Sizzling Blackhawks top Blues

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[February 27, 2017]  CHICAGO -- Even after the Blackhawks won for the ninth time in their past 10 games on Sunday night, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville acknowledged there is still room for improvement.

At times, Quenneville said his team can afford to be sharper with the puck. There have been moments, he admitted, when the Blackhawks lost steam when they could ill afford to. But of late, Chicago is simply finding ways to win.

Sunday was no different.

Artem Anisimov snapped a third-period tie with a goal, and Scott Darling made 30 saves as the Blackhawks beat the St. Louis Blues 4-2 at the United Center.

Anisimov converted a pinpoint cross-ice pass from Artemi Panarin with 5:20 remaining in the third period. Darling then helped hold off a late St. Louis rally to preserve the win for the Blackhawks (39-18-5).

Tanner Kero tallied an empty-net goal with three seconds left to send the Blues (31-25-5) to their third straight loss.

Darling started in place of Corey Crawford, who missed the game due to illness. Darling made several key saves to keep the Blackhawks on top in the closing minutes.

"At the end of the day, it was just (about) trying to get some body parts over there," said Darling, who stands 6-foot-6. "Sometimes, you get a piece of them."

The Blackhawks rebounded in the third period after allowing an early two-goal lead to disappear. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane gave Chicago the advantage as both stars continued to be productive after Toews registered a hat trick Tuesday at Minnesota and Kane matched that feat Thursday against Arizona.

However, the Blues came back and drew even in the second period on an Alex Pietrangelo power-play goal. The Blackhawks had a flurry of scoring chances while leading 2-1 but couldn't convert.

Jake Allen (38 saves) kept St. Louis even before he gave up the game-winner when Anisimov held the puck on his stick just long enough to get the goalie to commit.

"If he one-times that, I had it right there," Allen said. "That's a really great play from him."

After Toews and Kane scored, the Blues trimmed the deficit to a goal at 16:54 of the first period. Magnus Paajarvi scored an unassisted goal after he scooped up a loose puck on a Trevor van Riemsdyk turnover and fired a shot past Darling.

The goal seemed to spark the Blues, who played for the first time after to their bye week. Despite allowing the Blackhawks to jump on them early, the Blues overcame the sluggish start and eventually drew even on Pietrangelo's equalizer.

"I know it sounds like an excuse -- but when you take that much time off when you've played every other day for the whole year, it's tough to get your legs going," Pietrangelo said.

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Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (19) scores past St. Louis Blues goalie Jake Allen (34) during the first period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Once the Blues tied the game, Darling helped to weather the storm. Blues center Paul Stastny got several point blank chances, only to be denied each time by Darling, who turned away everything the Blues threw at him and kept the game even until Chicago finished off the win with the two late goals.

"We had some looks at the doorstep and (Darling) made some great saves," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "But Jake (Allen) made some great saves, too. It is what it is."

While Darling preserved the victory, the Blackhawks continued to win behind their star power. And at a time when Chicago appears to have all four lines running on all cylinders, the Blackhawks continue to make a push toward the top of the Western Conference.

Now, it is just a matter of putting everything together.

"It's huge," Darling said of the Blackhawks' surge. "It's really encouraging watching the team the last few weeks getting cohesion going at this point in the season. It's exciting."

NOTES: Blues F Ivan Barbashev missed the Sunday game with an upper-body injury he sustained this week while playing for the Blues' AHL Chicago affiliate. The injury is not considered to be serious. ... St. Louis scratched RW Nail Yakupov and D Robert Bortuzzo. ... With G Corey Crawford sick, the Blackhawks recalled Lars Johansson from AHL Rockford to back up Scott Darling on Sunday. ... Blackhawks D Niklas Hjalmarsson (upper body injury) did not play after missing practice on Saturday, and he remains day-to-day. Hjalmarsson left Chicago's game against Arizona on Thursday due to the injury. ... Chicago D Duncan Keith registered his 500th career point with an assist on RW Patrick Kane's first-period goal. ... Blackhawks RW Jordin Tootoo also missed Sunday's game due to illness, and C Dennis Rasmussen was a healthy scratch.

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