Patrick Kane darted behind the Pittsburgh Penguins net, seemingly intent on trying to bend a wraparound past Marc-Andre Fleury.
Halfway there, the Chicago Blackhawks star changed his mind, instead flipping a backhand pass to Artemi Panarin at the left post. Panarin flicked the puck off an unsuspecting Fleury — caught looking the other way — and into the net.
Seems nobody can see the Blackhawks coming these days. Not even the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Kane’s sleight of hand set the tone for a lopsided 5-1 victory over the short-handed Penguins on Wednesday night. Panarin’s 26th of the season kickstarted a four-goal first period for Chicago, which moved closer to locking up the Central Division title by winning in regulation in Pittsburgh for the first time in 20 years.
Richard Panik, Marcus Kruger and Marian Hossa also scored during the first as the Blackhawks moved nine points clear of second-place Minnesota with five games left in the regular season. Tanner Nero added a breakaway goal in the third. Kane finished with two assists to move past Sidney Crosby for second in the NHL scoring race.
Firing on all cylinders
“I think it’s good to know we can play like that, so let’s keep building,” Kane said. “Let’s try to get this momentum going into the playoffs where we’re firing on all cylinders.”
It looks like Chicago might already be there. Corey Crawford stopped 31 shots, albeit against a depleted Pittsburgh lineup missing stars Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang. Not that Crawford was complaining.
“Obviously, we scored a bunch of goals, but I thought our game was even better after that,” Crawford said. “We had some good kills to not give them momentum on their power play. It was a great game, full game for us.”
Marc-Andre Fleury finished with 31 saves but received little help outside of Bryan Rust’s third-period goal. Pittsburgh saw its winless streak reach four games, dimming its chances of catching first-place Washington atop the…