Shortly before the puck dropped between the Blackhawks and the St. Louis Blues on Sunday night, reports spread that the first-place Minnesota Wild had acquired Martin Hanzal, one of the top centers on the trade market, to load up for the playoffs.
The Hawks hadn’t heard. But when they found out afterward, they didn’t sound terribly concerned. Hawks general manager Stan Bowman always says he doesn’t make trades in response to other teams’ moves. And the way the Hawks have been playing lately, he might not need to.
Artem Anisimov scored off a feed by Artemi Panarin with 5:20 left for the go-ahead goal in a gritty 4-2 victory over the Blues. The win — the Hawks’ fourth straight and ninth in their last 10 games — moved them to within one point of the Wild, who are on their bye week and have three games in hand. The Hawks are playing their best hockey of the season, if not their best since their 2015 Stanley Cup run.
“A lot of teams are going to make pushes for the playoffs, and acquiring some last-minute additions or players they think will bolster their lineups is always a part of that,” captain Jonathan Toews said. “I love our group right now. Everyone’s getting better individually, everybody’s contributing more, and it’s a lot of fun to see the way we’re playing right now. We know the ceiling is way higher, and we can keep getting better, too.”
Even without Corey Crawford (sick) and Niklas Hjalmarsson (upper-body injury), the Hawks kept rolling. Toews and Patrick Kane each had a goal and an assist, and Scott Darling made 30 saves — including three absolute robberies of Paul Stastny — in the spot start. He got a little help from his friends at the end, as Ryan Hartman made a diving block in the dying seconds to preserve a one-goal lead before Tanner Kero’s empty-netter.
“I flinch sometimes, and I’ve got all the pads on,” Darling said. “These guys are warriors, laying out in front of pucks like that. Especially at a crucial point in the game like that. It was a huge play, and as a goalie, you love that.”
Before the game, Toews compared Nick Schmaltz to Kane and Richard Panik to Marian Hossa. Hyperbole? Perhaps. But they’ve been playing like it lately, and they stayed red hot Sunday, combining on the first goal of the game. Schmaltz fired a pass between Blues defenseman Joel Edmundson’s skates to find Toews, who made a nice move to beat Jake Allen for the 1-0 lead.
Toews has nine goals and 14 assists in his last 14 games. Panik has six goals and nine assists in those 14 games, and Schmaltz has three goals and seven assists in his last eight.
“That line’s been playing amazing,” Kane said.
Kane has been lighting it up, too. He scored his ninth goal in 10 games, snapping a shot past Allen after a give-and-go with Toews. Duncan Keith had the secondary assist, giving him 500 points in his career.
Trevor van Riemsdyk’s turnover in his own zone led directly to Magnus Paajarvi’s goal at 16:54 of the first period. Alex Pietrangelo beat Darling from the slot on a second-period power play to tie it 2-2.
But Panarin found Anisimov with a beautiful pass to the doorstep at 14:40 of the third.
Tomas Jurco played a respectable 12:44 in his Hawks debut. If he winds up being the only addition before the trade deadline Wednesday, the Hawks feel they have the group that can make another run.
“The team’s feeling good in here,” Kane said. “We’ve got a lot of confidence.”
Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.