Things click for Chicago Blackhawks in first win
When a hockey team has played three of 82 regular-season games, it amounts to a scant 3.7 percent of the schedule.
So to suggest -- in any way, shape or form -- that Game 4 is a must-win affair is laughable, to say the least.
Still, when a team like the Chicago Blackhawks is attempting to rebuild a winning culture, it can't afford to go too long without posting a victory.
"It's always a must win," Andrew Shaw said hours before Monday's game, "but I think tonight we need to take a big step in the right direction, for sure."
That they did, getting superb goaltending from Corey Crawford, inspired play from Shaw, Drake Caggiula, Brandon Saad and Alex DeBrincat, and a timely goal from Patrick Kane during a 3-1 victory over Edmonton.
Kane scored 4:11 into the second period, Alexander Nylander made it 2-0 at 6:20 of the third period, and Crawford turned away 27 shots as the Hawks improved to 1-2-1.
James Neal scored Edmonton's goal with 2:11 remaining, but Saad put it away for the Hawks on an empty netter with 30 seconds left.
Jonathan Toews narrowly avoided opening the season with a career-worst, four-game point drought by registering an assist on Saad's goal.
"It's great to get one at home, especially when we play the right way for a full 60 minutes," Saad said. "That one felt good for us tonight."
Especially against an Oilers squad that was one of two teams in the league with an unblemished record. Edmonton (5-1-0) managed just 6 shots on goal in the second period and 28 for the game. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, who came in with 23 combined points, took just 5 shots between them.
Much of the credit for their quiet night goes to Saad, Dominik Kubalik and David Kampf. That line has done a magnificent job of shutting down opponents' top lines, and it's safe to say that assignment will continue for the foreseeable future.
"You guys know I like that line since the (training camp) festival game," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "They've all just got real big motors, big engine. They work and compete and they all bring a little bit different ingredient."
So the "mini step forward" the Hawks took in an overtime loss to Winnipeg on Saturday became a full step forward against the Oilers. We'll see if it can become a giant leap forward in the remaining games of this homestand against Columbus, Washington, Vegas and Philadelphia.
"We're trying to build something we can sustain night in and night out and against good opponents," Colliton said. "It's early in the year certainly, but (the Oilers are) a team that's had a lot of success.
"I thought we closed down the game quite well. Now it's up to us to find a way to bring that type of performance over and over again and we can have some success."