DETROIT — No matter how close the Blackhawks come to folding, they always have Patrick Kane, who has been quite the ace as this team struggles to stay in the playoff hunt.
Kane saved the Hawks again Wednesday night, this time with an overtime goal to finish the Red Wings 5-4 after his team blew a three-goal lead in the third period. The harrowing win jumped the Hawks ahead of the Wild for the second wild-card spot, which they now share with the Avalanche, who beat the visiting Jets 7-1 in a late game Wednesday. The Hawks are now 26-26-9 and locked at 61 points with the Avalanche, who have a game in hand, but the Hawks can pull ahead when they meet Friday at the United Center.
“We’re winning games, and I think we still feel we can play better in here,” Kane said. “But we’re in a playoff spot right now, so let’s be excited about that, knowing we’ve got to bring a little bit more the last 21 games.”
Regardless of how they’ve done it, the Hawks have won 10 of their last 12 and are finally here. They hang on to this thrill loosely after a brutal performance that was barely enough to get by a bad Red Wings team, but it has been an impressive climb. They were buried in December and still sat 10 points out of a playoff berth a month ago.
“I’d rather be in than out,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “Still need to work on our game. Game isn’t where it needs to be for us to compete in the playoffs, and we’re going to have to play better to get the points we need coming down the stretch.
“We keep finding a way to do it, and that’s a credit to the character we have in our group that they find ways to do it no matter what.”
They should never attempt to do it this way again. There’s little to love about letting a 4-1 lead unravel over the final 16 minutes and allowing a gimme game against the lowly Red Wings to go to overtime. The Wings outshot the Hawks decisively, like most teams do, and tied the game with 1:26 left in regulation after going empty net.
There were isolated instances of impeccable defense, such as Slater Koekkoek thwarting Dylan Larkin’s breakaway with four minutes left in the third period and Erik Gustafsson’s takeaway to launch the attack in overtime.
Gustafsson wrested the puck in the Hawks’ end and fed Toews to start the rush. Toews was unable to force it in the net but went behind the net and drew all three Red Wings with him. He kicked it out to Gustafsson, who was eying Kane on the right side all along, and they connected on a machinelike one-timer for the win.
“I saw Kaner right on the back door, and I was going to pass it either way,” said Gustafsson, who bypassed a clean look of his own. “He’s a good goal-scorer, so just give it to him.”
Always a good plan.
The goal was Kane’s second of the game, running the NHL’s season-best point streak to 19. He has 16 goals and 26 assists since starting the streak in early January. His 37 goals this season rank second in the league, and he’s nine shy of his career high.
Alex DeBrincat has been a solid No. 2 scorer, by the way. He had a hat trick Monday and followed up nicely with his 33rd goal late in the first period Wednesday.
The Hawks eked out ugly wins over the bottom two teams in the Eastern Conference to start the week — they survived the Senators 8-7 — but it’ll be harder to get through the weekend. Friday will be the first of three games left against the Avalanche. On Sunday, the Hawks host the Stars, who are in the first wild-card spot, two points ahead of the Hawks and Avalanche.