Blackhawks survive Avalanche for 2-1 victory, first 3-game winning streak

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Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Collin Delia, left, reaches out to cover the puck near defenseman Gustav Forsling, front, and Colorado Avalanche center Alexander Kerfoot during the third period of an NHL hockey game Friday, Dec. 21, 2018, in Denver. The Blackhawks won 2-1. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski) ORG XMIT: CODZ122

DENVER — This would’ve been an easy one to write off as a scheduled loss, or perhaps a throwaway game in the franchise’s glory days, but the Blackhawks arrived in Colorado ready to fight.

They got in at 1:30 a.m., leaving a minimal window to sleep and adapt to the mile-high air coming off a win in Dallas the night before. They looked tired, but it didn’t matter. They gutted it out to beat the Avalanche 2-1 for their first three-game winning streak of the season.

“We didn’t seem to have as much juice in the legs,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “It was a battle all night. Felt like we were playing uphill, but credit to our guys. They found a way to survive.

“We definitely will take the points. We probably have deserved a better fate some other nights and didn’t get points, so we’ll take these happily.”

In the third period, when the Hawks surely were low on gas, Patrick Kane fired a wrist shot from the left side that got through Colorado goalie Philipp Grubauer’s pads but didn’t have enough momentum to make it all the way.

The puck stalled, spinning an inch from the red line as Grubauer regrouped. It was just about to stop when Artem Anisimov muscled through contact, took two strides and slapped it into the net for the go-ahead goal.

Similar to the win over the Stars, this game demanded an exhausting stand in the last 10 minutes to hold the lead. That included an Avalanche power play with 6:05 remaining, one of five penalties the Hawks killed.

There were close calls, including a late shot off the crossbar and some good looks squandered by the Avalanche. Without the relief of an empty-net goal, the Hawks still managed to hold on until the final horn.

“We did what we had to do late in the game to hold on to that lead,” Jonathan Toews said, putting it perfectly.

It wasn’t spectacular, but somehow it was enough.

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The Hawks endured thanks largely to goalie Collin Delia, who made his season debut. They called him up from the minors after Corey Crawford’s concussion, and he played just like Cam Ward did in the previous two games.

It was predictable that the Hawks would give up a lot of shots under the circumstances, but Delia handled them. He stopped 35 of 36 against the highest-scoring team in the Western Conference and described the feeling as “just pure elation.” The only goal by the Avalanche came on an assist from behind the net that left little chance for a save.

Delia downplayed the barrage he withstood, but Colliton cut through his humility.

“He was under siege at times,” he said. “And he was just calm — just another day. He made some big saves, and he also made routine ones [look] routine. I think he had a calmness back there that was good for our team.”

Every win means something at this stage of his career, but this one must have felt like vindication. It was also his first. The last time Delia wore a Hawks uniform, the Avalanche pummeled him with five goals in a game late last season.

“Any opponent you want to be solid, but I guess you could call it a little bit of vengeance,” he said. “I didn’t have the best outing last [time]. I did everything in my power to prepare for this game.”

There’s no telling how long it will last, but the Hawks are surging at 4-1-1 in their last six games, knocking down quality opponents along the way. They’ve beaten or taken to overtime the top four teams in the Central Division this week.

The victory in Denver lifted them from the bottom of the division. And while climbing to sixth place is a small step, it’s a giant leap for a team that slogged through an eight-game losing streak a week and a half ago.

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