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Blackhawks head into break on a high note with shootout win

PITTSBURGH — They whooped and hollered, laughed and cheered. An impromptu team-wide chant of “PAT-TRICK KANE! PAT-TRICK KANE!” could be heard echoing down the hallway just outside. Yes, the Blackhawks’ dressing room was a giddy place immediately following their 3-2 shootout victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night. 

It was certainly a heck of a lot happier than it’s been for most of 2015. Two wins in two nights can do that.

“It was huge for us to get two wins here before the All-Star break, to be honest with you,” said defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, usually not one to call a mid-January game “huge.” “It would have felt like we didn’t deserve to have a break if we would have lost all these games. Now we ended on a high note, and everybody’s going into this break with positive thinking.”

The Hawks — who had lost two straight and five of eight before Tuesday’s rout of lowly Arizona — were hardly dominant in this one, squandering a 2-0 lead and holding on for dear life in the third period to get the game to overtime against a Penguins team that was missing star forward Evgeni Malkin and star defenseman Kris Letang. They still haven’t won a regulation game in Pittsburgh since 1997. 

But they got the game to overtime, and won it in the shootout on goals by Jonathan Toews and Kane, with Corey Crawford (33 saves) stopping both David Perron and Sidney Crosby. And any two points on the road are a good two points.

So Joel Quenneville’s ski runs in Colorado will feel a little smoother. The trips home for the other Hawks will be a little sweeter. And the All-Star game will be a little more celebratory for Toews, Kane, Crawford, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. 

The six-day break will be restful, not restless.

“It changes a lot,” Toews said. “But I think for the most part, even if things aren’t going well, we’re good at taking responsibility for it, and not dragging our feet around and dwelling on what we’re not doing or what’s not going out way. We just find ways that we can make things better.”

One thing that hasn’t been a problem this month has been the top line of Brandon Saad, Toews and Marian Hossa. And that line got things going with a virtuoso shift that led to David Rundblad — who wound up and fired four shot attempts on the shift — scoring his second goal in as many nights on a blast from the point 6:56 into the first period.

The Penguins controlled play from there, however, as the Hawks didn’t even get a shot on goal for more than 10 minutes spanning the first two periods. Even after Hossa beat Marc-Andre Fleury through a Bryan Bickell screen on a power play for a 2-0 lead, the Penguins were still dominating. And they were finally rewarded when Zach Sill got his first career NHL goal, and Steve Downie tied it in a goalmouth scrum midway through the second.

That set the stage for a tense third period in which the Hawks dodged a few bullets — most notably Perron missing a wide-open net after pulling Crawford out of position — and an overtime which saw Hossa miss the net on a power move that Quenneville said “might have been one for the ages.”

Had the Hawks lost in the shootout, it would have been another quiet room, another frustrating night. But hockey’s a fickle game. And suddenly the Hawks are feeling pretty darn good.

“Losing two games at home there, and especially losing three against Winnipeg — that really stinks,” Hjalmarsson said. “But now we’re going to have a nice break and come back even more motivated. There’s not going to be that much left in the season, it’s going to go by really quick. And we’re going to be ready.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com
Twitter: @marklazerus