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Blackhawks top 'Canes 5-2 for 7th straight win

by Dan Rosen

CHICAGO -- Jonathan Toews promised after Wednesday's win that the Chicago Blackhawks would clean up their act in the third period. The captain explained that the guys knew why they were letting the opponent back in the game in the final 20 minutes and that it would be easy to fix.

Toews said it, and the Blackhawks did it.

Whatever the problem was -- be it lack of desperation, failure to move their feet, whatever -- Chicago didn't let it happen again Friday. Instead, the Blackhawks scored three times in the first 7:22 of the period to blow what was a close game against the Carolina Hurricanes wide open. They skated away with a 5-2 victory, their seventh win in a row, to remain fourth in the West.

The Hurricanes fell to eighth in the Eastern Conference with the regulation loss coupled with the Rangers' 4-1 win in Ottawa.

"It's finally getting drilled into our heads," Hawks defenseman Brian Campbell said of the need to play well in the third period.

Chicago nearly frittered away leads in each of the last two third periods, wins against Minnesota and Calgary. The Wild, down 3-0, scored twice before falling 4-2, while Calgary almost climbed all the way back from a 4-1 deficit before losing 6-4 on Wednesday.

Those sloppy third periods surely kept the Hawks on their toes heading into the final 20 minutes on Friday -- but so, too, did their slim margin for error with just a one-goal lead. Chicago carried three-goal leads into the third period against Minnesota and Calgary.

"It was a one-goal game, it's a hockey game," coach Joel Quenneville said. "We got comfortable and relaxed and probably took it off the gas in the last two games. We stayed with it pretty well (Friday) and did what we had to do. It was a good game."

Ryan Johnson started the Hawks' blitz with his first goal of the season at 2:50 of the third period. Dave Bolland cashed in for his 15th of the season and second in as many games just 67 seconds later. Patrick Kane's 21st of the season came shortly after that as the Hawks, who led 2-1 less than 10 minutes into the game, stretched their lead to four goals.

Carolina rookie Jeff Skinner got one back with 7:51 to play, but Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford, who was making his ninth straight start, shut the door the rest of the way for his 25th win. Carolina goalie Justin Peters, starting for the first time since Jan. 9 -- Cam Ward had made 24 straight starts before Friday -- made 24 saves.

"We just kind of collapsed, I guess," Hurricanes center Brandon Sutter said. "Through two periods we didn't have our best game, but our goalie made some saves to keep us in it. We just kind of collapsed. We started cheating a little bit and weren't playing good defensively. They're going to capitalize on that."

Chicago did itself a big favor by being dominant in the faceoff circle, winning 47 of 66 draws. Johnson won 14 of 19, Toews was good on 13 of 18 and Jake Dowell was nearly perfect, winning 11 of 12. Skinner went 0-for-12.

Their success on the draw allowed the Blackhawks to control the puck for most of the night -- but especially in the first 10 minutes of the first period and the first 10 minutes of the third period. They scored all of their goals within those windows.

"When you give a team like that possession of the puck off faceoffs, and we got crushed in the faceoff circle tonight, they're going to get their chances," Carolina coach Paul Maurice said. "I've watched a bunch of their games and I'm not sure they were at their best, or needed to be tonight."

Chicago's top line of Toews, Kane and Sharp had 4 points, 2 goals and 2 assists, and has 28 points over the last seven games. Toews, who had a goal just 55 seconds into the game, has 7 goals and 7 assists during the seven-game winning streak.

Bryan Bickell also scored 9:51 into the first period to give the Blackhawks a 2-1 lead after Eric Staal made it 1-1 roughly 3 1/2 minutes earlier.

However, Friday's main storyline was about how Chicago approached the third period. It attacked right from the start and the Hurricanes, who won an emotional game Thursday against Buffalo in overtime, had no response.

Maurice would not blame the collapse on fatigue. The Hurricanes have 21 back-to-backs on the schedule, including six more before the end of the season, and he said it's something they should be used to by now.

"We didn't look as quick as our team looks when its playing well, but whether fatigue is an issue or not doesn't matter because the game has to be played and has to be played the right way," he said. "We should be good at this. We have 21 of these things."

Now they have four days of rest.

Carolina won't play again until Wednesday against Atlanta -- and by then the Sabres will have made up all three of their games in hand. The bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff race could look significantly different by the time the Hurricanes suit up again.

"They've got games in hand, but we're just worrying about what we're doing," Sutter said. "We've got a few days off to rest, which we haven't had in feels like forever. It'll be good for us and we'll be ready."

Chicago has to be ready for an extended rare Eastern road trip. They play at Toronto on Saturday and then head to the state of Florida for two before coming back up to Washington for an afternoon game on March 13. They'll play four games but the road trip will span nine days and include a visit with President Obama at the White House.

"You want to be greedy and get 'em all," Campbell said. "We have to keep this thing rolling."

They will as long as they keep putting together 60 solid to stellar minutes of hockey.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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