by Scott King
Things have been trending up for the Blackhawks, who were riding a four-game winning streak before taking on the Minnesota Wild Sunday night.
Not only did the Hawks grab some much-needed points in that span, but found their game and more importantly, their identity in doing so. With scoring contributions across the board, especially in the team’s 5-1 victory in Winnipeg Thursday night, a defense that’s slowly but surely become more sound, and a top goaltender who’s getting better and better every start, the Hawks were indeed gaining momentum.
However, after a slow start to the season, Chicago arrived at the United Center on Sunday neck-in-neck in the standings with the visiting Wild. The Hawks sat in the number two Western Conference wild card spot with Minnesota directly underneath them on the outside looking in. Both teams had 37 points prior to Sunday’s contest. The Blackhawks had the tie-breaker with winning more games not ending in a shootout (16-15).
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Goaltender Alex Stalock would be in for Wild starter Devan Dubnyk for the second straight game in two days. Dubnyk is out with a lower-body injury. Minnesota had also ridden a four-game winning streak before losing to the Edmonton Oilers 3-2 at home on Saturday.
Patrick Kane got the Hawks on the board first scoring at 10:56 in the opening period. The winger extended his point streak to four games. Kane also tied Dennis Hull for fifth most in franchise history (298) on the play.
Kane snagged a second goal late in the second period to put the Hawks up 2-0. It was his 34th point in 33 games.
“Great plays by both of them,” said Kane of Nick Schmaltz and Jordan Oesterle, who grabbed the primary assists on his two goals.
“You come to expect that from Schmaltzy [Nick Schmaltz] now, that’s a great pass cross-ice, just try to get it on net on the one-timer. And then fortunate enough to be coming off the bench there with some speed and Oesty [Jordan Oesterle] made a great pass that was hard, it was flat, it was right on my tape skating into it with a lot of speed. Great play by him, too.”
With a big Sunday night, Kane is back to being beyond a point-a-game player. The superstar winger is one of the biggest reasons for the Hawks’ resurgence.
“I think its’ always nice when you’re producing and helping out the team,” Kane said. “That’s obviously my job, so that’s what I have to do. But more than anything you just kind of want to improve on your game and your craft every day and reach your highest potential and see where that can help take this team.
“It’s always a work in progress. In this league you know you’re going to go through the ups and downs throughout a season. The biggest thing is to try to stay even-keeled in those moments and be ready for anything.”
Hawks forward Ryan Hartman made it 3-0 early in the third period. Hartman shook off a 17-game goal drought on the tally.
Wild winger Matt Dumba scored his third goal in two days to get Minnesota on the board and cut the Hawks lead within two.
Minnesota would pull their goaltender with minutes left in regulation and Tommy Wingels made them pay by adding an empty-net goal to make the final score 4-1 Hawks. Chicago now sits at the number one Wild Card spot one point ahead of the Dallas Stars, who they face on Thursday.
Crawford saved 27 of 28 Wild shots and has only allowed one or fewer goals in 12 games this season.
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