Blackhawks hold on to beat Flames, enter 2020 on hottest streak of season
Patrick Kane and Robin Lehner’s heroics saved a 5-3 victory and gave the Hawks their first four-game road winning streak since February 2017.
CALGARY, Alberta — The Blackhawks have finished the first half of the 2019-20 season playing the best hockey of the season.
After an autumn direly lacking in winning streaks and pretty games, the Hawks somehow possess quite a bit of life entering 2020, with a 5-3 victory over the Flames on Tuesday giving them five wins in their final six games of 2019.
They enter New Year’s Day 18-17-6 on the season and just four points out of a wild card spot.
“Screw the negatives here, learn a little bit from them, but keep building on the positives,” Robin Lehner said. “We’ve just got to try to keep getting better and keep climbing in the standings. We want to make the playoffs.”
Lehner and Patrick Kane were, per usual, the Hawks’ far-and-away most valuable players in Tuesday’s nervy win, in which the visitors looked dominant en route to a 4-0 lead and toothless while coming inches away from blowing it in the final minutes.
Lehner finished with 41 stops on 44 shots against, including a Save of the Year candidate with a diving stick robbery of Flames star Johnny Gaudreau in the first period. All three goals against came from mere feet away with little the 28-year-old netminder could do.
The Hawks’ recent surge coincides with coach Jeremy Colliton’s long-awaited shift towards making Lehner the de facto No. 1 goaltender: Lehner has started five of the last six, and he’s 5-0-0 in those starts.
“Everyone wants to play,” he said. “I appreciate every opportunity I get. I feel good out there. I know I can be better, but I felt good this year.”
Kane, meanwhile, became the NHL’s only player to hit the 800-point plateau this decade by tallying two goals and two assists Tuesday.
No. 88’s line with Ryan Carpenter and Dylan Sikura, two seemingly unlikely linemates, produced a whopping 11 shots on goal and finished as the Hawks’ only line with positive shot attempt and scoring chance ratios.
“The best he’s looked,” Colliton said of Sikura. “He looked comfortable. He won a lot of races. He was clean with the puck, looked confident. He could have had more probably. So that’s what we’re looking for: He stepped in and made a difference for us.”
The Hawks looked like globetrotters through the game’s first 50 minutes, playing decisive, sharp hockey, standing up to the Flames’ increasingly chippy play and finishing their chances like a roster with this level of dynamic offensive talent should. Dylan Strome and Olli Maatta also scored, in addition to Kane.
But they yet again faltered late in the third period, much like in previous meltdowns this month in Boston and St. Louis.
“They score and it’s 4-2 and it was going to be a push, it was inevitable,” Colliton said. “Doesn’t change [that] we liked how we played early on and we’ll take that with us.”
Colliton is right about that: the Hawks certainly aren’t perfect yet, and few teams in a league with this much parity are, but they’re undeniably trending in an exciting direction. 5-1-0 is their best six-game stretch since March, and four straight road wins marks their longest such streak since February 2017.
The playoffs still aren’t likely —yet —but they’re back on the table.
“We’re managing the game much better,” Colliton said. “We’re willing to grind, and you’ll get your chances. We have good enough players that they’re going to score if we can create those chances.”