OTTAWA, Ontario — The regular season ends two weeks from Saturday. It might be time for the sleepwalking Blackhawks to start groping the walls, looking for that flip they need to switch.
“Of course, it’s urgent,” Jonathan Toews said following the Hawks’ second disheartening defeat in as many nights, a 5-3 loss to the middling Ottawa Senators. “These are big games for everyone. The time is now to play our best hockey.”
Instead, a dismal first-period stretch and a weak finish negated what Joel Quenneville deemed a “perfect” second period, as the Hawks failed to clinch a playoff berth for the second straight night. Coming off a 3-0 loss in Boston, the Hawks found themselves down 3-0 less than a minute into the second period, and couldn’t claw all the way back. it was their third regulation loss in four games. The Hawks are just 7-7-1 since the Olympic break.
Toews was more defiant than frustrated following this one — all but daring the rest of the Western Conference to take the Hawks lightly given their recent struggles.
“Not so sound arrogant or anything like that, but I think we can control the game, we can find ways to win, regardless of who we’re up against — if we want it bad enough,” he said.
It’s not far-fetched at all to think the Hawks can just turn it on come mid-April. They’re playoff tested, of course, and should be getting Patrick Kane back in time for the playoffs. And they’ve proven time and again this season that they can raise their game and beat the best the league has to offer — including a convincing 4-0 rout of St. Louis just nine days earlier. But there have been plenty of off nights of late, and there won’t be time for off nights in what is shaping up to be a brutally difficult Western Conference playoffs.
Toews declined to offer up his theory as to why the Hawks don’t seem to “want it bad enough” lately, saying it would be “throwing out excuses.” Offensively, the Hawks clearly are missing Kane and Bryan Bickell. And without Teuvo Teravainen in the lineup, either, the Hawks were hardly in peak offensive form against Ottawa. But that doesn’t explain an uncharacteristically brutal turnover by Duncan Keith that led to Erik Condra’s short-handed goal in the first period. Or another last-minute goal given up to Cody Ceci in the first, or Milan Michalek’s goal just 23 seconds into the second.
“Consistency and playing well defensively gets you success in our league,” Quenneville said. “We’re maybe looking for shortcuts.”
From that low point, the Hawks’ response was very good. The need for such a response — again — was not.
“I don’t know if it’s a lack of working hard, it’s just being a little bit smarter,” Keith said. “We’ve got guys in here that care. It’s not a question of that.”
The game changed in the second, as disinterested play yielded to fully engaged play. The Hawks dominated play the rest of the period, firing off 23 shots in the frame. Patrick Sharp knocked in Toews’ centering pass for a power-play goal (and a career-high of 72 points) at 10:46, and Marian Hossa scored on a tremendous one-man effort — an interception, a hard move to the net, a crafty finish — with 41 seconds left in the second to make it a game.
But Toews was called for a hand-pass on a faceoff early in the third period — a call that left the Hawks fuming — and Kyle Turris put in a rebound on the ensuing power play to make it 4-2. Clarke MacArthur bumped it to 5-2, and Brent Seabrook added a short-handed goal with three minutes to go.
Park Ridge native Craig Anderson made 46 saves for the Senators. Meanwhile, Andrew Shaw was ejected late in the third period for spearing Zack Smith, a play the NHL was looking into Friday night. It could earn Shaw a fine or even a suspension, and it was emblematic of the frustration the Hawks are dealing with, and the out-of-character play that’s been plaguing them.
Just like in Boston, the Hawks looked very good for 20 minutes. With seven games left in the season, they need to figure out how to do it for 60.
“Better now than three weeks from now,” Toews said.
True. But time is running out. It’s time to find that switch, before it’s too late.