CHICAGO – For all the star power with the Washington Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks, it was a pretty connection between fourth-line forwards that proved to be the difference.
Richard Panik kicked the puck from behind the net to a streaking Dennis Rasmussen for the rookie’s fourth goal at 12:47 of the third, and the new-look Blackhawks topped the NHL-leading Capitals 3-2 on Sunday.
“I thought it was a beautiful pass,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said with a grin, “one of best passes I’ve seen all year.”
Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane also scored as the Blackhawks (39-20-5) won for only the third time in their last eight games. Corey Crawford made 28 saves, helping Chicago leapfrog idle Dallas for the top spot in the Western Conference with 83 points.
The Blackhawks were coming off disappointing losses to Minnesota and Nashville, but the defending Stanley Cup champions got a boost from two of their newest players acquired in a flurry of moves last week. Andrew Ladd got an assist in his return to Chicago after he was reacquired in a trade with Winnipeg on Thursday night, and Tomas Fleischmann had a solid debut after he came over in a trade with Montreal on Friday.
Lightning 4, Bruins 1
In Boston, Ryan Callahan scored twice and Steven Stamkos converted a penalty shot to help lift Tampa Bay.
Blues 5, Hurricanes 2
In Raleigh, North Carolina, David Backes and Kyle Brodziak scored in the second period to lead St. Louis.
Wild 3, Panthers 1
In St. Paul, Minnesota, Erik Haula scored midway through the third period in the win.
Sharks 4, Canucks 1
In Vancouver, Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl scored 2:28 apart in the third period.
Oilers 3, Islanders 1
In Edmonton, Leon Draisaitl, Anton Lander and Brandon Davidson all scored in the third period for Edmonton, helping the Oilers snap a seven-game losing streak.
Ducks 4, Kings 2
In Anaheim, Corey Perry got his ninth career hat trick and the Ducks beat Los Angeles to climb within two points of their Southern California rival for the Pacific Division lead. Anaheim trailed the Kings by 15 points on Jan. 2, but have gone 19-4-1 since.