CALGARY, Alberta — Niklas Hjalmarsson knows this won’t cut it. Oh, sure, against generally lousy teams in the generally lousy Pacific Division, a team like the Blackhawks can get away with a poor effort, lean on a hot goalie or a well-timed goal, and salvage a win or a point. A mediocre game in Edmonton on Wednesday turned into an overtime victory. Another middling performance Friday night in Calgary turned into a point, as Scott Darling singlehandedly got the game to overtime before losing 2-1 on Johnny Gaudreau’s game-winner.
But the circus trip only gets harder from here.
“It’s been pretty much those two guys, our goalies, that have gotten us the points,” Hjalmarsson said. “We just don’t play good enough on the road. We’re different. I don’t know — we just don’t have the same pace as we do in the United Center. We have to find a way to get that on the road. If we keep playing like this for the rest of the road trip, we’re not going to get points.”
On paper, the Hawks have gotten off to a strong start on this six-game circus trip, taking three out of a possible four points. On the ice, though, it’s been a different story. Calgary was playing without its third-leading scorer, Jiri Hudler, who was out with the flu. The Flames then lost defenseman Kris Russell to an upper-body injury in the first period. But the sixth-place Flames were the better team throughout the game. And with the score tied 1-1 in the third period, it was all Calgary, except for Darling.
In a performance reminiscent of Ray Emery’s astounding 45-save win at the Saddledome in 2013, Darling was brilliant, making 14 saves in the third period (the Hawks had just four shots in the third) and three big stops in the opening seconds of overtime before Gaudreau picked Brent Seabrook’s pocket and made a nifty move on the doorstep to score the winner.
“We gave up way too many scoring chances at the end,” Hjalmarsson said. “They should have had, I don’t know, how many goals there. Darling played unbelievable. It’s just odd-man rushes after odd-man rushes.”
Joel Quenneville, who never turns down a point on the road, wasn’t quite as harsh in his critique. But he wasn’t exactly thrilled, either.
“I thought we were better than we were [in Edmonton], but it’s still not good enough to get it done,” he said.
Sean Monahan and Artem Anisimov traded goals less than two minutes apart in the first period. Both were challenged by the opposing coaches, who thought there was goaltender interference, but both goals stood. Patrick Kane had the secondary assist on Anisimov’s power-play goal (which came off a Seabrook rebound), extending his point streak to a career-high 15 games. Kane has 10 goals and 15 assists in that span.
But that was the lone offensive bright spot for the Hawks, who didn’t even put a shot on goal for the first 11 minutes of the third period.
“It’s not the result we wanted, but we got a point,” Darling said.
That’s fine for one game. It was fine on Wednesday, too. But it’s not a long-term formula for success. The opponents get better from here — Vancouver, San Jose, Anaheim and Los Angeles. The Hawks had better do the same.
“It’s not a bad thing, getting three out of four points out of these games,” Hjalmarsson said. “But the way we’ve done it is not the way we want to get it. We have to step it up and just play like we did in St. Louis [last Saturday]. Play hard, get the puck out, get the puck deep. Right now, we’re just playing too soft. It’s not good enough.”