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Playoffs? Blackhawks on hottest run of season after beating Wild 4-3 in OT

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Good efforts don’t mean anything for the Blackhawks at this stage of the season unless they yield points. They need real victories, not figurative ones, in their mad chase for the playoffs.

They made their grit count for something Saturday.

The Hawks pushed through a grueling game on the second night of a back-to-back to beat the Wild 4-3 in overtime at Xcel Energy Center. They took the lead late in regulation and lost it a minute later, then Erik Gustafsson blasted a one-timer from up top in overtime for the win.

“It’s that time of year where we can’t let anything slip,” Jonathan Toews said. “It’s time to go on a run. . . . We’ve been saying in our locker room that we’ve got to go into every single night playing for two points, knowing that’s our expectation.”

Jeremy Colliton wants the Blackhawks to play like a pack of hungry dogs. | Stacy Bengs/AP

The Hawks have had flashes over the last two months, but this is the hottest they’ve been. They’re on a four-game winning streak for the first time since December 2017.

Coach Jeremy Colliton has stressed resilience since taking over and saw some Saturday, especially at the end. The Hawks appeared to take control with 4:35 left when Patrick Kane fed Toews for a power-play goal, but the Wild answered 93 seconds later to make it 3-3.

The Hawks caught a break when Wild defenseman Ryan Suter was penalized for delay of game with 19 seconds left in regulation, setting them up with a four-on-three power play to open overtime. They kept the puck nearly the entire time until Gustafsson delivered his second goal, and arguably the biggest of his NHL career, 1:19 into it.

“We responded with big plays, big shifts and some big goals,” Colliton said. “Nice to see. It’s nice because we did play pretty well for a lot of the game. If we wouldn’t have gotten two points, it would’ve been pretty disappointing.”

The win kept the Hawks, who are 11-6-4 since their season started to turn in mid-December, within five points of the second wild-card spot. They’re in the most favorable segment of their schedule and get two days off before a visit to the struggling Oilers.

Even in good times, most of the Hawks’ wins have been ugly. This wasn’t a beauty by any means, but Colliton fell in love with how they played in the second period.

Down 1-0 after a respectable first period, they were the team of his dreams in the second. The Hawks outshot the Wild 14-11, killed a penalty and scored twice.

“Our second period was outstanding,” Colliton said. “Very good. A lot of things that we can build on.”

Alex DeBrincat had one of those second-period goals, beating Alex Stalock stick-side for his 26th of the season. He also had two assists, including the primary one on Gustafsson’s game-winner.

DeBrincat has 10 points in his last 10 games and is two goals away from matching his rookie season.

The Hawks’ defense was tighter overall, too. After giving up an average of nearly 40 shots in their three wins coming into Saturday, they held the Wild to 31.

Delia gets priority while waiting for Crawford
Blackhawks 7, Sabres 3

Rookie goaltender Collin Delia hadn’t played in almost two weeks because of the All-Star break and sharing time with Cam Ward, but looked fine. None of the goals he allowed were egregiously misplayed, and it was sharper than how he played in the 8-5 victory against the Capitals his last time out.

“A little rusty, quite honestly, but the important thing is to battle through those games and find a way even when you’re not your best,” Delia said. “As a group, there were times we didn’t play our best, but we weathered that storm and came out on top. That’s what good teams do.”

That’s what playoff teams do. And the Hawks have looked like one lately.