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Kane, Richards, Versteeg line blow open Blackhawks’ win

The Blackhawks are home, and they’re still cooking.

The Hawks – led once again by the PB&K line of Patrick Kane, Brad Richards and Kris Versteeg — scored three goals in a five-minute span early in the third period to blow open a tight game and beat the rival St. Louis Blues 4-1 on Wednesday night at the United Center.

The Hawks, who just wrapped up a 5-1-0 circus trip on Saturday, have won seven of eight games to move within one point of the Blues and Nashville Predators for first place in the Central Division.

“Great third period for us,” Joel Quenneville said. “That line scored some big goals on the trip, and some big ones there tonight, as well.”

Versteeg broke a 1-1 tie 59 seconds into the third period just after a power play expired, taking a Jonathan Toews feed in the slot and one-timing it past Jake Allen. Versteeg then floated a beautiful saucer pass to Kane for a goal and a 3-1 lead less than two minutes later. Versteeg then sprung Kane for another goal less than three minutes after that to seal it.

“We try to stress not to play that way, try to play a simple game,” Kane said. “[But] with the instincts and skill on this team, sometimes those plays happen. Couple nice goals again. Seems to be kind of a trend the past few games.”

Indeed, in the eight games the Versteeg-Richards-Kane line has been together, Kane has seven goals and seven assists, Versteeg has four goals and 10 assists, and Richards has three goals and five assists.

“When you can come out and play with arguably two Hall of Famers,” Versteeg said, ‘it’s nice to come out and play my game and help out as much as I can.”

For 40 sluggish minutes, though, that line was as quiet as everybody else was. The Hawks didn’t make it easy on Antti Raanta (39 saves) in the early going as he made his first start since Oct. 25 in the wake of Corey Crawford’s fateful misstep, which left him in a walking boot and will sideline him two or three weeks.

The Hawks took penalty after penalty. But once they put Raanta at a disadvantage, they did a heck of a job helping him out, as the league’s top penalty-killing unit was 6-for-6 against the Blues’ fifth-ranked power play, led by Marcus Kruger, who also scored the first goal.

NOTE: Following the game, the Hawks sent defenseman Adam Clendening to Rockford of the AHL and recalled defenseman Klas Dahlbeck. Clendening, who scored his first goal on his first shot in his first game in Calgary to open the circus trip, was a healthy scratch each of the last three games. Dahlbeck has two goals and four assists in 22 games with Rockford this season. The Swedish blue-liner was a third-round pick of the Hawks in 2011.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus