Sunday offered a glimpse of what could have been this season for the Blackhawks.
Were it not for a balky back, a torn groin and a scary ankle infection, who knows how many goals Eric Daze would have at this point, or where the Hawks would be in the standings?
An argument can certainly be made that they wouldn't be wallowing among the bottom-feeders in the Western Conference, not after Daze and on-ice soul mate Steve Sullivan tore up the Boston Bruins for three goals apiece in an 8-5 victory.
The win snapped a nine-game losing streak and was the Hawks' first victory at the United Center since Jan. 15.
It's one thing to blame this season's collapse on Theo Fleury and a fight at a Columbus strip club. But as coach Brian Sutter said, "offense breeds confidence," and the loss of perennial 30-goal scorer Daze for a quarter of the season is not a hole easily filled in the NHL.
"It tells you what a guy like [Daze] means to your hockey club," Sutter said. "When he's in the lineup, he makes everyone feel a little bit better."
Daze's hat trick was his second of the season and the sixth of his career. Despite playing just 41 games, he has 18 goals, one off the team lead.
"He's able to spark a hockey club," Sullivan said.
No one benefits more from having Daze as a linemate than Sullivan. The two have a knack for finding each other in prime scoring opportunities. Each assisted on two of the other's goals.
Sunday was Daze's first game since Feb. 25 after an infected right ankle forced him into the hospital. In the five games he was out of the lineup, the Hawks scored a total of 12 goals.
"I got tired after the second period," Daze said. "But Sully was flying. He gives me a lot of confidence."
The twin hat tricks were the first for the Hawks since Al Secord and Troy Murray each scored three against Pittsburgh on Jan. 1, 1986.
The Hawks were without center Alex Zhamnov for a second straight game because of a broken left ring finger. Andrei Nikolishin stepped in between Daze and Sullivan and picked up two assists, was a plus-5 and helped limit high-scoring Boston center Joe Thornton to two shots.
Sutter also moved Fleury to center and the beleaguered veteran finally found the back of the net, scoring his 10th goal and breaking a 14-game drought. Maybe the Bruins should pluck Fleury off the waiver list. In two games against Boston, he has three goals.
Earlier Sunday, Hawks general manager Mike Smith responded to Fleury's allegation Saturday night that the waiver move was an attempt to get him to "go out and drink so they won't have to pay me."
Fleury is tested for alcohol, and a failed test would result in a six-month suspension without pay and perhaps give the Hawks grounds to void the rest of his contract, which has one more year left at about $4 million.
"I think the Blackhawks have consistently supported Theo and continue to do so," Smith said. "I don't think it was a great comment to make, but he's an emotional guy."
Fleury said Sunday the situation "is out of my hands," reiterating his desire to stay in Chicago. No claim can be completed on Fleury until Tuesday afternoon, and Smith said Fleury and the rest of the current roster will make the trip to Anaheim that morning, even though some of them may be traded before the 2 p.m. deadline.
Defenseman Lyle Odelein, perhaps playing his last game as a Blackhawk, scored the final goal of the day.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun