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Blackhawks on best run since Jeremy Colliton took over as coach

DALLAS — They took on the top two teams in their division, faced two other playoff-caliber opponents and lost their starting goalie. And you know what? It was a pretty strong homestand for the Blackhawks.

Any progress, no matter how small, is meaningful to a group that’s just trying to dig its way out of the basement. The Hawks played well in three games — beating the Penguins and Predators, losing to the Jets in overtime — and put up one stinker in a meltdown against the Sharks.

It would’ve been a forgettable stretch for their recent championship-contending teams, but not this season. It was the best they’ve played under coach Jeremy Colliton and the first time in a month that they’ve picked up at least five points in a four-game span.

“We had a stretch where we played seven pretty good games, not perfect and not all at the same level, but the work ethic was there, and we were in all of them,” said Colliton, who insisted he saw improvement even during the eight-game losing streak. “For me to see the response [against Nashville after the clunker against San Jose], that was very positive. So let’s do it again.”

Chicago Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton speaks to the media after the team's NHL hockey game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, in Chicago. The Hurricanes won 4-3. (AP Photo/David Banks) ORG XMIT: OTKDB

With the longest homestand of the season complete, the Hawks hit the road for a tough back-to-back. They’re at Dallas on Thursday, then travel with minimal time to adjust to the altitude for a game at Colorado on Friday. It will be their first crack at each team.

The Stars and Avalanche are intent on making playoff pushes, and they need to clean up when a lightweight opponent comes to town. Even after a modestly successful week at home, the Hawks are last in the Central at 28 points. In the NHL, only the Kings (27) are worse.

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The high point of the homestand was the 2-1 victory against the Predators, even if it was Nashville’s second game of a back-to-back. In the aftermath of losing Corey Crawford to another concussion, the Hawks’ defense stepped up and Cam Ward delivered his best game of the season.

The Hawks allowed 31 shots on goal, three below their season average, and Ward stopped 30 of them. The .968 save percentage was his highest since he had a shutout for the Hurricanes in February. The only other time he held an opponent to fewer than three goals in a full game this season was Oct. 28 in an overtime loss to the Oilers.

“We want to continue to grow as a team with Crow on our minds and play for one another,” Ward said. “But he’s not gonna be forgotten, and I’m not Crawford out there. I’m just going to try to give this team a chance to win every time I get the opportunity.”

They’ll need more of that from Ward to keep gaining ground in the division while Crawford’s out. He won’t be back before Dec. 27, and the Dallas-Colorado swing will require Ward to go both nights or force the Hawks to rely on recent minor-league call-up Collin Delia.

If Delia plays, it will be the third NHL game of his career and first since March. The Avalanche, by the way, are the highest-scoring team in the Western Conference at 3.67 goals per game.

The Hawks remain unfazed, though — especially Colliton. He hasn’t wavered in his belief that the team is trending up and doesn’t care if that sounds crazy to the outside world.

He sees the Hawks getting better and senses that his players think the same.