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Working overtime pays dividends for Blackhawks

Jonathan Toews (four) and Artemi Panarin (one) have combined for five of the Blackhawks' eight overtime goals this season. (AP Photo)

Duncan Keith likes 3-on-3 overtime. So far.

“It’s fun,” he said. “I mean, it’s no fun if you don’t win.”

And the Hawks are winning a lot in overtime, and just past the halfway point in the season, that’s made a huge difference in the standings. The Hawks entered Friday’s game with an 8-4 record in overtime, and a win in their lone shootout. That’s nine extra points they’ve picked up beyond the one they earned for getting to overtime.

Meanwhile, their closest foes in the Central Division haven’t fared so well. The Minnesota Wild lost in overtime to the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night, dropping their overtime record to 1-7 (and 0-1 in the shootout). If they were even .500 in overtime, they’d be tied with the Hawks with two games in hand, instead of four points back. The Nashville Predators are 1-6 in overtime, and 2-1 in shootouts, which has kept them clinging to a wild-card spot in fifth place. St. Louis is 3-6 in overtime, and Dallas is 3-2.

“It’s pretty exciting,” Hawks goaltender Corey Crawford said of the format. “For us, so far, it’s been good. With our skill, we’ve been able to take advantage. It’s definitely a lot more exciting; more room for our guys out there.”

Of course, it helps when you can throw Jonathan Toews (who has a league-high four overtime goals) and Patrick Kane over the boards with all that open ice. After starting the year with Keith, they’ve been playing more with Niklas Hjalmarsson lately, as Joel Quenneville tries to find the right mix of skill and safety.

Keith is ambivalent on the concept of 3-on-3 overtime, which was created to limit the amount of games that are decided by shootouts. Last year, 44.4 percent of overtime games were decided before a shootout. This year, it’s 64.3 percent. It’s fun, and it’s effective, but it’s certainly not real hockey.

“I guess it’s entertainment for people, if that’s what they want, and I think it’s good,” Keith said. “I don’t know if it’s any more gimmicky than the shootout. As a player, I don’t mind it. But I only like it when we’re winning.”

NO PANIK: Richard Panik, acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs for Jeremy Morin last Sunday, has yet to join the Hawks because of visa issues, but Quenneville said he was “getting close” and that he possibly could be here by Sunday’s game against Colorado.

When the trade was made, Quenneville hinted that Panik could get start on the top line with Toews and Marian Hossa. That said, he’s usually reluctant to change things up when the Hawks are on a roll.

“We’ll visit that when it’s time,” he said. “We’ll see.”

TOP SELLERS: Toews and Kane had the top-selling jerseys in 2015 at the NHL’s official online store, likely buoyed by Winter Classic and All-Star jersey sales. The top 10 was rounded out by Henrik Lundqvist, Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Patrice Bergeron, Zach Parise, Carey Price, Ryan McDonagh, and Connor McDavid.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus