We're going streaking! Blackhawks tally season-high 5 wins in a row
After last night's win - the Blackhawks' 5th in a row - Joel Quenneville didn't gloat or get cocky. He, and the team, are well-aware that every single game down to the wire is going to count. And while the end result was what was desired - a win in regulation, against a conference rival also fighting for a playoff spot - it was yet another game where Chicago played mostly good, but didn't quite play the full sixty. A couple brief lapses led to goals that could've given Minnesota the momentum to come back, and there were moments where it looked like they took their foot off the gas.
With the mess this season has been, you'd think the Blackhawks players would've figured out by now that no lead is safe, no points differential is large enough, and no game is a given, even if they've previously repeatedly beaten their opponent.
On the bright side, the Hawks do seem to fully realize the position they're in - which, as of the morning of March 1st, is 5th place, although it was 11th less than 48 hours prior. That's how tight the Western race is, and how very vital every single game is. With a current calculated mark of 96 points (minimum) to aim for, the Blackhawks still need at least 22 points - 11 wins - out of their remaining 19 games in order to have any hopes of making the playoffs. They can't give away any points to Western Conference rivals if they can help it, either, so fortunately for them, they have almost half of their remaining games against EC teams.
The team also has the majority of their remaining games - 11 - on the road, which may be a good thing. As Corey Crawford stated last night in post-game interviews, "Everyone, especially on the road, we keep it real simple, we're not forcing anything, and we're just trying to wait ... not so much wait for our chances, but create our opportunities down low, and not giving the other team too much."
The mantra is starting to sink in: Keep it simple. Play 60. Grind in the corners. And don't take that foot off the accelerator.
Okay, maybe the last point still needs a little work.
Last year, the Blackhawks team was so tight that even when they played a little sloppy, they made the wins look easy. At this point in the season, they already had a playoff spot within easy grasp, and were rallying for some new team records.
A sign in the Blackhawks locker room says "Earn it", and the Hawks are proving they're ready to do so. The past two weeks have been marked by a five-game winning streak - their first of the season - beating Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Nashville, Phoenix and Minnesota. During all those games, they've had full periods where they've been nothing short of dominant, cruising out to multiple-goal leads, possessing the puck, owning the other team's zone, and making the other teams look like they did last year: chasing the Blackhawks around the ice. But they've also had their share of moments where they've been caught flat-footed, out of position, scrambling, and giving away plays. It's heart-in-throat hockey, but if anything, the Hawks are beginning to play like they should have been able to all season.
Team captain Jonathan Toews is leading by example as always, pulling together 25 points in the last 16 games, with 6 goals, 15 assists in February alone - the hottest streak in the NHL; no surprise that he received the NHL's #1 star for February. Together with Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane, the top line has earned 54 points in last 14 games (avg. 3.86 pt/gm). Marian Hossa has refound his form - lost somewhere midseason after some injuries - and has scored in each of the past four games.
And most importantly, rookie goaltender Corey Crawford is on fire, with his current record standing at 23-12-3 record, with .923 sv% (tied 6th), and 2.13 GAA (2nd after only Tim Thomas). Just imagine what Crawford's stats might look like if Chicago's defense had found its form far earlier in the season instead of struggling for most of the past 63 games - or what it might look like next year, as Chicago's D has begun to gel with its new components.
Two new players have been added to the Blackhawks as the trade deadline came to the close. The first was a trade that sent Jack Skille to Florida and brought in Michael Frolik. Although brought in to play center, Coach Quenneville has gone with Frolik's natural desire to play wing, and although he hasn't found the score sheet in nine games, it certainly isn't through lack of effort. The young Czech left winger has proven a solid addition, and is working hard to prove his worth on the new team.
At the deadline, the Hawks picked up defenseman Chris Campoli from the Ottawa Senators. Campoli has not joined the team yet as his visa is going through, but his record for OTT is 3 goals, 11 assists. Chicago likes puck-moving defensemen, ones who are not only to get the puck up into play, but who can get up into play in the other end of the rink as well. Duncan Keith (29, 13th) and Brent Seabrook (30, 12th) are among the top 15 D-men for assists this season.
One unfortunate note this week has been the loss of Jordan Hendry for the rest of the season. In Sunday's game against the Coyotes, Hendry took a hit against the boards by Shane Doan. While clean and legal, Hendry tore his ACL. He'll have surgery and is expected to be out for six months - returning just in time for training camp.
Despite all the struggles of the season to date, the Blackhawks are finally finding their form when it matters most. In those periods where the Hawks are playing their best, it gives flashbacks to last season and the ease with which the Hawks dominated their opponents - strong, exciting hockey. The players have taken the rest of the season to serious heart, knowing that every game is going to count and that they've got to get points out of every game.
Chicago fans are in for an interesting run to the playoffs.