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Blackhawks start fast, hold on to beat Maple Leafs for fourth straight victory

TORONTO — Collin Delia started with a leisurely night off and ended up in the middle of a tornado that seemingly came out of nowhere.

As a third-period replacement for Corey Crawford, who left the game between periods because of a sudden illness, Delia somehow survived a torrential 30-shot, three-goal onslaught by the Toronto Maple Leafs, including a frantic final 91 seconds with a one-goal lead, as the Blackhawks held on for dear life in a 5-4 victory Wednesday at Scotiabank Arena.

“It felt like an eternity,” Delia said. “Those final seconds feel like a half-hour sometimes. I was sweating pretty heavily after the game. After skating pretty heavily [Wednesday] morning, it definitely felt like a full game.”

Duncan Keith, Brendan Perlini, Dominik Kahun, Brandon Saad and Alex DeBrincat scored as the Hawks (31-30-9) took a 4-0 lead after one period and a 5-0 lead deep into the second period before desperately holding on for their fourth consecutive victory to boost their seemingly long-shot playoff hopes.

Blackhawks left wing Alex DeBrincat (12) celebrates his goal with teammates Brendan Perlini (11) and Dylan Strome (17) as Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Nikita Zaitsev (22) skates past during the second period Wednesday. Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP

The Hawks (71 points in 70 games) closed to four points of the Coyotes (75 in 70 games) for the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference, with the Wild (74 in 70 games) and Avalanche (72 in 70 games) also ahead of them.

In the big picture, it was a step in the right direction for the Hawks. Facing a Leafs team that was motivated to atone for a dreadful 6-2 loss to the Lightning on Monday night, the Hawks took command from the start with a near-perfect first period. Almost as impressively, they adroitly fended off a determined push-back from the Maple Leafs in the second period, allowing only Andreas Johnsson’s re-directed goal with 1:33 left in the period to cut their lead to 5-1. 

It wasn’t until Crawford left that the game unraveled. Crawford was suffering from flu-like symptoms that were not related to his previous concussion issues, coach Jeremy Colliton said.

“[Trainer Mike Gapski] came to me and said, ‘Crow’s not feeling well,’ ’’ Colliton said. ”When he says he’s not good, then that tells you something.”

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Crawford’s departure seemed to give the Leafs hope. After getting 18 shots in two periods against Crawford, they had 30 against Delia. Morgan Rielly’s power-play goal cut the Hawks’ lead to 5-3 at 10:55, and John Tavares’ empty-net goal at 18:29 made it 5-4.

The Leafs poured it on from there, with seven shots on goal in the final 91 seconds, including a  golden opportunity to tie it when Nazem Kadri’s point-blank shot in front of the net went straight into Delia’s midsection with 12 seconds left.

“Well, we can be really happy with the first and second [periods] and not be happy with the third,” Colliton said. “They got momentum when they scored, and then it was tough for us. I would have liked to see us handle it better. We had some unforced errors that maybe gave them extra chances. We got two points, though. We’ll deal with the stuff we didn’t like on Friday and still enjoy the win.”

While they came close to a crushing collapse, the Hawks were more impressed with their start than worried about their finish.

“We’re just enjoying our hockey right now,” said Perlini, who feathered a perfect pass to DeBrincat for the all-important fifth goal in the second period. “They get one or two, and then the crowd gets going a little bit. I think a little bit of panic sets in. That’s when you’ve got to remain the calmest out there. Those happen. The main thing is we won, got the points, move on to Montreal [on Saturday night].”