Swedish duo steps up in Hawks' victory

CHICAGO -- Jonathan Toews called it “a little Swedish connection.”

Two unheralded Chicago Blackhawks forwards -- Viktor Stalberg and Marcus Kruger -- did most of the damage in the Hawks’ 5-2 bounce-back victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets Saturday night.

Stalberg, promoted to play with Toews after Daniel Carcillo was suspended, scored twice in the third period to win the game. He played it humble afterwards, invoking “we” more than “I” even when asked how big it was for him personally to net two goals in the third.

“We have a little more swagger this year [in the third period],” Stalberg said. “We’re feeling like we’re going to go out there and get that goal instead of sitting back like maybe we did last year. We found ways to give up those late goals. This year we’re finding a way to battle back and get those go-ahead goals.”

Yes, but you scored the go-ahead and insurance goals. The game-winner came during 4-on-4 play and if Stalberg isn’t willing to talk about himself, his coach will.

“He made a great move,” Joel Quennville said. “Took it to the net. His speed is always effective. We’re starting to use him more in those 4-on-4 situations. He’s starting to get more comfortable.”

Quenneville also said they’d like to rely on him even more if he can prove to be more “predictable” in his game. That’s the coach’s way of saying he needs to be accountable on both ends of the ice, with and without the puck. To this point, Stalberg hasn’t proven that he can be. Maybe Saturday is another step in the right direction.

Also “trending” the right way is Kruger, who scored his first career NHL goal. He’s currently a completely different player than he was in training camp.

“It’s a great feeling to get the first,” he said. “I got a great pass from [Brent] Seabrook, give it to Jammer [Jamal Mayers] and he put it on goal and I pretty much had an empty net.”

Kruger’s confidence with the puck has made the difference. Later in the game he went between his legs in the Hawks zone to start a rush up-ice. It’s something he never would have tried late last year or in preseason.

“I’m a little bit more loose than during training camp and holding onto the puck more,” Kruger said.

His advancement hasn’t gone unnoticed by his locker stall neighbor.

“Kruger has been working hard,” Toews said. “He’s been around the net many times. There’s nothing like getting that first one, getting it off your chest. You can just go out there and play. After that you don’t keep count, they just keep coming.”

Quenneville has always been a Kruger fan and now he’s seeing the dividends from his hard work.

“Tonight was his best game,” Quenneville said. “He’s trending in the right direction. I think he’ll get more confidence offensively. Nice simple play. Shot from the wing, drive the net, bang it in.”

Stalberg and Kruger. The Swedish connection. A first-year Hawk and a second-year man. Both trying to find their way -- if not their role -- on a deep team.

“He’s a guy I can definitely talk to if I need that,” Kruger said of his countryman. “He helped me a lot through training camp, also.”

They both helped the Hawks to a victory on Saturday.