It seems like ages ago when the Blackhawks struggled to score goals.
Line combinations were scattered, production was low and the Blackhawks were relying heavily on their goaltending. Now, however, the offense is rolling and the Minnesota Wild are back within striking distance.
Patrick Kane had a hat trick and Michal Rozsival's first goal of the season proved to be the game winner as the Blackhawks beat the Arizona Coyotes 6-3 on Thursday night. The Blackhawks have now won eight of their last nine and are just three points back of the Wild, who are on their bye week.
Kane's hat trick came one game after Jonathan Toews recorded one against the Wild. It was the second time the Blackhawks have had hat tricks in consecutive games since May 5-7, 2010 (Dustin Byfuglien and Toews vs. Vancouver in the postseason that year).
With the victory, however, came a loss. Niklas Hjalmarsson pulled up in the first period with an upper-body injury. Coach Joel Quenneville said Hjalmarsson will be re-evaluated today – "we're hoping he's going to be OK but not sure," Quenneville added.
Nick Schmaltz (celebrating his 21st birthday) and Ryan Hartman each had a goal and an assist. Toews had two assists. Corey Crawford stopped 34 of 37 shots in the victory.
The Blackhawks got their offense on track on their Ice Show trip and, outside of their 3-1 loss to Edmonton out of the break, the production has been steady. That continued on Thursday as they tallied six more goals, including Kane's third career regular-season hat trick. That just so happened to come one game after Jonathan Toews had a hat trick against the Wild.
"Yeah, we were kind of laughing about that on the bench there after I scored the third one. It's funny how it worked out," Kane said. "Those guys played amazing in a huge game. Jonny with five points and a plus-5. You can look across the board at that line – they've been playing awesome. I'm just trying to contribute in any way I can and hopefully let them lead the way and just follow up after that."
But as Quenneville said, the Blackhawks were a little more loose on the other end than they'd been in recent games. The Coyotes took advantage of that, erasing the Blackhawks' 3-1 lead and tying it 3-3 by the end of the first period.
Rozsival, dressed as a precaution with Hjalmarsson apparently ailing, got the game winner 2:56 into the second period. The goal helped Rozsival, who hadn't played since Jan. 15, get over a bad first.
"I did not have a good start to the game, I think I was minus-2 in my first for shifts. It didn't go the way I wanted early on but in the second period, when I scored that goal, I got my confidence back a little bit," said Rozsival, who missed four weeks with a foot injury. "Even the coaches put a little more trust in me and I was able to finish the game. At the end, we were able to win. That's the most important thing, so definitely big win."
The Blackhawks are on a roll right now. How Hjalmarsson is, and how that affects the team defensively moving forward, remains to be seen. Obviously, that would be a big loss. But offensively the Blackhawks are doing a lot of things right, and another productive game has them closing in on the Wild.
"We're chasing [the Wild] and they have a bye week, so we're trying to close the gap as much as we can," Schmaltz said. "These are huge games for us. We have a little stretch at home so we want to take advantage of it."