Blackhawks answer challenge with impressive win over Maple Leafs

By Chicago 5 Min Read

TORONTO — After the Blackhawks’ loss Saturday to the Canadiens, forward Nick Foligno spoke up in the locker room, challenging the team to beat the Maple Leafs and Avalanche to finish their grueling five-game, season-opening trip above .500.

The Hawks completed the first half of that challenge impressively Monday, beating the Leafs 4-1. In fact, it might have been one of their most impressive victories in years.

They’re now 2-2-0 — a relatively admirable record, considering the circumstances.

‘‘It was a complete game tonight [for] 60 minutes,’’ coach Luke Richardson said. ‘‘That’s what we challenged the guys for, and that’s what we needed against a team like that.’’

The first five weeks of the Hawks’ schedule has looked nearly impossible since it was released in June. Ten of their first 14 games are against teams that made the Stanley Cup Finals or won the Presidents’ Trophy in the last three seasons; nine of the 14 are on the road.

Those stats are made possible by the fact the Hawks will have faced the Golden Knights, Panthers, Bruins and Lightning twice each by Nov. 16.

The Leafs aren’t even included in those 10 games because they don’t qualify in either category, but they’re one of the NHL’s toughest opponents nonetheless.

‘‘This road trip? Yeah, it’s hard,’’ forward Taylor Hall said after practice Sunday. ‘‘We play four out of five home openers against teams, and then we play [Thursday] in Colorado . . . and fly back and have our home opener [Saturday] with no practice time before or anything. [I’m] not making excuses, but it is a tough trip.’’

Now it looks as though there might not be anything for Hall to excuse. The globetrotting Hawks sit at .500.

And it’s not as though they’ve been clearly outplayed and have squeaked out lucky results with clutch goaltending — although goalie Arvid Soderblom did enjoy the best start of his career Monday, saving 34 of 35 shots.

The Hawks earned their comeback victory against the Penguins on opening night and took another step forward against the Leafs, controlling the game from start to finish.

There were bright spots everywhere. The power play finally converted — breaking its 0-for-17 drought — thanks to Tyler Johnson, who boasts three goals in his last two games. The penalty kill remained perfect. The Hawks’ defensive structure protecting the lead in the third period — a time when they often melted down on the road last season — was stout and unflappable.

‘‘Against an offensive team like that, where they have a ton of offensive power to create every single shift, it’s tough to go out there [in the third period] and play the exact same way we did the first two periods,’’ forward MacKenzie Entwistle said. ‘‘We just kept sticking to our game, and it worked.’’

Alex Vlasic looked like a true shutdown defenseman, handling his 22 minutes, 18 seconds of ice time — largely against the Leafs’ talented top lines — with ease. He also executed a beautiful stretch pass late in the second period to set up a Corey Perry breakaway goal that gave the Hawks the lead for good.

Entwistle made the most of his insertion into the lineup, scoring the icebreaking goal. Kevin Korchinski earned his first career NHL point. Andreas Athanasiou had two primary assists. And Connor Bedard, even though he was held pointless for the first time in his career, appears poised to erupt for a multipoint night at any moment.

‘‘The veteran guys played very well, and even some of the young guys [did, too],’’ Richardson said. ‘‘Vlasic was excellent with his reach. Boris [Katchouk] made some big plays at the end with his skating ability, and that goes a long way for this team. Everybody is contributing.’’

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