Playing in their final home game of the decade, the Blackhawks made it a memorable one.
Dennis Gilbert, Dominik Kubalik, Alex DeBrincat, Jonathan Toews and Matthew Highmore scored and goaltender Robin Lehner stifled his former team as the Blackhawks trounced the Islanders 5-2 on Friday night at the United Center.
"(I'm) pleased with the performance overall," Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton said. "I thought the start was very good (and) we put ourselves in a good position. (It was) nice to convert."
It marked the Blackhawks' third win in their last four games as they improved to 16-17-6 on the season. The Islanders dropped to 23-10-3.
Lehner made 38 saves and got additional offensive support from Dylan Strome and Duncan Keith as each recorded two assists.
"We played good (Friday night), worked hard," Lehner said. "We're just playing the right way and good things happen. I thought it was a pretty good game for being after a three-game break from both sides, but we got the puck in the net, so that was nice."
Here are three takeaways from the Blackhawks' victory:
The win came on the heels of arguably the Blackhawks' worst effort of the season when they lost to the Devils 7-1 on Monday night so the roller-coaster ride continues.
On Friday, the Blackhawks were effective holding onto the puck, getting the defense involved in the offensive attack and converting on their chances for their third four-plus goal output in their last four games.
"There are a lot of games so there are going to be some ups and downs but I think there's too much for my liking," Colliton said. "It's hard to climb the ladder if you don't put together multiple good performances in a row. You're not going to win every time you play well so we want to make sure we're in every game and that gives us the opportunity to come through and get points.
"All we can do is continue to talk about doing the right things, whether it's just compete level (or) being engaged every shift," Colliton added. "It's hard to play 25 shifts all at once. You've got to do it 40 seconds at a time and make sure you know your job when you're out there. We talk about managing the puck and not giving away free momentum and odd-man rushes and all these things. But you've got to put it all together 30 seconds at a time and if we do that then we have a chance for the most part."
Following a four-game losing skid, the Blackhawks have won four of their last six and find themselves six points out of a Western Conference wild-card spot.
"I think we are getting it a little bit, because in the last (six) games (even with) that bad loss against Jersey but (we had) still four other wins," Lehner said. "In those wins, we're seeing now that when we dump the puck in, play the right way, don't turn the puck over as much, we're getting good results. That's what this team needs, just understand that when we play the right way, we get goals instead of forcing it."
Said Kubalik: "You always have to have a good response the next game. "We're trying to do the same things every game. Sometimes we're not doing the right things, you know? (We're) just making lots of turnovers and that's going to cost us lots of energy and especially time in our zone. Obviously, it's hard to make offense if you're playing in your zone for, for example, 40 seconds. So you just have to do the right things, get the forecheck going, get it deep, skate and don't make those turnovers."
Lehner faced his former teammates for the first time since signing with the Blackhawks as a free agent this summer and put together an impressive performance.
"Right now, we're just really trying to focus on getting wins," Lehner said. "I felt like my last four starts felt pretty good (and I'm) feeling pretty good in the net. But this is against a former team, they meant a lot to me. It was a little bit different than the other times I've played against former teams because they're a great group of guys in there. The whole organization, the coaches, everyone."
Before the game, Lehner had nothing but good things to say about his season with the Islanders.
"One of the tightest groups I've played in, so it was a fun year," Lehner said. "Obviously the guys, the organization, the coaches made it a really easy year for me and it was a good year. But it's been exciting starting a new year here."
It was no coincidence that Lehner got the start against his former team for which he was a Vezina Trophy finalist last season. When the opportunity presents itself, Colliton makes it a point to put players in the lineup against their former teams.
"When you can, it's just a sign of respect," Colliton said. "When it is your former team, it's pride (and) you want to be in that game. (We) can't do it all the time but try to as much as possible. I think it means a lot to the players and I think you get it back over time."
Gilbert scored his first career NHL goal early in the opening period to even the game at 1-1. The defenseman became the fourth Blackhawks rookie to score his first goal this season, joining Kubalik, Kirby Dach and Adam Boqvist.
"It was an important goal - it kind of got us rolling there," Gilbert said. "And then you see (us) come back with some good momentum shifts, steamrolled them pretty good for most of the first period. In the second period we just played a smart, patient game. We weren't really creating a ton, but they weren't really creating a whole lot either and then third period (we) come out and find a way to play with the lead and have success from ahead, not just from behind."
Playing in his 15th career NHL game, Gilbert cruised into the slot and flipped a backhander through Islanders starter Thomas Griess' pads and into the net.
"I always joke around that I always go five-hole in practice (and) I always go five-hole in pregame warmups on my last shot before I go off the ice," Gilbert said. "It was kind of funny that it ended up being a five-hole goal of all things to squeak through."
Dach retrieved the puck for Gilbert, who also had three hits and three blocks in 17:55 of ice time.
"It's kind of funny him of all people doing it," Gilbert said of Dach rescuing the memento. "But he's a great guy. I said thanks to him after the game. Means a lot."