The Associated Press
TORONTO (AP) — The improving Chicago Blackhawks are headed in the right direction, although their latest win was a wild ride.
Brendan Perlini had a goal and two assists, and the Blackhawks held off a furious Toronto comeback to beat the Maple Leafs 5-4 on Wednesday night.
Brandon Saad had a goal and an assist, and Duncan Keith, Dominik Kahun and Alex DeBrincat also scored as Chicago jumped out to a 5-0 lead before holding on. Dylan Strome added two assists for the Blackhawks, who have won four straight and crept within four points of the Arizona Coyotes for the second wild card in the Western Conference.
Chicago led 5-1 after two periods, but then gave up 29 shots in the third.
“We can be really happy with the first and second and be not happy with the third (period),” Chicago coach Jeremy Colliton said.
Corey Crawford stopped 17 of 18 shots through two periods before leaving the game due to illness. Colin Delia had 26 saves during the onslaught in the third.
“We’ve got to learn from the third period because that was way too close,” Chicago forward Marcus Kruger said. “We didn’t want that, we talked about it going into the third and still we didn’t get the game that we wanted. But first and second (periods) I think we did some good stuff.”
Before their current win streak, the Blackhawks had lost four of five. However, the trend has been positive lately in a streaky campaign as they won for 15th time in 21 games.
“I just think as we go here, we’re getting more comfortable with how we have to play to win,” said Colliton, who replaced the fired Joel Quenneville on the Nov. 6 with Chicago 6-6-3.
Auston Matthews, Morgan Rielly and Andreas Johnsson each had a goal and an assist for Toronto, and John Tavares also scored. William Nylander and Mitch Marner each had two assists. Frederik Andersen gave up four goals on 14 shots in the first before he was replaced by Garret Sparks, who finished with 24 saves.
The Maple Leafs were coming off a 6-2 home loss to Tampa Bay on Monday after a three-game trip to western Canada, and followed it up with a sloppy, uninspired performance through two periods.
“We just weren’t ready to play again, came out flat-footed,” Matthews said. “They’re hungry, they’re fighting for a playoff spot.”
Chicago dominated from the opening faceoff and went ahead 1-0 at 3:19 of the first period when Keith’s shot that was deflected by Nylander, rattled around between Andersen’s pads and slid over the goal line.
The Blackhawks went up by two with 7:05 left when Perlini cut into the middle and whipped a knuckling puck against the grain on Andersen for his 12th of the season and fifth in the last four games.
Tavares lost the puck at the offensive blue line, leading to a 2-on-1 break the other way that saw Patrick Kane feed Kahun for his 12th with 2:47 remaining.
Saad was left all alone in front to tuck his 23rd with 1:14 left in the period as four Toronto players were caught puck-watching.
“I think the first (period) was a great example of us being really smart — getting pucks back, causing turnovers, scoring off the rush, scoring in transition,” Colliton said. “We had some (offensive) zone time too where we were able to hold them down and create things with five guys in the zone. And we’re doing it more and more consistently which is nice to see and it’s got to continue.”
It marked the first time the Leafs have given up four goals in a period this season, and the first time it’s happened in the opening 20 minutes of a home game since Dec. 23, 2008.
Andersen was replaced by Sparks to start the second, marking the first time in his career he’s been pulled in consecutive games.
Chicago made it 5-0 with 7 1/2 minutes remaining in the middle period when DeBrincat roofed a shot past Sparks for his 38th.
Toronto finally got on the board with 1:33 left in the second when Rielly had his shot deflected in by Johnsson for his 20th.
Matthews pulled the Maple Leafs to 5-2 at 7:57 of the third with his 32nd. Rielly’s shot on the power play got through traffic and beat Delia with just over 9 minutes remaining, and Tavares stuffed his career-high 39th with 1:31 left.
“We didn’t put ourselves in a very good position,” Rielly said. “But I think you have to be happy with the way we battled back.”
NOTES: After being held out of the lineup Monday for precautionary reasons because of an illness, Toronto announced Kasperi Kapanen has been diagnosed with a concussion. … The Maple Leafs were also minus Zach Hyman (flu), while defensemen Jake Gardiner (back) and Travis Dermott (shoulder) remain sidelined. … Nylander’s assist on Johnsson’s goal was the 100th of his career. … Chicago is 14-3-2 in its last 19 games against Toronto. … Kane has 26 points (12 goals, 14 assists) in 17 career games against Toronto .
Blackhawks: At Montreal on Saturday night.
Maple Leafs: Host Philadelphia on Friday night to finish a three-game homestand.