BOSTON - The Blackhawks knew Thursday's matchup against the Boston Bruins was going to be a serious test. They had lost three in a row (0-3-0) and six of their past seven games (1-5-1) and were running into a Bruins team that was aiming for their ninth consecutive win.
To make things more challenging, the Blackhawks were without Duncan Keith (groin) for the fourth straight game, Andrew Shaw (concussion protocol) for the second time and Olli Maatta (flu-like symptoms). It was going to be a measuring stick kind of game for the Blackhawks against the reigning Eastern Conference champions, especially after getting blown out 4-0 to the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues in their previous outing.
The Blackhawks were slightly the better team through the first 40 minutes, capitalizing on a couple of chances and killing off four penalties against the NHL's second-ranked power play unit to take a 2-0 lead into the second intermission. But you knew the Bruins, who had yet to lose in regulation at home this season (12-0-4), were going to push back hard in their own building and they did.
After Alex DeBrincat scored 17 seconds - how fitting? - into the third period to make it 3-0, the Bruins responded 1:32 later and that's when the ride turned in a hurry.
The Bruins peppered the Blackhawks with 11 even-strength scoring chances in the third period, according to Natural Stat Trick, after having 12 in the first two periods combined and scored three straight to force overtime. Chris Wagner took advantage of an Erik Gustafsson tire blowout on a 2-on-1 opportunity by scoring a shorthanded goal to cut the Blackhawks' lead to 3-2 with 4:59 left in regulation and Torey Krug tied it up at 3-3 just 2:26 later.
But Jonathan Toews salvaged the second point for the Blackhawks by scoring on a breakaway 54 seconds into overtime to give his club a much-needed 4-3 victory against arguably the NHL's best team.
"I think we did a good job of hanging in there," Toews said of the Bruins' third-period push. "We're not happy with giving up the lead for sure. ... But it's nice to get the win even though they turned the momentum late in the game."
It was a win the Blackhawks can feel good about from the perspective that every guy played an important role.
Ryan Carpenter scored a shorthanded goal for his first of the season, DeBrincat (12 games) and Toews (seven) each ended their goal droughts, Dylan Strome had a multi-point effort after missing four games with a concussion, Connor Murphy had a two-assist night, Calvin de Haan led all skaters with 25:26 of ice time and Robin Lehner stopped 37 of 40 shots for a save percentage of .925 after getting pulled in his last start.
The Blackhawks were desperate for a win and they got it, even though it was an ugly finish.
"We knew it was a great opportunity because we haven't played up to par for a long period of time," Lehner said. "We know we have to change the tide and this was a great opportunity to do so. As I've said before we've shown in spurts we're a good team, we've just got to start doing it consistently. It's the same thing in the third period today. We were doing some things that were unacceptable that we need to just take out of our game and then we'll be fine. We have the right personnel on this team to be a good team."
While they will certainly take the two points on the road, the Blackhawks know it won't matter unless they turn this into something larger. They've slipped near the bottom of the Western Conference and are trying to climb their way back up yet again.
And there's an opportunity for the Blackhawks to earn four points in a 48-hour span on Friday against a New Jersey Devils squad that has the second-fewest points (22) of any team and second-worst goal differential (minus-32).
"We had a little run there after we had a big win in Nashville," Toews said. "Whether we win a string of games together, we can build off games like this. We had the start we needed tonight and carried it through 60 for the most part. It's got to be a confidence builder when you beat a team like Boston in their own building but what matters is what we do next. We got another chance to build off it tomorrow night."
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