Four takeaways: Blackhawks keep playoff hopes alive with offensive explosion

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AP

Four takeaways: Blackhawks keep playoff hopes alive with offensive explosion

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 7-1 win over the Arizona Coyotes at the United Center on Monday:

1. A complete victory

All season long the Blackhawks have preached playing a full 60 minutes. They'll often go through stretches where they look great, but somewhere in between there's usually a time where their play tails off and the complete effort isn't there. That wasn't the case on Monday.

From top to bottom, the Blackhawks played one their most complete games of the season and it came at a time where their backs are against the wall. They led in shot attempts (50-39), shots on goal (34-25), 5-on-5 scoring chances (25-10) and 5-on-5 high danger chances (14-4), according to naturalstattrick.com

"We haven’t been great at home as of late, so for us to be able to buckle down again and score some goals, I know everyone’s feeling good about ourselves," Brandon Saad said. "We’ve got a tough road trip and we look forward to the challenge ahead of us."

2. Brendan Perlini and a four-line rotation

The Blackhawks shook up their lines after they returned to Chicago from a three-game West Coast trip because they weren't satisfied with the balance they were getting. But Monday was exactly what they were looking for, and easily their best four-line rotation of the season.

All 12 forwards got on the scoresheet except for Dylan Sikura, who's still looking for his first NHL goal — although he did feed Jonathan Toews a stretch pass that led to his penalty shot goal. Perlini led the way with his first career NHL hat trick against his former team for his sixth goal in five games while Chris Kunitz, Patrick Kane, Saad and Toews each found the back of the net. All four lines scored, so there's not much more you can ask for.

"It’s obviously great," Perlini said. "I just wanted to get the win in general, but to do that was awesome. I’ll never forget that one. ... I had enough breakaways. God. And then I wait until the last second to do it. I think just keeping the fans on the edge of their seat."

3. Defense shuts it down again

Going into Saturday, the Blackhawks hadn't allowed one goal or fewer since Dec. 21. Two days later and they've done it in back-to-back games.

The Blackhawks gave up only 25 shots on goal, which is tied for their second-fewest of the season. And you could make a case it should've been a shutout with Arizona's lone goal assisted by the referee after a pass along the boards fell right into the lap of the Coyotes.

"I think we’re doing a much better job of sorting defensively," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "There’s much less scrambly, we’re patient, protect the middle of the ice, get pressure on the puck and then we’re out and creating offense off that. Hopefully we can continue."

Corey Crawford was solid again, although he didn't have to make many high quality saves. He's now stopped 50 of 52 shots in his past two contests for a save percentage of .962. 

"He’s our anchor," Saad said. "He’s incredible. He comes back, doesn’t miss a beat, creating offense out there, too. It’s pretty good to have him back. He’s been great and I know we all feel confident with him in the net."

4. Making history

The Blackhawks made history on Monday. For the first time since the 2000-01 season when Tony Amonte, Eric Daze and Steve Sullivan accomplished the feat, they have three 30-goal scorers in one season: Kane (41), DeBrincat (37) and Toews (30). The Blackhawks didn't have a single 30-goal scorer last season, with DeBrincat leading the way at 28 goals.

With 13 games to go, it's possible for the Blackhawks to get to four 30-goal scorers. Saad tallied his 22nd goal of the season and is eight away from hitting that mark. His career high is 31, set during the 2015-16 season in Columbus.

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'It's all right now': Blackhawks treating every game like must win from here on out

'It's all right now': Blackhawks treating every game like must win from here on out

When the calendar flips to March, that's when teams in the NHL start to get excited about the thought of playoffs. The dog days are in the rearview mirror and the stretch run has arrived.

Originally, it didn't seem like the postseason was remotely possible for the Blackhawks. Then they rattled off wins in 10 of 12 games, and while that was happening, everyone that they needed to lose was losing. It reached a point where they sat in a wildcard spot for a brief moment.

But in a matter of two weeks, things have changed drastically.

Going into Thursday's game, the Blackhawks are nine points out of a wildcard spot in the Western Conference and have a 0.9 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to sportsclubstats.com. Despite those long odds, they're not giving up hope until the math says they're out of it.

"It's just win the game tonight," Jonathan Toews said of the team's mindset. "We played pretty decent in San Jose, but we didn't come up with the win and then obviously gave up some goals in the third. But we've got to be better. These are our playoffs right now and it's time to raise our game, raise our level, so we'll see what we've got."

The projected playoff cut is around 88 points, which is lower than in year's past. But with the Blackhawks at 63 points and only 16 games remaining, they have no margin for error. They need to go on a run of 11-2-3 — or something along those lines — just to reach that benchmark, and there's no guarantee they'll win any tiebreaker scenario because they're behind in the regulation plus overtime wins category.

So yeah, every game from here on out is a must-win situation. Preferably in regulation, but one step at a time.

"There's no playoffs, there's no offseason, there's no next year," Toews said. "It's all right now. We want to be as good as we can be. ... We don't have that many games left this year so we're trying to make the most of it."

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Why Blackhawks are exploring idea of separating Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews

Why Blackhawks are exploring idea of separating Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews

A lot has changed for the Blackhawks in a short amount of time. They went from sitting in a playoff spot to being closer to the basement of the Western Conference in a matter of a week and a half.

But they're not waving the white flag just yet. The Blackhawks returned to practice on Wednesday and are exploring the idea of separating Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews for balance purposes, a duo they've heavily relied on over the last couple months.

"It was kind of a test run to see how they looked," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "It's an option to spread it out again. We haven't exactly been perfect lately, so it's an option."

The test run featured Kane on the third line with Artem Anisimov and Dominik Kahun while the first line featured Toews with John Hayden and Brandon Saad. Alex DeBrincat, Brendan Perlini and Dylan Strome made up the second line.

Ever since Drake Caggiula went down with a concussion, the Blackhawks haven't quite felt comfortable with their four-line rotation. The good news is, David Kampf returned to practice after being sidelined since Feb. 5 because of a right foot injury. He centered the fourth line in between Marcus Kruger and Chris Kunitz, and could return on Thursday against the Buffalo Sabres.

Perhaps the more important reasoning for the shake-up in lines is to even out the minutes considering Kane and Toews have been horses for a while now. Fatigue isn't necessarily catching up to them, but the Blackhawks want to make sure they're staying fresh down the stretch.

"Yeah, because we need them to produce," Colliton said on the importance of scaling back the hard minutes. "When they don't it's hard for us to win. Again, we would welcome secondary scoring and positive shifts and play in the offensive zone from the other lines. Even if they just do that, that's going to help the whole team. We can control the momentum and the tempo of the game better than we have."

Kane denied the idea that fatigue is catching up to him. He wants to be out there, and feels like he had a bunch of chances on the West Coast trip but sometimes the chips don't fall your way. Same with Toews, who knows the Blackhawks are fighting for their playoff lives.

"I think we all realize these are our playoffs right now," Toews said. "We have some guys in this room aside from myself that are getting a lot of ice time and a lot of pressure and have seen some tough, heavy games and never really make excuses. I don’t think fatigue should be an excuse.”

Said Kane: "We got 16 games left. We know what's at stake. Not that we didn't before, but we know that pretty much every game is a must win from here on out."

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