SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — A fast start was just what the Chicago Blackhawks needed to get out of their recent rut even if it might be too late for them to make a playoff push.
Alex DeBrincat scored on a two-man advantage to start a three-goal barrage in the opening 11 minutes and then added his 40th goal of the season in the second period as the Blackhawks sent the struggling San Jose Sharks to their seventh straight loss, 5-4 on Thursday night.
“We’re not accepting any fate any time soon, so it’s a big win for us to stay alive and keep that morale up and keep heading toward the end of the season in the right direction regardless of what happens in the standings,” said captain Jonathan Toews, who scored Chicago’s third goal in the opening period.
The Blackhawks had lost four of five heading into the game and still trail Colorado by five points with five games remaining in the race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
But they managed to snap out of their slump of six straight games with two or fewer goals thanks to a big night from the 21-year DeBrincat.
“When you get to see him every night, you realize how the skill set he has is pretty special,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “That release, he finds a way when he does release it, he puts it in a good spot.”
Connor Murphy and Chris Kunitz also scored, and Corey Crawford made 26 saves for Chicago.
The Sharks’ longest losing streak in six years has likely cost them a chance at a Pacific Division title and could cost them home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs if they don’t reverse it soon. San Jose trails first-place Calgary by six points and is five points ahead of third-place Vegas with five games remaining.
Tomas Hertl had one goal and two assists in his 400th career game. Lukas Radil, Gustav Nyquist and Timo Meier also scored for San Jose. Martin Jones made 22 saves.
“There’s a lot that we’re not doing well,” Sharks forward Logan Couture said. “Obviously we’ve lost seven in a row, so, got to figure it out here. All aspects of our game. Defending, I thought we created enough opportunities tonight to win a game. But we gave up too much, as well.”
The Blackhawks got off to a fast start thanks to a two-man advantage following a goaltender interference penalty on Marcus Sorensen and a high-stick call against Brent Burns. DeBrincat capitalized by knocking in his own rebound.
Murphy and Toews then added even-strength goals that game Chicago a 3-0 lead less than 11 minutes into the game. The Blackhawks had gone six straight games without reaching the three-goal mark.
But the Sharks erased that entire deficit and tied the game at 4 late in the second period. Hertl set up Nyquist’s power-play goal with a blind pass and scored one of his own off a feed from Joe Thornton.
Couture then set up Meier alone in front after a Chicago defensive breakdown to even the score.
But the Blackhawks went back ahead about two minutes later when Patrick Kane innocently sent in a backhand from the point that Kunitz deflected past Jones to make it 5-4.
“I thought we did a good job battling back to 4-4 and then they get that fifth goal,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. “Throw it at the net and find a way to get a stick on it. It’s one of those times now when everything that can go wrong is going wrong for us and we’ve got to fight through it.”
The game tightened up in the third period and Kunitz’s goal proved to be the game-winner.
NOTES: Blackhawks D Brent Seabrook committed three minor penalties that led to San Jose power plays. … Sharks F Joe Pavelski missed his fifth straight game with a lower-body injury.
Chicago: Visit Los Angeles on Saturday.
San Jose: Host Vegas on Saturday.