Blackhawks — ‘dogs’ in the hunt — top Canucks 4-3 on Jonathan Toews’ OT winner
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Let’s get right to the important part:
‘‘I love dogs,’’ Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton said.
So that’s settled. Wait, what?
Colliton — always in get-down-to-business mode — wasn’t wasting precious time describing a warm-and-cuddly attachment to man’s best friend. Before captain Jonathan Toews scored at 3:21 of overtime to give the Hawks a 4-3 victory — their sixth in a row — Thursday against the Canucks in an important matchup of Western Conference wild-card hopefuls at the United Center, Colliton described the message he had given his players toward the end of the team’s morning skate.
He had gathered them at center ice and told them to stay focused, keep the pedal down and, above all else, ‘‘work like dogs.’’
‘‘The kind of dogs I like, they love to work and they want to be relentless,’’ he said. ‘‘And we want our guys to pursue the puck, pressure and never give up. If we do that, then I think we have the players [to] get some results.’’
The last time the Hawks played the Canucks, it was Halloween night and the beginning of the end, so to speak, of the Joel Quenneville era. The Hawks lost 4-2 to begin an 0-3 road trip that culminated in Quenneville’s dismissal and the hiring of a complete unknown to steer them out of the wilderness.
It was gnarly for many weeks, but a 12-5-3 stretch since mid-December has injected renewed vigor into all involved. The Hawks (22-24-9) still have a considerable pack of teams surrounding them in the wild-card hunt, but they’ve gained important ground and are two points out of a playoff spot.
‘‘I mean, now’s the time, right?’’ wing Patrick Kane said before extending his points streak to 13 games with an assist in the first period. ‘‘I think everyone’s feeling confident. At the same time, we can’t just think because [we’re] playing better that it’s just going to happen for us. Just keep doing the same things. I think we know the recipe for success now.’’
The recipe goes something like this: Step 1, pour mounds of opportunity all over the ice. Step 2, let the hungriest dogs eat.
See Toews in overtime. After some frenetic back-and-forth between the teams, he picked up the puck along the boards, skated a long circle to get around the Canucks’ Chris Tanev and finished off goalie Jacob Markstrom for two enormous points.
‘‘I think maybe everyone else on the ice was as tired as I was,’’ Toews said.
Alex DeBrincat opened the scoring in the first period on a beautiful five-on-three play. Kane passed the puck down low to Dylan Strome, who threaded it between Toews’ legs to a waiting DeBrincat on his customary perch to the left of the net. DeBrincat later beat Markstrom a second time — with an even more dazzling assist by Strome — for his 28th goal, tying his team-leading total of last season.
Brandon Saad’s rebound goal in the first also came on the power play, which has been red-hot now for a full quarter of the season.
Ever-impressive young goalie Collin Delia stopped 40 shots, one of them a breakaway by All-Star Elias Pettersson in overtime.
‘‘I didn’t even know it was him,’’ Delia said. ‘‘Just do whatever you have to do to make the save.’’
The Hawks will play their next six games against Eastern Conference opponents, but the points will count just as much as they would against division rivals.
‘‘We’re trending in the right direction, and it’s fun to be a part of it,’’ Strome said. ‘‘I hope we can just keep building.’’