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Hawks pass gut check by rallying to beat Devils

by Dan Rosen
NEWARK, N.J. -- It was the kind of gut-check win that a team like the Chicago Blackhawks needed right about now.

Coach Joel Quenneville sensed his foundering team was trending in the right direction despite losing 4-2 on Tuesday in St. Louis. They proved their coach right 24 hours later with a 4-0 win in Minnesota, but that wouldn't have mattered much if the Blackhawks didn't have the type of patience and wherewithal necessary to beat the Devils on Friday.

They had both in spades and wound up with a 2-1 shootout victory that would never have materialized had the Hawks not found a way to score an ugly, game-tying, sixth-attacker goal with just 26 seconds remaining in regulation.

"It was a good win for us the other night, a big shutout by Antti (Niemi), and that's gotta give your team confidence that you can win again, but it's more about how you follow it up the next game and playing that way with consistency," captain Jonathan Toews said. "This was a good character win for us."

With Niemi, who was excellent in stopping 32 shots, off the ice for the extra skater, Kris Versteeg nearly fell down as he shot the puck from the top of the right circle. Toews parked himself at the goal mouth, but Versteeg's shot hit the heal of Mike Mottau's stick and bounced off the defenseman's skate before squeezing through Martin Brodeur's legs.

Toews scored the only goal in the shootout, rifling a shot between Brodeur's catching glove and his left leg. Niemi stopped Jamie Langenbrunner and Zach Parise before Ilya Kovalchuk's backhander went wide, preserving the win.

Chicago, which has won two straight after losing three in a row and seven of nine, can clinch its first division title since 1993 on Saturday if Detroit loses to Nashville in regulation.

"Patience was the topic tonight and staying with it even though we were down early," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said, referring to Kovalchuk's goal just 5:49 into the game when the Hawks were at their worst.

Chicago left holes all over its own zone early in the game, and the Devils skated through a lot of them. New Jersey held a 6-0 advantage in shots just 2:30 into the game -- and it was 10-1 less than four minutes later.

"We were standing around too much," Quenneville said. "They got too many secondary cracks at the puck and they got it back every time."

The Blackhawks didn't break. They tightened up and played with patience, just like most good teams try to do against the Devils.

"Antti kept us in there with critical saves, but I still thought we hung in there," Quenneville said. "We didn't really want to open it up and force plays and that patience paid off at the end."

Toews thinks the Blackhawks needed just a few more minutes and they would have won the game without the skills competition, "because we got better as the game went along.

"Give them credit because they're a good team," he added, "but we have to use the confidence that coming back in a game like this gives you because as soon as you get down against a team like that it's never easy."

Save for the win in Minnesota the other night, nothing has come easy for the Blackhawks, who were 6-7-2 in March. They understand that the playoffs are just around the corner -- and once April 12 arrives, the pressure on this team is going to skyrocket.

Chicago is a hungry-hockey city that expects its team to bring home the Stanley Cup, and a win like Friday's in New Jersey is sure to fan those blazing hot flames. But a gut-check win like Friday's is also sure to build up the Hawks' burgeoning confidence, and the timing couldn't be better.

"We had a tough stretch of games there but we bounced back with a huge shutout win and tonight's win I think will go a long way for our team," forward Patrick Sharp told "Playing against a top team and beating a goaltender like that is huge for us. We never stopped working right to the end and we were rewarded."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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