Plenty has changed since Hawks hit rock-bottom in Nashville

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Plenty has changed since Hawks hit rock-bottom in Nashville

The Blackhawks probably want to forget about the last time they played the Nashville Predators.

It wasnt their worst loss, score-wise, as they dropped a 3-2 decision in Nashville on Feb. 14. But it was how they lost that hurt the most: giving up a late goal in a game they had played pretty well, running their winless streak to nine. The Blackhawks locker room was so stunned, so quiet that night, you couldve heard a pin think about dropping.

It was a brutal loss, said coach Joel Quenneville. It was excruciating. It was one of those losses where you sit there and think, OK, hopefully this is the end of it. Eventually things had to change. And they did.

Yes, things definitely have changed for both teams. The Predators made several moves at the trade deadline. While the Blackhawks made a move themselves acquiring defenseman Johnny Oduya their biggest change came in how they played.

The Blackhawks had their rock-bottom moment that night in Nashville. And whether it was learning from that night or just waking up out of their winless-streak doldrums, the Blackhawks have been a much better team since.

That whole time we were trying to hammer home how we had to play on both sides of the puck, take a checking mentality, Quenneville said. The byproduct was what happened the next two games (against New York and Columbus).

And its gone beyond those next two games. The Blackhawks are 13-4-1 since that game, and after trailing the Predators plenty in the Western Conference theyre now right on their tails -- just two points back after Nashville's 3-1 victory over Winnipeg Saturday night.

Its a rivalry thats come into play the last couple of years, Patrick Kane said. You look at the standings; if we can take some points from them and put points on the board for ourselves, its huge.

The Predators, meanwhile, have had more mixed results. Theyre 10-6-2 since that Feb. 14 game, including 6-5-1 since the day after the trade deadline.

As for the Blackhawks, theyve kept up that style of play through health and injury. Theyve grown plenty in their time without Jonathan Toews and have found success in his absence. And they know theyll need to play their current brand of hockey to have any success against the Predators on Sunday.

Theyre structured, they dont take too many chances and they play a good team game, Viktor Stalberg said. The way we used to play earlier in the year frustrated us a bit. But the way weve played lately, were finding ways to win those tight games. Thats going to fit us better playing them.

The Blackhawks have changed since that Feb. 14 game in Nashville. They ended their brutal losing streak two days later and quelled the foolish coach-and-several-players-must-go talk. Theyve learned from that brutal loss, and theyve got the Predators in their sights again.

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The Blackhawks were finally getting healthy and now may be missing a key player once again. That depends on how Niklas Hjalmarsson feels after suffering an upper-body injury against the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night.

It was certainly the toughest part of the Blackhawks' victory, a 6-3 triumph that has the Blackhawks closing in on the Wild. We'll see what the Hjalmarsson update is over the weekend. Until then, let's look at the notables from this one.

What Worked: The offense. We'll give an honorable mention to the penalty kill, which snuffed out all of the Coyotes' chances including a double minor that overlapped the second and third periods. But the offense was just buzzing again. Here's another shocker: the top line is still working just fine. The trio got things started with Nick Schmaltz's goal just 37 seconds into the game (Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik assisted). And much like in their meeting with the Coyotes earlier this month, the Blackhawks needed just about every bit of that offense. While we're on this topic...

What Didn't Work: The first-period defense. The Blackhawks looked like they were in good shape up 3-1 but then they gave up two goals within a minute late in the period. Michal Rozsival had a rough start in his first game since Jan. 15, but overall, the Blackhawks' defense through that first period looked discombobulated. Obviously, it didn't help that the Blackhawks lost Hjalmarsson during the first, either.

[RELATED: Patrick Kane nets hat trick as Blackhawks cruise past Coyotes]

Star of the game: Patrick Kane. One game after Jonathan Toews recorded a hat trick Kane did the same, scoring his 21st, 22nd and 23rd goals of the season. On a night in which the Blackhawks dressed 11 forwards and seven defensemen, Kane got a little extra playing time. His first goal came on a first-period shift with Ryan Hartman and Tanner Kero, the second off a long pass from Brent Seabrook and the third with his usual line mates.

He Said It: "I didn't play much before I got hurt, then I missed four weeks with my injury. It wasn't easy but definitely the way the team's playing now, it made it easier for me. It felt like the first game of the season for me but glad we got the victory and glad I was back playing. I enjoyed it." — Michal Rozsival on returning to the Blackhawks' lineup. 

By the Numbers: 

6 – Number of times, in their last eight games, the Blackhawks have scored five or more goals.

342 – Assists for Jonathan Toews, who tied Dennis Hull for 12th all-time in franchise history in that category.

35 – Combined points for the Blackhawks' top liners Jonathan Toews, Nick Schmaltz and Richard Panik in their nine games together. The breakdown in those nine games: Toews has 16 points, Panik 10 and Schmaltz nine.

1997 – The last time the Blackhawks had hat tricks in back-to-back regular-season games. Alexei Zhamnov and Eric Daze had them on April 11 and April 13, 1997, respectively.