The Maple Leafs kept coming but Robin Lehner and the Blackhawks stood tall in the end.
Lehner matched a career high with 53 saves, Patrick Kane had two goals and an assist, Jonathan Toews a goal and an assist and Kirby Dach and Brandon Saad also scored as the Blackhawks held off a furious Maple Leafs rally to prevail, 5-4, in an Original Six showdown Sunday night at the United Center.
Alex DeBrincat added three assists and Dylan Strome two helpers as the Blackhawks raced to a 3-0 lead and then hung on to win for the second time in their last three games and record at least one point in five of their last six. Lehner got the win in net, allowing two goals to William Nylander and one each to John Tavares and Andreas Johnsson.
"It was fun to play like that," Kane said. "(We) kind of took our foot off the gas there at the end, which isn't something we need to be doing, but we'll take the two points and try to keep building."
The Blackhawks improved to 6-7-4 overall while the Maple Leafs fell to 9-6-4.
"Certainly much more entertaining, exciting finish than we would have liked it to be," Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton said. "I liked obviously much of the first two periods-we did a lot of good things, we scored on our chances, we made them pay when we got opportunity, whether it was on the power play or in transition.
"I would have liked to see us close out the game more under control," Colliton added. "We gave them some momentum, obviously they forced a couple turnovers and they end up in the back of our net and they started to gain some belief that they can come back. They've got some pretty good players over there, so they put pressure on us and we got some saves and some good defensive plays at the end to win it. The main thing for us is we needed a two-point game and that's what we got."
It was an exhausted Lehner who met the media after the game, having become the fourth Blackhawks goaltender to record at least 53 saves in a game since 1955-56 (when saves began officially being tracked), according to the NHL.
"It was a tough one but we had to battle together and get the two points," Lehner said. "They're a good hockey team over there. They started getting some momentum. They got the goal (by Nylander) at 4-2 and of course they're going to get some life. They have some of the best players in the world on that team so I give our guys a lot of credit. We fought hard."
The Maple Leafs came at Lehner in waves in the third period, sending 26 shots at the veteran, and were buzzing in the final minute with goaltender Michael Hutchinson (29 saves) pulled from the net at the other end.
"It was just trying to keep the puck out of the net," Lehner said of the last-minute flurry. "I wasn't really thinking. (I was) just trying to battle, trying to get the two points. Guys were blocking shots and we were all hurting a little bit and that was a team win."
Said Kane of Lehner: "He was unbelievable there. From the second on, he really made some unbelievable saves. You have a 4-1 lead, you feel pretty good about that but we have to play better in front of him, we have to keep playing, controlling the puck, making plays, kind of like we were in the first 20."
After spending much of the early part of the season focused on keeping pucks out of the net but not getting the results on the scoreboard that they wanted, the Blackhawks have opened up the offense the past few games. They matched their season-high of five goals that they set during their last two home wins, over the Kings on Oct. 27 and the Canucks on Thursday night.
"We made a conscious effort to be a bit looser when the puck turned over, so we could create more out of D-zone in transition and I think it's helped," Colliton said. "There have been a lot more plays available for us. (It's) probably closer to how it looked last year, as far as our ability to make plays out of the D-zone and through the neutral zone, and probably fits our top guys. You can see they're coming to life.
"It doesn't mean that the defensive side won't be a continued emphasis, because you've got to keep the puck out of your net to win," Colliton added.
Asked if reverting back to last season's system is permanent, Colliton called it "a happy medium."
"It was a big emphasis to keep the puck out of our net, and still is, but at the same time, we've got to score more than them in order to win," he continued. "We're trying to find the right balance and I think ultimately we need to win games to stay in the race, to allow ourselves to play important games. That's what we've done in the last week, we've got some points."
Dach, who scored his second career goal off a rebound of an Andrew Shaw shot, said the Blackhawks confidence as a group is growing.
"Our top-end guys are firing right now and it's good when those guys are going," Dach said. "You know you're going to get some puck luck when you're going and obviously (Lehner and Corey Crawford) are shutting the door whenever they're in the net. We just have to keep playing within the system and keep trusting ourselves and our game and we'll be alright."
After a slow start left that left Toews admittedly frustrated, the veteran center is playing his best hockey of the season.
With his first-period goal against the Leafs, Toews has two in his last six games to go along with four assists. Throw in a double-minor penalty for roughing Sunday night after taking an exception to a hit from Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Muzzin on Brandon Saad and Toews is doing it all. Toews' teammates certainly appreciated their captain dropping the gloves while trying to get at Muzzin.
"It was great," Kane said. "That's what it's all about right there, sticking up for your teammates and got us going, obviously. We really responded well after that and then he gets rewarded with a goal as well, so great response by him."
Toews has felt his confidence growing with each passing game.
"I've been able to make some plays, play with the puck a little bit more (and) get a little bit more energy," Toews said. "I obviously wasn't happy with my game the first bunch of games of the year. You can't really expect to score if you're not creating much, if you're not playing with the puck all night and at least that's trending in the right direction."
What adjustments did Toews make recently to get on track?
"Just definitely getting some rest, taking care of myself, trying to play with energy and trying to skate a little bit better," he said. "The confidence comes when you are playing with energy and you've got speed out there."