Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 3-1 win over the Minnesota Wild at the United Center on Sunday:
1. Blackhawks fly out of the gates
The Blackhawks couldn't have started any better against the Wild, who were on the second of a back-to-back. It was important for the Blackhawks to take advantage of that and they did.
Jonathan Toews put the Blackhawks on the board 1-0 at 8:26 of the first period after burying a pass from Patrick Kane on the power play and Brandon Saad made it 2-0 with 2:31 left after scoring on a breakaway.
"It’s nice to get a lead and I think we’ve found good ways to give up one- or two-goal leads in second periods this season, and that usually feels like a kick to the midsection," Toews said. "We did a good job of limiting the bleeding in that second period and making sure we came back hard in the third and not giving up too much."
2. Special teams battle
This will be a work in progress all season long, but the Blackhawks are slowly making strides in the special teams department. Often times it could be the deciding factor of a game, whether it's a power play goal or a penalty kill at a key time.
The Blackhawks got two power-play opportunities in the first period and capitalized on the first one. They were able to create chances and have sustained offensive zone time, registering a combined five shots on goal.
"We want to dictate when we're going to try and make our plays," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "I thought we were aggressive at the right time, we were patient at other times. We had some interchange, put them in some mismatch situations and then it's up to us to execute and I thought the guys did a great job in all three. ... We're getting better, we just got to be patient with it. It's not going to be perfect, but I see progression."
But the Wild also had their fair share of opportunities and got on the board when Zach Parise buried a Mikko Koivu pass on the power play to cut Chicago's lead to 2-1 at 7:56 of the second period, which looked similar to the Blackhawks' goal.
Most importantly, the Blackhawks killed off Brent Seabrook's penalty with 5:09 remaining in regulation.
"It was tough," Colliton said. "I thought we played quite a solid third and then all of a sudden you've got to go down five minutes to go and they also scored once against us. We did a good job, got us a couple saves, got a couple clears at the right time, so it was big. We needed the two points, obviously, and they got zero."
3. Corey Crawford heating up
The Blackhawks are starting to see the results of their progression, going 2-0-2 in their last four games. And arguably their most important player is, too.
Crawford made a season-high 39 saves in the victory and has stopped 98 of 100 shots in his last three starts for a save percentage of .980. His save percentage was .902 in his first nine starts. Even though there was never a concern about his numbers being down, the Blackhawks are encouraged to see him getting rewarded.
"It's no secret that he's great," Colliton said. "He makes those saves that can keep you in a game or if things are going against you, he holds the fort. We got some old guys, but we got some young guys too, and they need that. They need that security blanket. It's great to see. Obviously he had a great reputation coming in. He's been everything I expected."
4. Eddie Olczyk takes "One More Shift"
On "Hockey Fights Cancer" Night, it was only fitting that the Blackhawks honored one of their own. Before calling the game in the booth, Olczyk hosted a Purple Carpet event in the atrium, honoring fans who are currently battling cancer, have lost a loved one to cancer and those who are in remission and then took the ice for "One More Shift" with the Blackhawks and lined up for the ceremonial puck drop.
Olczyk overcame stage three colon cancer last season and has been an inspiration to many, both on and off the ice.
“I do believe and we do believe as a family that our purpose in life now is to share my story, to help inspire one person that’s either in the battle, going through the battle or helping support somebody,” Olczyk said. “Maybe down the road, somebody will say my biggest impact on our community was off the ice and away from the rink, and you know what, that’s OK.
“There’s nothing like knowing people feel good and that is all a part of going through what I did, getting incredible support and couldn’t have done it by myself. Now it’s my job and my family’s job to inspire people. Even if it’s just for a day or a month. It’s always with you, whether you’re in the battle or you’re outside the chemo or you’re cancer free. That cancer will always be with you. You got to take it head on.”