CHICAGO — For all the strides that the Ducks' Dustin Penner has made in his first full season, there remains the feeling that Coach Randy Carlyle views the youngster as either his personal project or his whipping boy as he tries to tap into the winger's potential.
Carlyle delivered his strongest message in sitting him for almost two periods in last week's victory against Dallas. On Wednesday night, Penner sent a message back.
Penner scored two goals in the second period to spark a rally for the Ducks in a 3-1 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks in front of an announced crowd of 11,295 at the United Center.
Lost in a talented rookie class that has the Kings' Anze Kopitar, Colorado's Paul Stastny and Pittsburgh's heralded duo of Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal, Penner would be a leading candidate for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in other seasons.
Penner has 28 goals to rank third among all rookies behind Malkin and Staal while bouncing from line to line throughout the season.
"Randy has been on him all year, but he's just been plugging away and plugging away," said Ducks forward Corey Perry, who set up both goals. "It's good to see a guy like him putting up the numbers he is and scoring the goals he is.
"He's played hard all year and we're going to need him in the playoffs."
It was an important victory for the Ducks, who entered with their lead in the Pacific Division trimmed to two points over Dallas and San Jose. And their hold on the No. 2 position in the Western Conference also became tenuous as Vancouver and Minnesota are in contention for home ice in the first round.
At the moment, the Ducks (45-20-12) have 102 points and Northwest Division-leading Vancouver has 99. Dallas, San Jose and Minnesota each have 98. The only thing certain for the Ducks is they are among the seven that are in.
"We need lots of them here," Ducks Coach Randy Carlyle said of the win. "The thing is we've got five more."
Penner buried a low wrist shot at 7 minutes 55 seconds of the second before banging a rebound past goalie Nikolai Khabibulin at the 14:18 mark after some stellar stickwork and a shot by Perry that put Khabibulin in a vulnerable position.
Of the criticism that Carlyle has laid on him at times, Penner said it sometimes takes a few days before he recognizes its value.
"They're two ways to look at that," he said. "You have to choose the positive way even if the negative way creeps in there. He's coached for a while now and he played the game even longer.
"You have to realize what he's doing is to help you. And that's the toughest part. He's not doing it to hurt, he's doing it to help me."
The Ducks held onto the lead behind solid goaltending by Ilya Bryzgalov, who made 20 saves for his fourth victory in six starts. They added to the lead with the fourth line doing the leg work.
George Parros, who plays when the opposition dresses an enforcer, got his first goal since Jan. 21, 2006 when he was with the Kings. Brad May set up the play with a nifty backhand shot that Khabibulin stopped, Parros was on the doorstep for the rebound.
"We knew we needed one more goal," Parros said. "We needed a little security. Goals are nice to have in today's NHL. I'm glad we could do it."
at Columbus, 4 PDT, FSN Prime Ticket
Site -- Nationwide Arena.
Radio -- 830.
Records -- Ducks 45-20-12; Blue Jackets 32-37-7.
Record vs. Blue Jackets -- 0-1-1.
Update -- Columbus won both meetings at the Honda Center and has won eight of its last 12 games.