It took the Blackhawks nearly two months to climb out of the basement in the penalty kill department after a historically bad October when they allowed 15 goals on 30 attempts in their first eight games of the season.
Since then, the Blackhawks rank ninth in the league with an 83 percent success rate.
The unit came up large in Friday's 3-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, killing all four penalties, a few of which came at key moments of the game.
"Penalty killing was outstanding," Joel Quenneville said after the game. "I thought they did a good job of denying the shots, the point shots from the middle especially, their execution and movement together was excellent. They had some good clears, (Corey Crawford) made some good stops. Critical timing of some of the kills was important as well."
The Blue Jackets, who have been a top-5 power play team for the majority of the campaign, slipped outside the top-10 with an 0-for-4 night, extending their goal drought on the man advantage to nine games (0-for-17 over that span).
They recorded nine shots on their four opportunities Friday, but the Blackhawks did a great job of limiting their quality chances.
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"Yeah, the penalty kill was huge," said Patrick Kane, who had three assists and moved within four points of Connor McDavid in the NHL's scoring race. "It seems like we did a great job penalty killing as far as not really giving them too many lanes to shoot. Guys were getting in front of pucks, and when they got shots through, it seemed like they were going wide or (Crawford) was getting his body on it. Great job by them tonight. That's going to be huge going into the playoffs."
It gave the Blackhawks some much-needed confidence in that area after they went 9-for-13 (69.2 percent) in their previous four games before Pittsburgh's contest, where they bounced back with a 2-for-2 performance. That's now six straight penalties killed, putting the team back on track.
The Blackhawks increased their season point total to 107 with the victory, and reached the 50-win mark for only the second time in franchise history. They've all but locked up the Central Division and home-ice advantage throughout the Western Conference, but they're not losing sight of the bigger prize.
"I like how we’ve progressed in our game," Quenneville said. "Tough league, tough conference, tough division. But we’re happy with what we’ve achieved in the regular season. That’s not what we’re looking for, but it’s certainly put us in the spot we wanted."
In their previous three championship runs, the Blackhawks have finished fifth (2010), third (2013) and 10th (2015) in penalty kill percentage. If they want to get to where they want to go, which is a fourth Stanley Cup in eight years, the penalty kill is a vital part of the equation.