Blackhawks headed in right direction, although it made for a wild ride Wednesday

Written by on March 13, 2019

TORONTO — The improving Chicago Blackhawks are headed in the right direction, although it was in the form of a wild ride Wednesday.

The Blackhawks nearly blew a five-goal lead, hanging on for a 5-4 win in Toronto in a game that saw the Maple Leafs, trailing 5-1 after 40 minutes, fire 29 shots at replacement goaltender Collin Delia in a third-period comeback that fell just short.

“We can be really happy with the first and second and be not happy with the third (period),” Chicago coach Jeremy Colliton said by way of understatement.

“We’ve got to learn from the third period because that was way too close,” added forward Marcus Kruger. “We didn’t want that, we talked about it going into the third and still we didn’t get the game that we wanted. But first and second (periods) I think we did some good stuff.”

The razor-thin decision extended the Blackhawks’ win streak to four, following victories over Buffalo, Dallas and Arizona. Chicago (31-30-9) moved within four points of a wild-card berth in the Western Conference.

Prior to the current winning streak, the Blackhawks had lost four of five. But the trend has been positive of late in a streaky campaign.

Chicago has twice endured eight-game losing streaks this season (0-6-2 and 0-8-0) plus a five-game slide (0-3-2).

But the Hawks arrived in Toronto having won 14 of their last 20.

A rocky start resulted in veteran coach Joel Quenneville getting the axe Nov. 6 with the Hawks (6-6-3) having lost five in a row. The team proceeded to go 4-13-3 under Colliton.

Since mid-December, the team has gone 21-11-3 however.

“I just think as we go here, we’re getting more comfortable with how we have to play to win,” said the 34-year-old Colliton. “I think the first (period) was a great example of us being really smart — getting pucks back, causing turnovers, scoring off the rush, scoring in transition.

“We had some (offensive) zone time too where we were able to hold them down and create things with five guys in the zone. And we’re doing it more and more consistently which is nice to see and it’s got to continue.”

Goaltender Corey Crawford had a strong but illness-shortened night, stopping 17-of-18 shots in the first two periods. He was replaced by Delia to start the third.

Colliton said he was told by head trainer Mike Gapski between periods that Crawford was not feeling well.

“He looked good. He played well,” the coach said.

Asked if the illness was a concern given Crawford’s history of concussions, Colliton replied: “Not at all.” He said he thought it was a case of the flu.

Duncan Keith, Brendan Perlini, Dominik Kahun, Brandon Saad and Alex DeBrincat scored for Chicago.

Perlini, who scored his first career hat trick in the Hawks’ 7-1 win over visiting Arizona on Monday, now has seven goals in his last six games — and 12 for the season.

The two teams have combined for two epic battles. Toronto won the first meeting 6-5 in overtime in Chicago on Oct. 7.

NOTES: Chicago is 14-3-2 in its last 19 games against the Leafs … Patrick Kane has recorded 26 points (12 goals, 14 assists) in 17 career games against Toronto … The Hawks play next in Montreal on Saturday.

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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press


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