Top competition brings best out of Hawks

Marian Hossa put the Hawks on the board first against the Bruins Sunday. Bill Smith/NHLI/Getty Images

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks were a team dealing with a number of issues just eight days ago.

The Blackhawks had gone 1-1-3 from Jan. 2-11. They were struggling to score first-period goals and often found themselves having to play from behind. They were lacking production from all four lines, and Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville had multiple players in his doghouse. Overtime and shootouts had also become kryptonite for them.

Eight days and four games later, the Blackhawks are a different team again.

The Blackhawks resolved nearly all of their issues within an eight-day span by easily knocking off the Edmonton Oilers on Jan. 12, outplaying the Colorado Avalanche in an overtime loss on Tuesday, defeating the league’s hottest team, the Anaheim Ducks, on Friday, and pulling out a shootout win in a Stanley Cup finals rematch against the Boston Bruins on Sunday.

“I think this four-game home stand I thought we played the right way all four games and did a lot of good things,” Quenneville said. “We took it one game at a time. I thought the approach and the four-line rotation was better than we had seen during that recent stretch. Now we got a real intense schedule on the road coming up. It was definitely a nice little stretch here at home.”

The Blackhawks got back to their strengths throughout much of the stretch. They possessed the puck and out-shot opponents. They scored early. They utilized all four lines. Their top line of Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa produced goals. Corey Crawford was consistent in net.

The Blackhawks also rose to the challenge of their competition. Toews thinks having teams like the Ducks and Bruins on their schedule forced them to snap out of their recent funk.

“This in a way probably motivated us to play better and to raise our level of play against those two teams,” Toews said. “Two good tests for us and to find ways to win. Like I said before, I think we can carry that into the rest of the games we have at home here and on the road as well as we head into the Olympic break. We got to keep playing that same way.”

Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane had similar thoughts.

“Two big games against two great teams,” Kane said. “It’s nice to win at home always. Obviously, we weren’t going as well as we wanted to before these two games, but this game and Friday night’s game against the Ducks were big games for us to get our confidence back up and know that we can play with the best in the league.”

The difference between the Blackhawks and Bruins was slim when the two teams clashed in the Stanley Cup finals last season, and it was nearly the same again on Sunday. The teams haven’t been able to determine a game in regulation in four of their last seven meetings.

From the game’s fast pace to the legal/illegal hits to every goal mattering, the Blackhawks and Bruins may well as have been playing another Stanley Cup finals game on Sunday.

“Definitely had that playoff flavor to the game, that intensity was involved in our playoff series, which is as good of a pace as I’ve ever seen in a series,” Quenneville said. “For a regular-season game, you could see both teams had something at stake and wanted to prove they could win the hockey game.”