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Blackhawks enjoy playing with the lead

OK, so the Chicago Blackhawks didn’t get their first shutout of the season, but that’s about the only thing that didn’t go right in a 4-1 win over the Dallas Stars on Friday.

And for once the Hawks did it in a style that is playoff worthy: they got an early lead and played with it the rest of the night. In fact, they scored twice in the opening two minutes as Dave Bolland and Patrick Sharp got pucks by hot goaltender Kari Lehtonen.

“It was one of those starts, you kind of hope you get one of those once in a while,” a smiling Joel Quenneville told reporters afterwards. “We’ve had three or four really poor starts the last three or four games.”

Quenneville was smiling because he knows how rare it has been for his team to get leads. They’re great coming from behind, but have scored the game’s first goal the second fewest times in the NHL coming into the night. For just the 30th time in 72 games, the Hawks scored first.

“The last three games we had to come from behind,” Sharp said. “That takes a lot out of the team.”

And that, more than anything, is the importance of early leads come playoff time. Shortening a bench early in a playoff series and taking chances because you’re trailing is a recipe for an upset. Get a lead, play smart, roll four lines, then add to it when the opposition is pressing. That’s winning hockey. And that’s how the Hawks played on Friday.

“We talked about having better starts and that was a huge start for us to get up on a team like that,” goalie Corey Crawford said. “Everyone was battling.”

It took just ten seconds for the Hawks to take that lead. Bolland scored after Andrew Shaw made a nice drop pass and then drove the net to disrupt Lehtonen’s concentration. When Sharp scored 92 seconds later, the Hawks had their first 2-0 lead since Feb. 16 against the New York Rangers.

“We were more efficient in a lot of ways,” Quenneville said. “By putting pucks at the net, sometimes they go in or you get opportunities. You can forecheck off of it as well. When we start doing that we’re more efficient as a team.”

And then the Hawks withstood the invariable push by the home team as Dallas had a series of great chances late in the second period. Crawford made 11 saves in the middle 20 minutes, including a huge one on Michael Ryder with the game just 2-0.

“I felt good, I felt focused,” he said. “Even not getting a lot of work I was still prepared for any action that came after a long spurt of not seeing shots. I have to be prepared to keep that focus for the next game.”

Crawford only saw 22 shots but Dallas buzzed around him enough to keep him honest. Still, that’s a shot total any coach and defense should be proud of. The Stars got sloppy to start the third and the Hawks pounced with two more goals. It was textbook, formulaic hockey. It works when you have a good start.

“That was the big thing coming into this game, getting a good start,” Bolland said.

Mission accomplished.

Slappers

  • Bolland’s goal 10 seconds into the game was the second fastest in team history and fastest ever against the Stars. Brent Sutter scored two seconds faster in a game against Vancouver in 1995.

  • Sharp scored his 27th and 28th goals of the season and had a team-high eight shots on net.

  • Bolland was 14 of 21 in the faceoff circle while Patrick Kane was just 5 of 14. The Hawks owned 57 percent of the draws.

  • The Hawks are 7-4-1 without Jonathan Toews in the lineup and 6-1-1 since acquiring Johnny Oduya.

  • After the game Quenneville said there was no new update on Toews’ condition as he recovers from a concussion. He was off the ice again on Friday.