March 31, 2014

The Pittsburgh Penguins are coming around with impressive special teams, and the Chicago Blackhawks are just coming around.

The defending Stanley Cup champions hit their midway point in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night trying to match their top winning streak of the season, and the Penguins can win three straight for the first time since theirs started to head south two months ago.

Chicago (23-13-4) last strung together four wins from Oct. 17-26 but is in position to after Sunday's 3-0 home victory over Ottawa.

It's scored 14 goals in the last three games with Artem Anisimov scoring in all three. The center has 15 goals in 40 games during his first season in Chicago, which is seven short of his career high set in 81 games with Columbus in 2013-14.

"You look at 15 goals, and his production is high for him when you look at his career," coach Joel Quenneville told the team's official website. "He's been a perfect fit for us. He's so responsible on the other side of the puck, that the offense, to me, is a bonus. That line, with those two wingers (Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin) being special players, they generate so much for our team game and sometimes he gets the finished product by being at the front of the net, like he was tonight."

Kane, meanwhile, has seven points on the winning streak but has been limited to four assists in seven career games against the Penguins. The league's points leader has scored at least one goal against every other NHL team.

Chicago won both meetings last season in shootouts with the teams combining for six regulation goals, but it might need to keep up its recent scoring to beat Pittsburgh this time around.

Since an 0-4-1 mid-December skid, the Penguins (19-15-4) have gone 4-1-1 with 3.33 goals per game.

"It's always nice when the puck goes in," said Sidney Crosby after Saturday's 5-2 home win over the New York Islanders. "I think with the way we're playing, we're earning our bounces and earning our goals. Hopefully, there's more to come."

Crosby scored twice and has five in his last five games - as well as 10 points in his last seven - after scoring six in his first 32. Teammates Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang have both posted consecutive three-point games.

Both of Crosby's tallies against the Islanders came on the power play, and Pittsburgh has gone 9 of 23 (39.1 percent) in the last seven games after going 0 for 19 in their previous seven. The penalty kill, meanwhile, is 15 for 15 in the last six games after an 11-for-16 span.

The trends have Pittsburgh back on the playoff cut line, two points back of eighth-place Boston.

"I thought the power play gave us momentum," coach Mike Sullivan told the team's official website. "They're winning faceoffs. They're retrieving pucks. They're sharing the puck and they're moving. When they play that way they're dangerous because they can act on their instincts. They see the game so well at such a high level that they make the plays that are there."

Sullivan has also received some above-average play in goal. Marc-Andre Fleury made 38 saves against New York and has a .932 save percentage over a 3-3-2 span. His .927 overall mark is better than an single season of his career.

Counterpart Corey Crawford, however, is coming off his fourth shutout in his last 10 games. Over a 9-3-0 stretch, Crawford has a 1.66 goals-against average and .946 save percentage.

"Certainly, he's been doing a good job for us," Quenneville said.

Crawford is 4-1-0 with a .942 save percentage against Pittsburgh.

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