WASHINGTON — There’s a lot to like about playing on the road in the playoffs.
There are no distractions, as the daily chaos of family life is replaced by a simple and carefully choreographed road routine. There are swanky hotels with cordoned-off player lounges, with heated Mario Kart battles raging for hours on end. There are even some ice surfaces less chewed-up and better suited to the Blackhawks’ speed-and-skill style than the rink at the United Center, one of the most heavily trafficked multipurpose arenas in the league.
But even for the Hawks, one of the league’s better road teams in recent years, there’s no place like home. They’re a solid 19-13-8 on the road after the largely meaningless 4-0 loss Friday to the Washington Capitals, but they’re a sparkling 27-7-7 at home. They were a respectable 5-5 on the road en route to the Stanley Cup, but they were 11-2 at home. During the 2012-13 season, they were 18-4-2 in road games.
“There’s nothing like playing at the United Center,” Patrick Sharp said. “But we’re confident on the road, too. We enjoy it.”
If the Hawks are going to make another deep postseason run, they’d better get used to it. They’re locked into third place in the Central Division heading into the regular-season finale Saturday at Nashville, meaning they’ll open on the road, likely on Thursday, against the red-hot Colorado Avalanche or the plummeting and banged-up St. Louis Blues — whichever one finishes in second place.
While this forgettable loss at the Verizon Center — which saw Duncan Keith get the night off in a game that could only possibly factor into home ice should the Hawks face the San Jose Sharks in the conference finals or the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final — wasn’t exactly indicative of it, the Hawks are perfectly comfortable, if not quite as dominant, on the road.
“When we’re on the road, we just kind of keep it simple,” Brandon Bollig said. “It’s not like we’re looking to put on a show or entertain anyone — we’re looking to get the win. Not that we’re not looking to get the win at home, but on the road, there’s no emphasis on playing pretty and more emphasis on playing simple and getting the job done.”
In fact, the Hawks have adopted that keep-it-simple strategy — at home and on the road — since they started playing without Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, turning a three-game skid into a four-game winning streak before Friday’s loss, in which they abandoned that simple, workmanlike game and paid the price.
Sharp said the mind-set for the finale against the Predators was to “redeem ourselves from tonight.”
“It doesn’t matter what’s on the line,” he said. “It’s important that we show up and play, wearing the Hawks jersey.”
Alex Ovechkin scored his 51st goal, Jay Beagle scored twice and Corey Crawford was pulled after two periods. It was the fourth time the Hawks have been shut out — all of them without Kane in the lineup.
Not that the Hawks were too broken up about it. Coach Joel Quenne-ville said the team would “throw it in the garbage can.” Crawford said, “Just forget about it.”
That’s because in the preceding four games — the games that counted — the Hawks had been putting the puck on net, crashing the goalmouth and scrounging for rebounds.
That’s road hockey. That’s also playoff hockey. And it’s the kind of hockey the Hawks will need to play — especially if they draw the defensive and physical Blues in the first round.
“It’s just keeping it simple,” Bryan Bickell said. “Up and down, straight lines, not making the pretty plays and getting pucks to the net. I know in the playoffs, there aren’t going to be many tic-tac-toe goals. You need to get the puck to the net and get your second opportunities.”