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Blackhawks deliver defensive gem, keep playoff hopes alive with win over Stars

DALLAS — This was a big one for the Blackhawks.

With time running out on their playoff hopes, they showed up Saturday. They looked every bit as good as the wild-card-leading Stars and took them down 2-1 at American Airlines Arena with an effort that would’ve been good enough to compete with anyone.

It wasn’t particularly artistic other than some deft passing on the Hawks’ two goals in the first period, but it was the gritty, workmanlike game coach Jeremy Colliton has called for since he took the job.

“We answered the bell tonight,” he said. “We needed to win. Pretty encouraging that we got the kind of effort we did. We competed really hard, and I thought up and down the lineup we made a lot of team decisions. Happy for the guys.”

Alex DeBrincat put the Hawks up 2-1 in the first period, and that was enough. | LM Otero/AP

And it gave them life in the playoff race.

The Hawks moved to seven points behind the Wild for the second wild-card spot and get another chance at a team ahead of them when they host the Coyotes on Monday. They remain a long shot with only 14 games left.

They seemed to grasp those stakes in Dallas. This was the Hawks’ most impressive victory in a month, and, as an aside, it must make Colliton crazy knowing his team has the capacity to play this well, but so often doesn’t.

“It made you crazy before — now it’s just, ‘OK. That’s good. Now we’ve gotta move on to the next one,’ ” he said. “It’s probably wasted energy to worry about what’s happened in the past.”

The Hawks made their 2-1 lead in the first period last the rest of the night and fought off two minutes of the Stars going empty net to end the game. Most of the season, this team couldn’t be trusted to keep an opponent scoreless the last 53 minutes of a game.

It was the first game since Feb. 14 that the Hawks held a team to two goals or fewer and the 16th time in 68 games this season. They are second in the NHL in goals since their mid-December turnaround but have also given up the most goals in that span.

“It’s rewarding because it shows we can win another way,” Colliton said. “We know we can win scoring goals, but it’s hard to do that as the season goes along and against really good teams. You’re not gonna get five or six on the top teams. They’re stingy, and the games will tighten up.”

The Hawks outshot the Stars 39-27, committed no penalties and got exceptional goaltending from Corey Crawford. They allowed only five shots on goal in the third period.

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Crawford stopped 26 of the 27 shots he faced in by far his best game since returning from a concussion.

“That was a fun game to play in,” Crawford said. “Everyone was sharp and working hard and making the right plays. That was a great team effort. That could’ve been one of our best ones. We need that from here on out. It was a good one, and we’ve gotta keep it going.”

The Hawks closed the first period with Patrick Kane feeding Alex DeBrincat for a breakaway that ended with DeBrincat beating Anton Khudobin stick-side for his 37th goal. They also scored on a crisp two-on-one in which Chris Kunitz set up David Kampf.

DeBrincat nearly sealed the victory with about three minutes left, but his shot caromed off the left post.

A disappointment like that could’ve lulled the Hawks into a late letdown, but they didn’t buckle. For one night, they looked like a team that could pull off the run they’ll need to get in the playoffs. The question is: How many times can they do it?

“We’re still in it, and we need more games at this level or better,” Colliton said. “Then we’ll see what happens.”