CHICAGO — After a sluggish start, Jonathan Toews and the Blackhawks stormed back late with a rapid-fire rally to strengthen their grip on first place in the Central Division — and the Western Conference.
Toews scored twice and Richard Panik and Artemi Panarin each had a goal in a span of 3:02 in the third period to erase Colorado's two-goal lead and send the Blackhawks past the Avalanche 6-3 on Sunday night for their fifth straight win.
Patrick Kane scored his team-leading 32nd goal and Marcus Kruger added an empty-netter for Chicago, which won for the 17th time in its last 20 games to pull seven points ahead of slumping second-place Minnesota in the Central Division. The Wild dropped their fifth straight, 5-4 to Winnipeg on Sunday.
The victory, combined with Los Angeles' 5-2 loss at Calgary on Sunday night, clinched Chicago's ninth straight playoff berth.
"Once we got that first (goal), things just started clicking for us," said Toews, who scored his 19th and 20th goals to give him 20 or more in each of his 10 NHL seasons. "I think we all collectively made that decision, that we had to play better and were looking for that first bounce, and maybe we could put some pressure on them."
And the Blackhawks turned it up in a hurry.
With Chicago trailing 3-1, Toews tipped in a bouncing shot at 10:17 of the third period to cut it to 3-2.
"In the third period, we got one, and all of a sudden got a lot more comfortable in the scoring areas," coach Joel Quenneville said. "Definitely changed the whole complexion when we got the first one."
Toews' first goal withstood a video review that showed the Chicago captain may have been offside. He was trying to exit the Colorado zone and tag up at the blue line before Panik — who was skating into the Avalanche end — caught up with a puck that had just crossed the line and was inches ahead of his stick.
It was close.
"I thought it was the right call. It's not offside, doesn't trigger the offside until he touches the puck," Quenneville said. "You could say it was a tie."
Avalanche coach Jared Bednar was left a bit confused.
"I guess I don't fully understand it," Bednar said. "It's a tag-up rule. They're saying it wasn't fully on (Panik's) stick.
Bednar was more upset about what followed.
"That give them a little life," Bednar said. "It's what we do after that that bothers me.
"That was one of the top teams in the league turning it up a notch and feeling it, and their top guys making plays and our guys making mistakes."