SAN JOSE, Calif. — The Blackhawks are trying to hang around as long as possible in the Western Conference wild-card race to see if they somehow can catch enough breaks to sneak into the playoffs, and they bought themselves a little more time with a feisty performance against the Sharks.
The Hawks scored three times in the first period and held on for a 5-4 victory Thursday to keep themselves in play as a long shot. They trail the Avalanche by five points for the final playoff spot with five games left.
The Coyotes are two points behind the Avalanche and can pull even when the teams play Friday in Denver. The Wild also are in the mix, a point ahead of the Hawks, and they visit the Golden Knights on Friday. The Hawks have a day off before facing the last-place Kings on Saturday.
“Every game’s big right now,” Jonathan Toews said. “We’re not accepting any fate anytime soon.
“It’s a big win for us to stay alive and keep that morale up and keep heading toward the end of the season in the right direction, regardless of what happens in the standings.”
The Sharks game was a sharp change from the tight, low-scoring battles the Hawks have had the last two weeks. It was the first time they scored more than twice since beating the Maple Leafs on March 13.
They opened a 3-0 lead in the first 11 minutes, but the Sharks came to life and tied the score 4-4 late in the second period. The Hawks went up 5-4 on a long shot by Patrick Kane that Chris Kunitz chopped into the net.
That was a key element of the offense Thursday after coach Jeremy Colliton called out his players for not wanting to mix it up at the net on offense and get ‘‘dirty goals’’ from deflections and rebounds. The Hawks had a presence around the crease from the outset, and it made a difference.
The Hawks were also better on the power play after scoring only four times in 36 tries in the previous 14 games. Alex DeBrincat gave them a power-play goal four minutes into the game.
They also have been bad on penalty kills, and that problem persisted. The Hawks committed five penalties, including three by Brent Seabrook in the first 25 minutes, and gave up two goals.
The Hawks took their 5-4 lead into the third period and made it last. They held the Sharks to nine shots on goal in the final period.
“We started making a few more hard, direct, forward plays,” Colliton said. “Thought our D-zone was pretty good. That’s what you should do on the road.
“I think one of the things as a team we can get better at is, OK, you’re up 3-1, the game should be over. Find a way to close it down. We struggle with that a little bit. But 5-4 on the road against that team… I thought we did a real nice job in the third.”
DeBrincat broke out of his slump with two goals, boosting his season total to 40. With Kane at 41, the Hawks have two 40-goal scorers for the first time since Steve Larmer and Jeremy Roenick in 1990-91.
“You just worry about getting to the NHL, not about how many goals you’re gonna score,” said DeBrincat, who never imagined potting 40. “It’s a cool accomplishment for me. It’s fun to do, fun to score. Glad it happened.”
At 21 years, 100 days old, he also took over Larmer’s spot as the youngest player in franchise history to reach 40 goals in a season.
Toews assisted on DeBrincat’s first goal and scored his 33rd to push his point total to 76, matching the career high he set in 2010-11. He is one goal away from tying his career high in that category, as well.