CHICAGO -- In a bit of a role reversal Friday, it was the defending Stanley Cup champions with something to prove, and the Chicago Blackhawks rose to the occasion on their home ice.
Their effort had shades of last season's run to the title, as the Blackhawks held on for a 4-2 victory over the league-leading Anaheim Ducks.
Even so, defenseman Duncan Keith scoffed at the notion that this contest was played with playoff intensity.
"Coming into our building with the way they have been playing, we heard a lot of talk about them," Keith said. "They have a great team with a lot of good players. We wanted to make sure we had a good game, and I thought we did. It was nice to get the win."
Keith insisted there are other layers of intensity well above the level that was shown Friday. One more layer might be reached Sunday, when the Stanley Cup runner-up Boston Bruins come to the United Center for a lunchtime puck drop.
But the Ducks still offered plenty of reasons for the Blackhawks to puff out their collective chest. Not only were the Ducks entering on an offensive surge that had fueled an eight-game winning streak and victories in 18 of their last 19 games, they also had defeated the Blackhawks five consecutive times.
Just how pesky have the Ducks been to the Blackhawks? Chicago lost only 12 times last season, and three of those were to Anaheim.
Marian Hossa, who scored the first goal Friday and an empty-net clincher in the closing minute, was well aware of all the subplots.
"We always have trouble playing against [the Ducks] and that's why this win was big," said Hossa, who notched his 28th career short-handed goal in the opening period. "This was a great example of how we want to play the game. We did a lot of good things, especially in our zone."
But this victory was more than just swatting down a personal pest. The Blackhawks had been struggling, winning only once in their last five games and only twice since the start of the new year. Slow starts had been a major issue as Hossa's first-period goal gave the Blackhawks their first 1-0 lead since Jan. 3.
It has been as if the Blackhawks hit a lull in the middle of a long season where every opponent has come at the defending champs with their best shot. The NHL-best Ducks were just the wake-up elixir they needed.
"Every night is tough. But when the team that's leading the league in points come into your building, it gets things going and people get excited about it," said goaltender Corey Crawford, who lost his shutout bid when the Ducks' Ryan Getzlaf scored at 13:47 of the third period.
When the Ducks' Kyle Palmieri scored less than a minute later, the walls appeared to be closing in. But the Blackhawks reached down one last time for more energy, and Hossa eventually put it away with his empty-netter.
"It was something where we were able to get the puck from them quickly," said Crawford, who faced 21 shots, 13 fewer than the Blackhawks put on the Ducks. "I had some tough ones there tonight. They're a good team, obviously, and they didn't go away. It was a good win for us."
Perhaps when the calendar flipped to 2014, Blackhawks players unwittingly were looking ahead to the Jan. 17 matchup against the Ducks and the Jan. 19 game against the Bruins. Those dates are here now and the focus seems to be clear again.
"I just thought we approached the game in the right way," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said of the victory. "I know we had a couple of games that were ordinary. But I thought the last three games here at home, particularly this homestand, we've elevated our game back to what we saw most of the season, when we were playing fast and played the right way.
"I would say we're back on track."