Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 5-4 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday:
1. Owning the start
"It was a measuring stick game. That's the best team in the league and we didn't come ready to play. They pretty much just slapped us. ... The effort just wasn't there at times. I think in the third period we just quit. That's on us as players, we gotta wake up."
That was Auston Matthews on the effort the Maple Leafs turned in two nights ago against the Tampa Bay Lightning, who handed them a 6-2 loss in their barn. So the Blackhawks were expecting the home team to fly out of the gates.
But it was the road team that actually did, with the Blackhawks scoring four consecutive first-period goals to open the game (and later a fifth in the second period), prompting the boo birds to rain in Toronto for the second straight contest. It was the first time since Jan. 18 and 20 that the Maple Leafs lost back-to-back games in regulation.
2. Surviving the push...
When you score five straight goals, the most dangerous thing you can do is sit on that lead, especially against a high-powered offense like the Maple Leafs, who showed that in their first meeting on Oct. 7 in Chicago. The Blackhawks didn't necessarily take their foot off the gas, but they were certainly preparing for a push back and that's exactly what happened. Particularly in the third period.
Corey Crawford, who stopped 17 of 18 shots in the first two periods, was removed from the game at the start of the third period because of an illness. Collin Delia came on in relief and faced 30 shots in the third period alone, three of which found the back of the net as the Maple Leafs cut their deficit to 5-4. It's the second time this season the Blackhawks have allowed at least 30 shots in a period, with the first coming on Oct. 21 when they gave up 33 in the second period to Tampa Bay.
But the Blackhawks barely hung on to secure the two points. They made it much closer than it needed to be.
3. Breaking down the numbers
Going into Wednesday, the Maple Leafs were, by far, the No. 1-ranked team in even-strength scoring chances for per game at 27.1, according to naturalstattrick.com. The Blackhawks were dead last in even-strength scoring chances allowed per game at 26.2, 11.9 of which have been high-danger chances. And it showed.
The Blackhawks gave up a season-high 95 total shot attempts and 58 scoring chances at even strength to the Maple Leafs, 18 of which were high danger chances. Fifty of the 95 shot attempts and 26 of the 58 even-strength scoring chances came in the third period.
The Blackhawks were outshot 30-12 in the third period after outshooting the Maple Leafs 27-18 in the first two periods. The tides completely turned in the final frame, and fortunately for the Blackhawks, they built a big enough lead to help them survive.
4. Inching closer to playoffs...
Just when you think they're out of it, the Blackhawks find a way to climb back into the playoff race. It happened in February, and it's happening again now in March.
With the win, the Blackhawks have picked up eight out of a possible eight points in their past four games and have pulled within four points of the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference. The three teams they're chasing each have 12 games remaining, just like the Blackhawks, so there's still some ground to be made up.
But they're much closer than they were after the Blackhawks looked dead in the water following their West Coast trip. Can they continue their run into April?