Kruger taking advantage of opportunities

Marcus Kruger scored his second goal of the playoffs when he found the net in the third period of Game 1 against the Red Wings. AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

CHICAGO -- Chicago Blackhawks forward Marcus Kruger found himself in an unfamiliar spot during Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinal series against the Detroit Red Wings.

Normally, Kruger receives advice and motivation from Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews in the locker room. But on Wednesday, Kruger was the one dishing out the encouragement.

"I told him the same thing [as he tells me] -- go to the net, get a dirty one," Kruger said on Thursday.

It didn't work out for Toews, who hasn't scored a goal in six playoff games, but Kruger scored for a second time in the playoffs when he retrieved a loose puck in the slot and flung it into the net with a backhanded shot. The goal put the Blackhawks up two goals in the third period and helped secure a 4-1 win.

Whether it's the limited shifts he received on the fourth line or the unpredictability of being needed on a penalty kill, the second-year Kruger has tried to take the most out of his time on the ice this season.

"Every opportunity you get, you just try to take advantage of it," said Kruger, who has two goals and an assist in the playoffs. "Now it's all about winning. We need everyone here. Doing that job is something we all need to do."

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville and Kruger's teammates have raved about him all season. They have especially been impressed by the dedication and selflessness he and Michael Frolik have shown on the penalty kill.

With the help of Kruger and Frolik, the Blackhawks improved from a 78.1 penalty kill percentage last season to 87.2 this season. In the playoffs, the Blackhawks have been perfect on the penalty kill, not allowing a goal on 20 power plays in six games.

"They've been real solid all year," Quenneville said of Kruger and Frolik. "When they started together at the beginning of the year, it was a work in progress. I just thought they progressed in a real nice way. They started first and third on each kill and blocking shots, getting in lanes, doing all the right things, good pace. Got them a little bit more of a role, got them more ice time, quality time. I thought that [fourth] line played well all year. Real nice fit for them."

Count Toews among those impressed, too.

"I would say at the start of the season those two guys came in ready to go," Toews said. "They played with a lot of confidence all year. Just like anybody else, they're raising their game. They're blocking shots. They're honestly creating shots on the penalty kill, even 5-on-5.

"I sit next to [Kruger] in the locker room. Every game I kind of get in his ear and tell him shoot the puck or maybe just go to the net and he's going to get an ugly one. Obviously, he scored a nice one [Wednesday.] It's good to see those guys get that confidence."

The one area Kruger realizes he has to improve on is faceoffs. He was 0-for-11 on Wednesday and 3-for-15 in Game 5 against the Minnesota Wild in the opening round.

"[Wednesday] and the game before wasn't good enough," Kruger said. "That's something I need to work on to get better, and that's something I will do as well."

Quenneville doesn't doubt Kruger will come around as well.

"It's a tough night," Quenneville said of Game 1. "Guys want to make sure they're effective and efficient in that area. They got some guys who have a lot of experience. They got some strength. They got some intelligence and experience where they know how to position themselves, whether there's an advantage to be taken before it hits the ice. I would expect him to be progressing, and he'll be winning his share of faceoffs, particularly key ones when you're killing. It's just one of those nights. Hopefully, he can get better off it."