While Jonathan Toews has been earning most of the headlines for the Blackhawks of late with his MVP-like charge to the regular-season finish line, Marian Hossa has been quietly turning around his season.
It was Hossa igniting a 5-goal outburst in the second period Monday night at the United Center as the Hawks beat the San Jose Sharks 6-3 in a critically important game in their quest to nail down a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
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Hossa tied the game at 2-2 on a power play at 3:14 of the second period, then put the Hawks ahead to stay with his second goal of the night a few minutes later.
It gave Hossa 9 goals in the last 11 games and 21 for the season.
"Obviously it's a few things," Hossa said of his turnaround. "I'm healthy again and I'm in a tempo, playing games, and that definitely helps.
"The second thing, my right sticks came and it's nice to see them again. The new ones came about a month or three weeks ago, so it's nice."
So the Hawks' $8 million winger was playing with the wrong sticks?
"I don't want to talk too much about it, but I know players, they like their equipment and are particular about it," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "I know what you're talking about."
The Hawks' fifth straight home win put them back into fourth place in the West with 84 points.
"We didn't play our best in Washington so it was nice to come home and get a big win against a team we're chasing in the standings," winger Patrick Sharp said. "The standings, just when you think you've got some breathing room they tighten right up again. Whenever you can gather up some points it's important."
Sharp set up both goals by Hossa as part of a 4-assist period that tied a franchise record.
"You look around the room and there's a lot of guys who had big games stats-wise, but this time of the year it doesn't matter," Sharp said. "We're focusing on those 2 points."
Toews added his 30th goal of the season in the wild second period, while Niklas Hjalmarsson and Patrick Kane also got in on the fun with goals.
"It was just one of those periods when everything was going right for our team," Sharp said.
"If I was going to sum up the game: They skated; we glided," said Sharks coach Todd McLellan, whose team had been 18-3-3 in its last 24 games. "They were hard on the boards; we were soft. They were determined at the net; we played 'I hope' around the net.
"We were looking for a win the easy way, and there's 30 teams in the league right now that know that doesn't work."
Toews' goal at 7:25 put the Hawks ahead 4-2 and got Sharks goalie Antti Niemi yanked. Niemi had been 3-0 this season against his former teammates.
The Hawks survived a shaky start when they took 2 penalties in the first 2:07 and fell behind on Joe Pavelski's goal with the two-man advantage.