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Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton ‘can feel it turning’ after 2 solid games

The Blackhawks are desperate for any progress at the moment, and grabbing a point by taking Winnipeg to overtime was sufficient to spark optimism despite a 4-3 home loss Friday.

Eight-game losing streaks will recalibrate anyone’s perspective, even with a team that has won three Stanley Cups this decade.

“It was a good, solid team effort — nothing that we can be too negative or worked up about,” Jonathan Toews said. “We gave ourselves a chance to win.

“We’re playing better, and we’re getting our confidence back. We’ve got to start demanding more out of ourselves. Just getting to overtime or one point out of it in our building is not good enough. We can start driving that expectation, that standard, higher and higher.”

Jeremy Colliton is heading into the biggest stretch of his young coaching career. | Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Outcome aside, the Hawks’ disposition was fiercer than in their visit to Winnipeg three days earlier. That one was a 6-3 beatdown in which they fell behind 3-0 in the first period and coach Jeremy Colliton praised the Jets for playing “like men.”

The rematch was a better fight. The Hawks never fell behind by more than a goal and led late in the second period. Of the Jets’ four scores, one was a first-period power-play goal by Mark Scheifele, another came when Mathieu Perreault got a breakaway straight out of the penalty box and one was in 3-on-3 overtime.

Aside from those, the Hawks stopped 38 of 39 shots.

“Right, well, you can play really well against them for 58 minutes, but it only takes just an instant, and then it’s in the back of your net,” Colliton said. “A lot of it we were really good, [but] we had letdowns and it made it tough for us. But again, we did a lot of good things.”

That’s a tepid compliment, but Colliton liked most of what he saw against the Jets this time around.

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“We were assertive, and we controlled large parts of the game,” he said. “It’s frustrating because … you just let off for a second and now we’re down 3-2. So that’s a hard lesson to learn.

“But even after two [periods], you felt we could come back because we did a lot of good things, we carried a lot of the play and had our chances. We created enough. Good that we played to the end.”

Visually, the last two games have been markedly brighter for the Hawks after losing eight straight. They’re still in last place in the Central Division, but they showed grit against the Penguins and Jets.

In the 6-3 victory over the Penguins, the Hawks took a shocking (for them) 2-0 lead in the first period, fought off the Pens’ pushback and went ahead for good on Marcus Kruger’s goal at the start of the third.

They carried a similar tone against the Jets, with Toews scoring twice to put the Hawks up 2-1 before their mad dash to tie it on Erik Gustafsson’s strike with 7.5 seconds left. The Hawks shut down three Jets power plays in the third period, including one in the final few minutes.

“I think our defensive play’s getting better,” Toews said. “Obviously, our penalty kill gave up one, but for the most part, we’re pressuring really well up ice and frustrating teams.”

It’s good, but it’s hard to say whether it means much in a season that already looks like it’s beyond saving. Perhaps this is the launch point for a comeback, or maybe it’s just a good sign heading into the home game Sunday against another strong opponent in the Sharks.

“I think both,” Colliton said. “We are becoming more consistent, I feel, both with our effort and our structure. And I think we have good enough players that if we do that, then we’ll find a way to come through. That’s good for long term, that’s good for Sunday.”