TORONTO - Chicago hope is back.
The Chicago Blackhawks, with just one playoff appearance in the past decade, look like they're finally learning how to win.
"I think so," said captain Jonathan Toews after the Hawks rallied for a 5-4 overtime victory over the host Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night.
"A game like that, especially when you fall behind early in the game, you have to find ways to come back, find ways to get energy, score goals on the power play or kill big penalties. And we did that tonight against a pretty solid team."
The Blackhawks, an Original Six club, fell on hard times in the late 1990s and basically became a forgotten entity in Chicago. A string of losing seasons and the fact the team wasn't shown on local television led to apathy in the fan base.
Chicago last qualified for the post-season in 2002 and the Hawks haven't won the Stanley Cup since the days of Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita in 1961. It's the longest Cup drought in the NHL.
Fortunately, the tough times of the past decade did bring a silver lining: high draft picks. Bolstered by first round selections such as Toews, Patrick Kane, Cam Barker and Brent Seabrook, the Hawks have a number of young, quality players and the opportunity for them to grow together as a team.
And finally, after a few years of false promise, the Hawks look like they're for real this season. At 10-4-5, they sit fourth overall in the highly competitive Western Conference.
Certainly, the recent returns have been good: a three-game road winning streak and an ability to score. Prior to beating the Leafs, Chicago nipped Phoenix 3-2 in a shootout last Tuesday and doubled Dallas 6-3 on Thursday.
"You want to win every game on your road trip, but we can't get too far ahead of ourselves," Toews said. "We've done that so far."
Chicago will get the chance to continue winning on the road, as the Hawks have three more away games before they get a home tilt. The six-game road stretch is the team's second-longest of the season; they also have an eight-game trip that begins in late January.
"We're certainly happy with the way things have gone, some tough buildings and an emotional win tonight," said coach Joel Quenneville, who took over behind the Hawks bench after the team started out 1-2-1 under Denis Savard.
"We want to create some momentum on the road and make sure we play the same way at home and on the road, and bring that enthusiasm. The last couple of games we've come back and we see that we're capable of doing things, I just think if we approach it more from the defensive side that it's going to complement our game.
"We want to make sure we're the ones setting the tempo of the game rather than reacting to the other team."
After years of being out of it, the Hawks are back in the game. And they sound like they won't be satisfied with merely returning to the NHL playoffs.
"(Winning) is only going to boost our confidence," Toews said. "Like I said, great teams don't get satisfied with what they've accomplished, they build on it and get better and that has to be our focus right now."
The coach agreed with his captain.
"We want to make sure we're the ones setting the tempo of the game," Quenneville said, "rather than reacting to the other team."