CHICAGO (AP) Antoine Vermette was greeted warmly in his return to Chicago on Tuesday night after helping the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup last year.
Might be a much colder reception next time.
Andrew Ladd scored two power-play goals after Artem Anisimov was knocked out of the game by a questionable hit from Vermette, and the surging Blackhawks beat the Arizona Coyotes 6-2 on Tuesday night.
Anisimov was driven into the boards near Chicago's bench midway through the second, leading to a boarding penalty and game misconduct call on Vermette. Anisimov, a key part of the Blackhawks' high-scoring second line, looked woozy as he left the ice and headed to the locker room.
''We'll know more tomorrow, but we'll say day to day, upper body, he should be OK,'' Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said.
The big hit came after Vermette received a loud ovation from the sellout crowd of 21,884 when he was recognized on the overhead videoboard in the first period. Vermette was acquired by Chicago in a trade with Arizona last February and had four goals and three assists in the playoffs before re-signing with the Coyotes in the offseason.
''I feel bad,'' Vermette said. ''Hope he's OK, but he seems to be OK.''
After Vermette and Anisimov left for the night, Ladd redirected Trevor van Riemsdyk's slap shot by Louis Domingue to make it 4-0 at 12:17. Then Ladd got a pass from Patrick Kane and stuffed it home from the front of the net for the Blackhawks' third power-play goal of the period.
Chicago (47-26-7) won for the fifth time in six games and pulled within four points of idle Dallas and St. Louis for the Central Division lead with two games left for each team. The Blackhawks host the Blues on Thursday night in a possible playoff preview.
''We'll use it as another game to prepare for the playoffs,'' captain Jonathan Toews said. ''We'll get up for it because we know they will be.''
Connor Murphy and Brad Richardson scored in the third period for the Coyotes (35-38-7), who were coming off a 5-2 loss at St. Louis on Monday night. Domingue made 26 saves in Arizona's fourth loss in five games.
''That was a combination of really poor execution by our team and really below-average goaltending, and that's what you get,'' Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said.
The possible loss of Anisimov, who has 20 goals and 22 assists in his first season with Chicago, comes at an awful time for the defending Stanley Cup champions. After sputtering through much of March, it looks as if the Blackhawks found their groove again while taking on a less challenging part of their schedule.
Toews assisted on Richard Panik's opening goal, and then converted a short-handed breakaway to give Chicago a 2-0 lead in the first. Kane added his 44th goal off one of Artemi Panarin's three assists in the second, and Andrew Desjardins' first goal since Feb. 17 made it 6-1 at 4:55 of the third.
''I like the way we played for the most part tonight,'' Quenneville said. ''Did some good things in the last three games when you look at the offense.''
Toews has two goals and four assists during a five-game point streak. Panarin has a whopping 11 points in his past three games, increasing the likelihood of the rookie star earning a bonus for finishing among the top-10 forwards in the league in scoring - a development that could exacerbate Chicago's sticky situation with the salary cap next season.
But Chicago's biggest concern after sweeping its three-game season series with Arizona was the availability of Anisimov, who centers a line with Panarin and Kane.
The Blackhawks already were without goaltender Corey Crawford and forwards Andrew Shaw and Marian Hossa due to injuries, and star defenseman Duncan Keith is serving a suspension that runs through the first game of the playoffs. Shaw (upper body) and Hossa (lower body) are day to day, and Crawford could return for the season finale Saturday at Columbus.
Crawford, who has missed 10 straight games, participated in the morning skate and said he felt pretty good.
''I'm itching to get back in there,'' he said.
NOTES: It was Toews' 250th goal. ... Arizona C Martin Hanzal missed his third straight game with an upper-body injury. ... Scott Darling made 29 saves for Chicago. ... The Blackhawks have 17 goals in their past three games. ... Panarin was credited with a secondary assist on Ladd's first goal, but replays indicated the secondary assist should have been credited to Toews.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap