NEW YORK -- The Chicago Blackhawks fired out of the gate Thursday like a team desperate for a victory, and it made all the difference against the slow-starting New York Rangers.
Jonathan Toews, Nick Leddy and Patrick Sharp scored during the game's first four minutes, and it was enough to help the Blackhawks snap a nine-game losing streak in a 4-2 victory at Madison Square Garden.
Marian Hossa made it 4-0 at the 9:38 mark of the first period with Chicago's second breakaway goal, which doesn't include Toews' penalty-shot goal that came 65 seconds into the contest. The Blackhawks played like a team with their backs to the wall while the Rangers, who had won four straight and beat the Bruins 3-0 in Boston on Tuesday, weren't up to the challenge.
When the horn sounded on the first period, the Blackhawks held a four-goal lead on the Eastern Conference's top team.
"We haven't had many leads," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "When your team is not winning, if you miss it sometimes it can put a little hesitation in your game. But we had the great start and right from that moment on we took off."
The Rangers were playing their seventh game in 12 days and fourth in six days, but refused to use weary legs or a letdown from the Bruins win as an excuse. Brad Richards cited the fact the Rangers outscored the Blackhawks 2-0 over the final 50 minutes as evidence of that.
"Maybe mentally, we weren’t as sharp as we could be," Richards said. "It was obvious we didn’t play the way we wanted to play in the first. It happens. We've been very fortunate this year that those things haven't happened much. We've done it to other teams, where everything goes in. They're a good offensive team that was due. At least we responded and played with a lot of effort in the second half of the game."
The game's defining moment happened during the opening minute.
Rangers backup goaltender Martin Biron came up with a difficult save on Toews, moving to his right to stop the shot. The rebound fell in the crease, and it was ruled Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi covered the puck with his hand in the crease.
Quenneville selected Toews to take the penalty shot, and the team's captain snapped a quick shot through Biron's legs to make it 1-0.
"It's one of those situations where you have a chance to give your team some momentum," Biron said. "I didn't come up with it. It's a chance for a goaltender to make a save to give your team either momentum or to save the game. That was my chance to make that big save … and I didn't do it.
"I'm taking this one."
While Biron was willing to fall on the sword for this loss, coach John Tortorella refused to blame him, saying, "There wasn't a second I was thinking about taking him out."
After the penalty-shot goal by Toews, the Blackhawks continued their onslaught. Leddy made it 2-0 with a blast from the point that eluded Biron thanks largely to a screen in front of the net from the 6-foot-8, 270-pound John Scott.
That goal came 1:02 after Toews scored, and Sharp made it 3-0 at the four-minute mark on a breakaway started by a long pass by Toews. Hossa was sprung for a breakaway of his own by Patrick Kane and beat Biron between the legs to make it 4-0 after 9:38.
The Rangers hadn't allowed four goals in their past 10 games, yet the Blackhawks accomplished that before the halfway point of the first period.
"I think we're going to look at that first period, we're going to learn from it, see what went wrong, and fix it and respond from that," said Marc Staal, who cut the lead to 4-1 early in the second period with his first goal of the season. He missed the first 36 games while recovering from a concussion. "We responded well and didn't give up. We played hard for the rest of that game."
The Rangers appeared to cut the lead to 4-2 when Ryan Callahan swiped home a puck that was resting on the goal line with 5:32 remaining in the second period, but it was ruled no-goal. The puck was resting under the skate of Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford, who made 19 saves for his first win since Jan. 20.
Callahan talked afterward about the explanation he received from the referee who made the call.
"He said he saw the puck under the skate, and he blew (the whistle)," Callahan said. "I don't know how that's fully covered. He said he saw it under his skate."
The Rangers were granted seven power plays and came up empty on all of them. The Blackhawks were aggressive and seemed to always have their sticks in passing lanes, holding the Rangers to just 5 shots in 11:51 of shorthanded time. The Rangers had four minutes of 5-on-4 when it was still 3-0 but could muster just one shot on net.
Twenty seconds after the kill, Hossa made it 4-0.
"I thought our penalty killing was outstanding, probably the biggest area that got us the win tonight," Quenneville said. "That four-minute kill, and to come out of the box and score off it. I thought we did a good job of being in the right areas and the right lanes, denying some shots and tight around our net. I thought they did a great job."
Carl Hagelin made it 4-2 with 4:45 left in regulation, but it was only a cosmetic goal. The Blackhawks took their foot off the gas with a four-goal lead, but never wavered defensively.
The Blackhawks have 67 points and sit in sixth place in the West, five points ahead of ninth-place Calgary.
The Rangers have a seven-point edge on the Bruins for the lead in the East and will have two days off before hosting Rick Nash and the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday night.
"It's not like we played 60 minutes of bad hockey," Richards said. "We had a lapse against a dangerous team that was very desperate. Coming into a building against a top team, they were going to be ready. They were a lot hungrier than we were in the first 10 minutes, and that's where the game was won."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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