CHICAGO -- Nobody would've blamed the Chicago Blackhawks if they'd just gone through the motions against the Toronto Maple Leafs at United Center on Sunday.
They would've blamed themselves if they had, so instead they dug deep capped an emotional day with a 4-0 victory to split their weekend back-to-back set.
The day started with heart-wrenching news for the Blackhawks (23-9-2), who'd lost 3-2 in a nine-round shootout against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Saturday. On Sunday morning, they were informed that assistant equipment manager Clint Reif, 34, died at some point after traveling with them back to Chicago.
A moment of silence was held before the game to honor Reif, who is survived by his wife, Kelly, and four children. The Blackhawks also wore stickers with the initials "CR" on their helmets.
"You did think about it in the game," said forward Patrick Sharp, who assisted on Chicago's first three goals. "Normally when the game starts, you can kind of turn off whatever issues you have going on in your personal life, but tonight, I don't think anybody was able to do that. It was very quiet on the bench, very quiet in the locker room and we wanted to make sure we had a good game for Clint and his family."
It took a little while, but that's exactly what they did against the Maple Leafs (19-12-3), who lost their third straight game since going on a six-game winning streak. Antti Raanta earned his second shutout and third of his career by making 31 saves, and the Blackhawks scored two goals each in the first and third periods to seal the win.
Defenseman David Rundblad and forward Kris Versteeg scored the first two goals late in the first period. Right wing Patrick Kane and captain Jonathan Toews scored in the third, each coming after the Blackhawks killed off a Toronto power play.
"It's something that still hasn't really sunk in for most of us, but we were definitely playing with heavy hearts out there," said Toews, who scored his 13th goal to make it 4-0 at 11:22. "[Reif] was just a selfless person. He was never thinking about himself, [always] thinking about how he could help others. He's part of our team. He might as well have been wearing one of these sweaters. He's a special dude, for sure."
Chicago played without center Brad Richards, who is day-to-day because of an upper-body injury. Versteeg shifted from left wing on the second line to fill Richards' spot at center; Sharp moved up from the third line to play left wing opposite Kane.
The unit, which helped produce the first two goals, didn't take long to click. Rundblad got the scoring started at 15:30 of the first with a point shot that turned into his first goal with the Blackhawks, second of his career. It was assisted by Kane and Sharp, who screened Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer (30 saves).
Versteeg made it 2-0 at 19:59. After a pass from Kane, Versteeg kicked the puck to his forehand and used a wrist shot to beat Reimer over the glove for his ninth goal.
Kane and Toews sealed it with their goals in the third to assure the Blackhawks of a split in the two-game season series. In the first game against Toronto, Reimer made 45 saves and denied the Blackhawks on 26 shots in the third period. Chicago beat him twice in its first 12 shots Sunday and didn't let up until the final horn.
Thinking of Reif was a big reason they had so much energy left.
"It's not every day that you have to go through something like that, where you lose a close friend and you have to try and play a hockey game on that same day," said defenseman Duncan Keith, who assisted on Toews' goal. "It wasn't easy."
Chicago improved to 16-3-1 in its past 20 games. The Maple Leafs are reeling a bit after losing each end of their weekend back-to-back set and giving up a combined 11 goals.
"Well, we're not happy about the record we have in the last three games," Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf said. "We have got to find a way to turn it around. I felt that we did a lot of things a lot better tonight, but the bottom line is we didn't get points."
The Maple Leafs applied the most pressure in the second, with a couple of close calls, they just couldn't get the puck past Raanta or the post. The nearest they came to scoring was at 11:55, when forward Daniel Winnik tipped a shot from in front of the crease that hit the right post. The puck caromed into the blue paint and Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook cleared it to end the scoring chance.
Toronto also went 0-for-2 on the power play, including the one early in the third.
"They executed at a very high level," Toronto coach Randy Carlyle said of the Blackhawks. "They moved the puck around us quite a bit in the hockey game and we just didn't have an answer for it. And then, when we did have chances, I think their goaltender made some big stops. We missed some golden opportunities, both on the power play and 5-on-5."