Brendan Perlini — holy hat trick! — goes wild as Blackhawks blast Coyotes 7-1
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On Oct. 18, on a night that somehow seems longer ago, the Blackhawks lost 4-1 to the Coyotes at the United Center. It was goalie Corey Crawford’s first game back on the ice after 10 months away because of a concussion. Joel Quenneville still had a few games left as the Hawks’ coach.
Brendan Perlini wasn’t even a member of the team, let alone a hat-trick-scoring one.
How differently the rematch Monday — the first game between the teams since that night — unfolded.
The Hawks’ 7-1 victory at the UC instantly goes on the short list of their best games of a season no one is quite ready to give up on. Crawford — rounding into top form after another concussion suffered in December — was in command on a not-very-tasking night. The team’s maligned defense was rock-solid. Coach Jeremy Colliton’s group resembled a team of the future more than one of the past.
And how about this? Young winger Perlini joined center Dylan Strome in making the trade of Nick Schmaltz to the Coyotes in November look like a mighty fine deal.
Perlini scored his fourth, fifth and sixth goals in the last five games, getting the hat trick with 3.6 seconds left. Well, barely. On the final goal, his stick caught so little of the puck — ‘‘maybe a centimeter and a half’’ of it, he joked — that it had to will itself to the finish line. Goal No. 2 came off a gorgeous pass from linemate Strome, who, unlike Perlini, has made his mark on this Hawks season from the start of his time in Chicago.
‘‘It’s obviously great,’’ Perlini said. ‘‘I just wanted to get the win in general, but to do that was awesome. I’ll never forget that one.’’
You’d better believe it was extra-meaningful that it happened against his former team, too. Did he have a chip on his shoulder facing the Coyotes?
‘‘Oh, for sure,’’ he said. ‘‘I mean, why wouldn’t you? I had a good couple of years there. But, as time goes on, everyone moves on. I’m very thankful and grateful for my time there — they gave me the opportunity to play in the NHL — but I’m excited to be a Blackhawk now and move on.’’
Colliton remarked before the game that Perlini’s performance in the Hawks’ 2-1 victory Saturday against the Stars in Dallas was his best since the trade. Well, that just got knocked down a peg.
‘‘I would say he was better tonight,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘He’s skating. He’s really involved. He’s winning races and puck battles, and then the offensive side of his game has the opportunity to come through. Really happy for him.’’
Couldn’t every remaining Hawks game — all 13 of them — use a story this compelling?
The victory moved the Hawks five points behind the Wild, who lost to the Sharks 3-0, in the battle for the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference. Also in the way are the Coyotes and Avalanche, who lead the Hawks by four and three points, respectively.
‘‘Everyone’s good nowadays, so I think you have to raise your [own] level,’’ said captain Jonathan Toews, who scored on a penalty shot to cap the Hawks’ gangbusters second period. ‘‘Right now, we just know that with the meaning of these points and these games, every game is going to be tough. The playoffs have already started, if you ask me.’’
It was the second consecutive game — and only the second time since Feb. 14 — that the Hawks held an opponent to fewer than three goals. It was their third victory in a row overall and lifted their record against the Pacific Division to 5-12-3.
Six games against Pacific foes remain, including one in Arizona. The road to the playoffs remains strewn with danger, but the Hawks choose to barrel ahead.
‘‘We still know we’re right there,’’ Perlini said.
Let the ‘‘playoffs’’ continue.