corey Crawford to an upper-body injury, and center Artem Anisimov, the team’s second-leading goal-scorer with 13, to the same.

Players and coaches found themselves trying to accentuate the positive after losing 4-3 in overtime Sunday against the Flames to fall into a the standings in points with them at 42 Western Conference tie with the Flames at 42 points.

Both teams are two points out of the second wild-card spot ndwiched in between and one point behind the Wild.

Rookie goalie Jeff Glass started his second straight game Sunday and made 35 saves to keep the Hawks afloat after they fell behind 3-0. Perhaps the most memorable save he made in his hometown occurred when he stifled Johnny Gaudreau on a breakaway with 2 minutes, 43 seconds left and the Hawks down one.

“Well, we were down 3-0 (so) it’s a great point,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said told reporters in Calgary after the game. “That was a great save. That was like, ‘OK, that was instrumental in getting us a point. Pretty dangerous opportunity to close the game out.’ ”

Glass, who was born and raised in Calgary, wasn’t impressed with his start, which included allowing a last-second goal at the end of the first. But he was impressed with the way the Blackhawks responded during the next two periods.

“You don’t ever want to give up three,” he said. “We did a good job to climb out of that hole. It felt good to get back to all square, but I would have liked another point.”

Top liners Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad each were happy finally to record a point. Both had gone six games without a goal or an assist. Toews’ goal, which came 56 seconds after Jordan Oesterle scored in the second, pulled the Hawks to within one.

Saad, who earlier clanged one off the crossbar, smacked home his game-tying goal off a Toews faceoff win with 1:46 left in regulation.

“We’ll take any point (we) can get,” Saad said. “But obviously we want to get both points, especially with the position we’re in.”

Glass concurred.

“Working in the right direction,” Glass said. “My goal is to get two points every game. We fell short of that (Sunday). Little bit of room to improve for next game, something to shoot for. It’s a step in the right direction.”

The direction the Hawks will be going after Wednesday is home, finally, where they are 10-5-2. They will play eight of nine games there after Wednesday. Where they go in the standings remains to be seen.

“We just kind of limped into the Christmas break,” Kane told reporters in Vancouver on Thursday before the Hawks lost their third in a row. “Let’s get back to the way we want to play. This is an important trip. You look at the teams were playing against, they’re all kind of right around the same spot we are.

“Big games, important points. It’s going to be a dog fight till the end of the season.”

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Jan Rutta might be the most optimistic Bears fan you’ll find.

Since coming from the Czech Republic, the first-year Blackhawks defenseman has adopted the Bears and even attended a game at Soldier Field.

“I’m not an expert, but I think they’ve got a young team and they’re playing pretty good,” Rutta said. “They’re getting better as the season is going, so they lost a couple close ones, so maybe when they’ll be a few years more experienced, they can win those games and be a really good team.”

Rutta, 27, hasn’t yet adopted the jaded pessimism that comes with being a Bears fan in Chicago. However, his transition on the ice has been seamless.

The Hawks weren’t sure what they had when they signed Rutta to a one-year deal, but he is turning into an integral part of their blue line, a group that is still a work in progress more than a quarter of the way through the season.

“He has come in here and given us some important minutes,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We like his quickness into the puck area. We like how he moves. We like how he handles (the puck) and makes plays.”

Rutta, who has three goals and seven assists, said it hasn’t been a huge transition to the smaller rink of the NHL from the Czech League. The only difference he mentioned is that he is put into tight situations with a lot of bodies converging more often during an NHL game than a Czech League game.

“I actually like the smaller rink,” Rutta said. “With my size, I can benefit from it. In the tight areas, you’re put into situations like five times per game, and on the bigger rink you might never be in that situation or it happens one time in the game. But those situations come more frequently.”

That’s where Rutta can still make his biggest improvement as a defenseman, Quenneville said, especially when Rutta is in front of his own net.

“There’s room for growth in his game,” Quenneville said. “But I still think he has all the attributes you look for in today’s type of defenseman — complementary puck movement, supporting of the puck, killing plays with quickness. He’s got all the things that we’re looking for.”

Rutta also discovered he could play on his off side, the left side, if the Hawks need that.

Quenneville especially likes that Rutta is somebody who can help initiate the offense. When the Hawks were struggling in the first month of the season, Quenneville said the disconnect between defense and offense was one reason for the slump. Of late, with the Hawks 4-1-1 in their last six, that is improving.

“I mean, it is 20 games into the season, but it’s only 20 games into the season,” Rutta said. “It’s still a work in progress, but I think the whole defense, we are helping the forwards much more than we did in the first couple games.”

Rutta is feeling more at home in Chicago. He said he likes the steak and sushi options available downtown and he’s used to getting around the city via cab. But on ice is the adjustment that matters most to him, and so far that hasn’t been an issue.

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If there is a hockey deity, Tommy Wingels must have attended services Saturday before the Blackhawks’ 4-2 victory over the Coyotes.

Wingels had an apparent penalty-shot goal taken away in the second period when replay officials ruled goaltender Louis Domingue had hit the puck — officially ending the play per NHL rules — as Wingels attempted a backhand-forehand move in front of the net.

But Wingels scored his first Hawks goal later when he sealed the game with an empty-netter. The “hockey gods,” as Wingels and lineman Lance Bouma said, must have been smiling down on Wingels.

“Definitely that was the hockey gods giving him one back,” Bouma said. “Because that was a heck of a move he put on the goalie in the shootout; I think it was a goal for sure.”

But what’s important about both Wingels’ non-goal and his empty-net goal is the circumstances that led to them. On the penalty shot, Wingels and his line had worked the puck in the Coyotes’ zone and he made a strong move to draw a hooking penalty on Max Domi.

As for Wingels’ empty-netter, the fourth line had played so well that it earned Quenneville’s trust to be on the ice late in the game with the Hawks protecting a 3-2 lead — a lead that, by the way, the Hawks had because Bouma had given it to them with his first goal of the season 15 minutes, 36 seconds into the third.

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville has referred to his fourth line of Bouma, Wingels and John Hayden as his “energy line.” On Saturday, they gave Quenneville something a little more tangible than energy. They gave him a pair of important goals.

“There are different ways to impact a game, and as a line we talked about finding a way to impact them on a nightly basis,” Wingels said. “Are we going to score every night? No, I don’t think so. Are we going to get two in a night? Probably very rarely. But we can find a way to win battles, finish checks and be a force out there, create some energy. It did feel good to get a couple goals and get rewarded.”

The Hawks signed Wingels and Bouma to add veteran depth and a physical presence on the bottom lines, something they felt was missing in last season’s playoffs.

At times, Tanner Kero has been at center for Wingels on that line, but the group has looked its best with Wingels at center. That has been a surprising development, considering the Hawks had Wingels penciled in as a winger before the season.

Bouma, meanwhile, has helped the Hawks gain possession in the offensive zone during five-on-five play despite having only 48 percent of his faceoffs begin in the offensive zone. That means he has helped flip the ice and get the puck into the Hawks zone. The Hawks have had more five-on-five shot attempts than opponents (69 to 68) when Bouma is on the ice, according to NaturalStatTrick.com.

“They give us a different look,” Quenneville said. “It’s not just skill, it’s some hard work, some physicality, some puck possession, and those are the kind of goals you score in our league — those second opportunities, traffic at the net. I think that’s something moving forward, we can take a page out of what they’re doing.”

As Wingels said, they probably won’t score every night, but they don’t have to score to be effective.