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Versteeg bursts out of Olympic break

Updated: March 2, 2014 10:58PM



Heading into Saturday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Soldier Field the Blackhawks hadn’t won a game in more than three weeks, and had only scored one goal in that span.

Granted, they had only played two games, thanks to the Olympic break.

But following their memorable 5-1 rout of the Penguins in the snow, the Hawks were hopeful that the game would officially put their midseason doldrums in the past, and energize them for the six-week sprint to the end of the regular season.

“I sure hope it kicks us in the butt and gets us going in the right direction,” Kris Versteeg said. “We’ve been playing good hockey, but maybe not for a full 60, and maybe not scoring the goals when we needed to, and not getting enough goals to get wins at times. [Saturday] was one of the nights where somehow we found a way to get five goals, and hopefully we can build off that and go forward.”

That goes not just for the team as a whole, but for Versteeg as an individual. Since being acquired in mid-November in what Hawks GM Stan Bowman now calls his “big move” for the season, Versteeg has spent most of his time on Patrick Kane’s line. But after a strong December in which he had five goals and six assists, Versteeg’s production dropped significantly. He had just one goal in his previous 21 games, and none in his last 11 when he potted Kane’s perfect pass in the second period Saturday night.

“I thought Steeger came out of the [Olympic] break with a real good purpose to his game,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “He’s been fine since he’s been here. I think there is still another level, and when he gets to that production that he can generate, he’s going to really enhance the team game. But he’s a real nifty player. … And he seems like he’s really dedicated for a strong finish.”

The goal was the 100th of Versteeg’s career, and his second outdoor goal — he scored in the 2009 Winter Classic at Wrigley Field.

“People have been asking me when I was going to score the 100th,” Versteeg said. “It was nice to get it, but especially at this venue, and with the surroundings and a lot of my family and friends here.”

Pirri to Panthers for picks

Less than a year ago, on draft day, Hawks general manager Stan Bowman was touting Brandon Pirri as his second-line center of the future. But on Sunday, Bowman traded Pirri to Florida for a third-round draft pick this June and a fifth-round pick in 2016.

Pirri, the AHL’s leading scorer last season, had six goals and five assists in 28 games with the Hawks this season, but never showed the all-around game Joel Quenneville wanted to see from him. With highly skilled Teuvo Teravainen in the pipeline, Pirri — a restricted free agent after this season — clearly was no longer a part of the Hawks’ long-term plans.

On Saturday, Bowman spoke highly of Pirri and Jeremy Morin, but said they were still in the minors because there wasn’t a spot for them in the NHL yet.

“I think that’s what we’re trying to do, is give those guys a chance when they’re not in Chicago, to play big minutes and prepare themselves for when the time comes and when they’re here,” Bowman said.

Pirri joins former Hawks prospects Dylan Olsen and Jimmy Hayes in Florida, as well as former Hawks Brian Campbell and Tomas Kopecky. Former Hawks GM Dale Tallon is the Panthers’ GM.

Why so serious?

Jonathan Toews was hopping around the ice like a little kid at Soldier Field as he posted two goals and an assist in a virtuoso performance. This after mugging for the camera with his gold medal and having the time of his life in Sochi, Russia.

Is he finally trying to shed the “Captain Serious” label?

“I’ve been trying to lose that one for a while,” he said. “We were just excited to score a goal in the first. It was a great feeling to be able to get our team on the board, and the excitement just kind of carried on for the rest of the game. I guess I definitely got caught up in it a little bit.”

Centers of attention

Saturday was the first time Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews played against each other in the NHL. Two groin injuries and two concussions kept Crosby out of previous meetings. Toews clearly won the individual battle, as Crosby was held off the scoresheet.

“The score was 5-1, and if it was a straight-up matchup, Jonathan had two goals, and we didn’t match that,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “I didn’t look at it as a straight-up matchup or a one-on-one competition. Our team wasn’t good enough. Our team wasn’t at the level we needed to be, and they were.”



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