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Blackhawks top Capitals, improve to 7-1-1 in last nine games

The Hawks’ Andrew Shaw controls puck behind Capitals’ net shortly before scoring his second goal game second period Sunday United

The Hawks’ Andrew Shaw controls the puck behind the Capitals’ net shortly before scoring his second goal of the game in the second period Sunday at the United Center. Shaw also had an assist in the Hawks’ 5-2 victory. | Bill Smith~Getty Images

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Updated: April 20, 2012 8:16AM

Three weeks ago, the Blackhawks were searching for a way just to get one point, let alone two. Now it appears they not only have found a way back into the victory column, but they have managed to forge a new identity in the process.

It was all on display in the Hawks’ 5-2 victory Sunday against the Washington Capitals at the United Center.

A strong start. A commitment to defense. Solid goaltending. And a team game that has blossomed, enabling the Hawks to go 7-1-1 since the trade deadline.

‘‘It seems like [since] the trade deadline, our game has settled down and we’re playing better as a group,’’ winger Viktor Stalberg said recently. ‘‘We’re finding ways to win games, [whether it be] low-scoring games or coming back in games. We’re a little more solid of a team.’’

The addition of defenseman Johnny Oduya at the trade deadline has been part of the Hawks’ resurgence. But their overall commitment in their own end has been at the forefront, as the Hawks have started to turn their attention from worrying about who’s behind them in the Western Conference standings to thinking about catching the teams in front of them.

‘‘Earlier in the year, we were trying to outscore the opponents and had some success doing it,’’ coach Joel Quenneville said before the game. ‘‘We got in that stretch where it was miserable around here, and I think that’s probably what’s got our attention. There’s certain ways you can win in our league, and it’s got to come from your own end out. I think we’ve been better in that area.’’

The marked improvement was on full display Sunday. The Hawks held the Capitals to three shots in the first period and at one point had outshot them 12-0.

‘‘There have been a few adjustments, and a few guys came in and really helped our team out,’’ defenseman Duncan Keith said. ‘‘We’re learning. Every game’s a new game, and we’re trying to have good starts. The last couple of games we’ve had good starts, and that’s been the key.”

Goalie Corey Crawford stopped 16 of 18 shots to earn his third consecutive victory.

‘‘I feel good,’’ Crawford said. ‘‘I’ve got to keep it going. I’m not worried about what happened this game or last game. I build off of it, but what I did last game is not going to help me for the next one. I’ve got to be prepared and play hard.’’

Andrew Shaw scored twice and added an assist. Bryan Bickell had the first three-point game of his career with a goal and two assists, and Stalberg and Patrick Kane each had a goal.

Alex Ovechkin and Mike Knuble scored for the Capitals.

After the game, Quenneville talked about how the big picture for the Hawks changed during their nine-game losing streak. But with nine games left in the regular season, the big picture and focus has started to narrow.

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