Patrick Kane leads Blackhawks to fifth straight victory

Patrick Kane didn’t have to be out there Sunday morning, an earlier-than-usual 9:30 a.m. optional skate. Most of the other big names on the team opted out, and didn’t bother putting on all that gear for a perfunctory 25 minutes or so of simple skating and drills. But Kane doesn’t like turning down ice time.

And the fact is, despite playing at a point-per-game pace all season, Kane has not been satisfied with his own game. Too many secondary assists, too many blank scoresheets, and not nearly enough goals for his taste. His Hart Trophy-winning, 106-point season of two years ago raised the bar awfully high, and Kane now expects that of himself, fair or not.

So he skates. There’s always more to do, always more to work on.

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Patrick Kane celebrates with defenseman Jordan Oesterle after scoring his second goal of the game Sunday night against the Wild. (AP Photo)

“The appetite to get better is part of that,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Nobody wants to be on the ice more than him. We try to say, ‘Stay away,’ sometimes, but he’s one of those guys who loves to be out there, and does a lot of things to try to enhance his game. He’s constantly working on things to improve himself.”

Whatever he is doing is working. Kane scored two goals Sunday night, leading the Blackhawks to a 4-1 victory over the Wild. The Hawks have now responded to a five-game losing streak with a five-game winning streak, and Kane moved past Dennis Hull for fifth all-time on the franchise goal-scoring list with 299. After an uncharacteristic four-game stretch without a point, Kane has four goals and three assists in his last four games.

“It’s always nice when you’re producing and helping out the team,” Kane sad. “That’s obviously my job, so that’s what I have to do. But more than anything, you want to improve on your game and your craft every day, and reach your highest potential and see where that can help take this team. It’s always a work in progress.”

Kane doesn’t do it alone, of course. Goaltender Corey Crawford has been the Hawks’ best player all season, and he was rock solid again, making 27 saves. It was the 12th time in 25 starts that he allowed one or zero goals, and he is 9-0-2 in his last 11 starts. He hasn’t lost in regulation in more than a month. It is no coincidence that the Hawks’ win streak coincides with Crawford’s return from a nagging lower-body injury.

Kane also was the beneficiary of two terrific passes on his two goals: a cross-ice feed from Nick Schmaltz for a one-timer in the first period, and a perfect stretch pass from Jordan Oesterle for a breakaway in the second.

“Oesty made a great pass that was hard, it was flat, it was right on my tape — skating into it with a lot of speed,” Kane said. “Great play by him.”

Ryan Hartman made it 3-0 at 1:41 of the third by going hard to the net and roofing a shot over Wild goaltender Alex Stalock (playing his second game in as many nights with Devan Dubnyk injured) for his first goal in 18 games. Matt Dumba broke up Crawford’s shutout streak at 5:56 of the third, but Tommy Wingels’ shorthanded empty-netter — his fourth goal in five games — sealed it.

It still wasn’t the perfect 60-minute game Quenne-ville has been waiting for — he didn’t like the start, and the power play, while better, is now 2-of-39 in the last 10 games — but it was close. Ten points in five games is technically all you can ask for. But like Kane’s game, it can always be better.

“Everyone in here believes we can do it,” Crawford said. “We’ve got a dangerous offense, and our ‘D’ are playing great, getting the puck to our forwards. It’s been fun hockey to play.”

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Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com