CHICAGO -- Not even a dicey and somewhat forgettable third period could stop the Chicago Blackhawks from finding that winning formula again. The swagger has returned in the Windy City as the defending Stanley Cup champs begin to resemble the confident team we all remember from last June.
Behind another two goals from their ridiculously hot captain Jonathan Toews, the Hawks held on to for their season-high sixth straight victory, beating Calgary by a 6-4 margin at the United Center that should have been much bigger but didn't need to be. Chicago moved into fourth place in the Western Conference after being in 11th just a couple of weeks ago. Calgary dropped one spot into sixth.
"We're scoring goals, we're making plays and we're putting the other team on their heels early in games," Toews said after reaching 25 goals for the season. "But, again, it's unfortunate that we let a team like that back in the game. We know they're going to come hard in the third period and that's the big issue we see in our game right now. It's right there. We know how to fix it."
Chicago had a three-goal lead entering the third period, but Calgary whittled it down to just one by the 8:44 mark of the period thanks to goals from Rene Bourque and Jarome Iginla. Hawks center Dave Bolland gave the energetic, loud crowd a chance to breathe a sigh of relief with a wicked one-timer goal from the right circle with 9:11 left to bring the lead back up to two, but Calgary still wouldn't go away.
Bourque scored again, this time off a long rebound from the left circle with 3:56 left in regulation. The crowd of 20,896 groaned as the Flames took a timeout with 1:14 to play and came out of it with six skaters. They made the Hawks dizzy by holding the puck in the zone for nearly 30 seconds, but Marian Hossa scored into the empty net with 39 seconds left to seal it.
It was Hossa's fifth straight game with a goal, but it capped the second straight game in which the Blackhawks nearly gave up a three-goal lead in the third period. Minnesota scored twice in the third Monday night before Hossa's shorthanded marker with under two minutes left gave the Hawks a 4-2 win.
"You can look at the last two games as a negative in the third period with the way we finished it," Sharp said, "but I like to think of it that we won two close games. It's going to be like that down the stretch and we've got to feel good about it."
Flames coach Brent Sutter had mixed feelings after Wednesday's loss, which snapped Calgary's two-game winning streak.
On one hand he was happy with the resiliency his club showed in coming back in the third period the way it did, but he hated the way they played defensively in their own zone all night.
Toews, Brian Campbell and Bolland all scored on one-timers after the Hawks zipped the puck around the zone with little resistance. Michael Frolik scored his first as a Hawk and first in 33 games in the first period off an in-zone turnover by Bourque. Toews' second goal came after he went around Anton Babchuk's nonchalant poke in front of goalie Miikka Kiprusoff.
Sutter pulled Kiprusoff in favor of Henrik Karlsson after the second period.
"You score four goals on the road, you need to buckle down and you need to win the game," Sutter said. "We were not good defensively. We gave up over 20 quality scoring chances against us and that's not good enough. That's why I harp on what I do about defensive play. Defense wins hockey games and we get a lot of offensive opportunities when we do that. Tonight we were sloppy, just not good in our own zone."
Sutter also made sure to give "full marks" to the Blackhawks for taking advantage. Chicago has been taking everything the opposition has been offering it lately.
Toews continued the surge that got him Player of the Month honors for February and now has 6 goals and 7 assists over a season-long seven game point streak. He has an NHL-best 25 points on 8 goals and 17 assists in 15 games since Jan. 25.
His linemates, Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane, chipped in with an assist each. That line, arguably the best in the NHL right now, has 24 points during the six-game streak.
"It's obvious the way I feel," Toews said. "It's easier to notice a player when the puck is going in and he's getting his name on the scoresheet. I wouldn't say a lot has changed in my game. You focus and bear down on your opportunities and the puck goes in. You feel confident and people I guess are going to notice. I'd say that's the only difference."
Frolik coming to life could be huge for the Hawks down the stretch. Not only did he have 3 points on a goal and 2 assists after going pointless in his first nine games with the Blackhawks, but Frolik had high energy from the start and was visible throughout the game.
"He had good energy, good pace," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "I liked his purpose in this game. He had a good thought process of where to be defensively. I really liked the way he was trending and it was just a matter of time before he scored. Now that he has scored, he'll be a lot more comfortable with the puck. I like his overall game."
The Blackhawks took a commanding 4-1 lead into the third period thanks to back-to-back goals by Campbell and Toews in the final five minutes of the second period. They nearly gave it all away in the third period, but instead of bemoaning their late game struggles the Blackhawks decided to use it as a learning experience that came at no cost at all.
"If we're in that situation again, every guy is more alert now and we're not going to let it happen again," Toews said. "Every win we've had lately we've been able to put it behind us and focus on the next game. That's what we're going to do."