Artem Anisimov remembers there being easy nights in Columbus and New York — nights when an opponent would come in looking lethargic and uninspired, nights when the game was lopsided, when the challenge wasn’t all that great, when you didn’t need to expend every ounce of effort in order to escape with two points.
There haven’t been too many of those nights since he joined the Blackhawks.
“Everybody’s prepared for us,” Anisimov said.
Brian Campbell, who spent the past five seasons in Florida, has noticed this, too. The Hawks aren’t the reigning Stanley Cup champions — heck, they didn’t even win a playoff series last spring — but they’re still the team of the decade, and the standard by which many other teams measure themselves.
“I think a lot of teams gear up to play against us, you know?” Campbell said. “Everybody wants to come in [to the United Center] and play well. And obviously on the road, when we have a good crowd that follows us, I’m sure it amps up the other team a lot more, too.”
So maybe that explains why a league-high 28 of the Hawks’ 44 games this season have been decided by one goal. Or maybe, as Joel Quenneville suggested, there’s more parity than ever in the league, with 24 of 30 teams at .500 or better in terms of points earned. Or maybe, the Hawks simply haven’t been as dominant as they’ve been in recent seasons, with only 10 of their 27 victories coming by two goals or more.
For comparison’s sake, the reigning champion Pittsburgh Penguins haven’t lost a one-goal game in regulation all season — they’re 12-0-5 in such games. They’ve also won by at least three goals a whopping 12 times, and have been blown out by three goals seven times. The Hawks haven’t had nearly as many blowouts, with seven such wins and four such losses. It seems that almost every game has been a battle.
“We’d like to win by a little bit more of a cushion,” Campbell said. “At least we’re in every game, I guess.”
The good news is that not only do the Hawks lead the league in one-goal games, they lead the league in one-goal victories. They have 17 wins by the skin of their teeth (17-6-5 total), four more than any other team. It’s a sign that they’re still among the league’s premier closers, whether it’s staving off opponents in the third period, or mounting comebacks of their own.
Anisimov looked on the bright side: There are very few blowouts in the playoffs, so every tight game is a valuable experience, particularly for the Hawks’ younger players.
“It’s easy to win the games when you’re up three goals early,” Anisimov said. “But tight games keep you in shape. This team knows how to respond in tight games — if we have to come back, or play with a one-goal lead, or a tie game. It’s all different situations, and we’ve been through everything. You learn to relax and play hard every shift, and I think it’s a good thing to play so many.”
The flip side is, a bounce here or there the other way, and the Hawks’ record could look a lot different. That 27-12-5 record hasn’t come easy, and it might be tough to sustain.
“We’ve played a lot of tight games, and that’s a good thing if we’re finding ways to win some of them,” Duncan Keith said. “But I think we know that there’s still room for improvement if we want to be a team that goes all the way.”
NOTE: Marcus Kruger (hand) is expected to start skating on Friday. Quenneville said he’s still on the same three-week timetable, which would put his return around Jan. 20 in Boston or Jan. 22 against Vancouver.