Welcome to the stretch run.
With a quarter of the season left, the Blackhawks, St. Louis and Colorado all are involved in the scramble for the Central Division title.
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The Avalanche came to the United Center on Tuesday only 3 points behind the Hawks for second place. They left just 1 point down after a 4-2 win. The Avs scored 3 goals in the third period, including Tyson Barrie's game-winner on a power play at 12:50.
It wasn't a great performance by goaltender Corey Crawford.
"I didn't like any of the goals that went in tonight," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said.
Crawford was beaten twice through the pads, including Ryan O'Reilly's goal at 3:23 of the third period that gave Colorado a 2-1 lead.
"I gave up a tough second one there," Crawford said. "I was able to bounce back from it, but I need to make a key save at the end on the power play. It was a good shot, but I have to find a way to keep it tied."
Avs goalie Semyon Varlamov made 36 saves in beating the Hawks for the third time this season.
"It was an important game," Avs coach Patrick Roy said. "Like I said before, our objective at the start of the season was to surprise the world of hockey, and I guess we're making it even more interesting. We're 1 point behind these guys with one game in hand."
The Hawks have 19 games left, which allows for plenty of time to sort things out.
"This year I see it very competitive," Quenneville said. "Right to the end there's a lot of things to be decided in 20 games. Minnesota's going in our division, too. Everybody's got incentive to get into a playoff spot. There's going to be some very important games for our opponents as well as ourselves.
"It should set up for a very meaningful stretch run for basically everyone in our division."
Quenneville certainly likes the Avs.
"Their playmaking and patience with the puck is as good as any team in the league," he said. "They've got some real good options to put people on the ice who are dangerous. I don't think anyone thought at the start of the year that they would be pushing for first place in our division."
The Hawks were playing uphill all night as three times they fell behind. After a scoreless first period, the Avs took a 1-0 lead at 2:49 of the second on a redirection by Maxime Talbot.
The lead lasted until 16:52 of the second period when the fourth line cashed in. Ben Smith came out of the left corner and beat Varlamov with a snap shot for his eighth goal of the season.
The Avs went ahead 2-1 at 3:23 of the third period on a goal by O'Reilly through Crawford's five hole, but the Hawks drew even again at 7:15 on a power-play goal by Jonathan Toews.
That set the stage for the last few minutes, when Barrie scored on a power play and Paul Stastny put the puck into an empty net.
"I think that when we do play them, we know that they're obviously the team to beat and how skilled and fast they are," Barrie said. "They're not just going to die easy. They know how to win. You can't say enough about the Blackhawks. They're a great team, so it's a huge step for us in the right direction."
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