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In a blink, this Blackhawks season has evolved from monotonous to fascinating

The Hawks entered the break with an emotional game against the Panthers and exited it with an end-to-end thriller against the Coyotes. Imagine what’ll happen against more relevant franchises.

Patrick Kane’s shootout winner Saturday capped an unforgettable three hours of hockey in Arizona.
AP Photos

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Blackhawks’ 3-2 shootout victory Saturday against the Coyotes was more than just another regular-season game.

On that, all agreed.

‘‘With how loud the crowd was, chants going back and forth — especially in overtime — it was exciting,’’ Hawks wing Brandon Saad said. ‘‘It felt like a playoff game, almost.’’

‘‘People got their money’s worth tonight, no question,’’ coach Jeremy Colliton said. ‘‘Thought the overtime was fantastic. The shootout, the quality of our guys — I think [captain Jonathan Toews] beat the goalie three times — it’s unbelievable. Nice to have those guys. But I thought we played well enough. You felt even though we didn’t score in overtime, the hockey gods were going to take care of us.’’

‘‘That was probably the most exciting game this year, I would say,’’ goalie Corey Crawford said to no dissension.

The sellout crowd of 17,125, roughly evenly divided between Coyotes and snowbird Hawks fans, created a postseason-style atmosphere. And they had plenty to cheer for.

Crawford and Coyotes goalie Antti Raanta stole the show — and the postgame headlines — with their combined 83 saves, and some of the saves they made will be repeated on highlight reels and pregame-hype videos for years.

But they couldn’t have made so many saves if there weren’t so many shots and chances, and both teams’ forwards deserve full credit for that.

Many teams around the NHL have been sluggish in their first games back from the long break. The Hawks certainly weren’t. From Saad to Alex DeBrincat to Kirby Dach to Dominik Kubalik, it seemed as though nearly half the team enjoyed standout individual performances.

And the Coyotes matched that. Taylor Hall looked like his old MVP self. Conor Garland, the Coyotes’ version of Kubalik, was also brilliant.

‘‘It felt really fast both ways,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘They skated really well. I thought we skated really well.’’

Moreover, the three-on-three overtime period harked back to the early days of the format, when end-to-end recklessness was the only strategy stars knew. It was a perfect argument for extending overtime to 10 minutes, an idea that already has a lot of support among players.

The fact the game ended the three-game season series between the Hawks and Coyotes is a shame, considering the anticipation that would swirl around any rematch after that bonanza.

Yet it seems the red-hot Hawks, who suddenly are pounding on the door of a playoff spot, have developed a Midas touch when it comes to producing unforgettable hockey games.

They entered the break with a dominant victory against the Jets — one that seemed to cement the season turnaround — and a highly emotional game celebrating Patrick Kane and former coach Joel Quenneville. They exited it with one of the most intense, well-played regular-season games in years.

And the latter two contests somehow came against the Panthers and Coyotes, two of the most irrelevant franchises in the NHL. Imagine what’ll happen this week against the rival Wild on Tuesday and the historic Bruins on Wednesday.

The Hawks’ playoff odds are up to 45.8 percent. But with 30 games left, that number isn’t so critical. The important thing is that the Hawks are legitimately in the race — and far more plausibly than their mirage of contention last season.

As this season transforms from monotonous to fascinating and from subdued to fervent practically overnight, it is shaping up to be a thriller of a stretch run.