- Jesse Rogers, Chicago Cubs beat reporter
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CHICAGO -- One year after a less-than-stellar campaign, if you want to feel good about the Chicago Blackhawks' start this season, look no further than the third period.
When it’s crunch time, the Hawks have dominated.
It happened again Monday night in a 5-4 win, as they stormed back from three one-goal deficits against the Nashville Predators to take their first lead in the final period. They gave it right back, but didn’t give up in the game, as Viktor Stalberg scored his second consecutive game-winner, in overtime.
“I wish hockey was like that all the time, but I don’t think I’ll get that suggestion through for a while,” he said about 4-on-4 in overtime. “It’s fun to play and it obviously suits my game I think.”
But this game was won in the third when the Hawks threw everything at Pekka Rinne. They had 18 shots on goal and it had to have an effect.
“He was the best player on the ice tonight,” said Patrick Kane, who then would be the second best. “I’m sure he’s tired after that one because he was sliding back and forth on a lot of them. A lot of them were on the power play so we can kind of just laugh to ourselves right now and think ‘What do we have to do score goals?’ But you won’t face that good of a goaltender every night, so he played unbelievable.”
The power play is another story in and of itself, but the Hawks are covering up all their mistakes by playing like a team possessed in the third period. Consider last season: The Hawks were minus-15 in goals for and against in the final 20 minutes of games. The 89 they gave up in 82 games was fourth worst in the league.
This year? The Hawks have given up just six third-period goals. That’s least in the league. They’ve scored 15. From minus-15 to plus-9. That’s how you get away with a porous power play.
“We lost several games last year where we may have had a lead or [a] tie game late and didn’t get any points,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “We’ve had some third-period rallies here at home [this year]. Finding a way to win there at the end was important.”
For 40 minutes the Hawks looked average. They got down 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2. They had just 14 shots after two periods despite five power-play attempts. But that all changed in the third. It’s becoming their signature period.
Kane was asked if he thought they stole the game after trailing so many times.
“I’d say if we lost we gave one away to be honest with you,” he said. “We had chance after chance it seemed like and their goalie stood on his head. We dominated them in the third period.”
It’s becoming more the norm than the exception.