It was one of those crisis moments where Jonathan Toews had to stand tall, speak calmly and confidently and at least give the impression that this wasn’t a crisis moment.
In a key Central Division game that they had hoped would be a launching point to build momentum for the playoffs, the struggling Blackhawks instead laid a major-league egg — giving up four first-period goals and drawing boos from their home crowd in a 6-2 loss to the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night before 22,034 at the United Center.
“We just have to have that unshakeable confidence that good teams go through moments like this where it doesn’t matter what you do things don’t go your way,” Toews said after the Hawks lost for the sixth time in seven games (1-4-2) to fall six points behind the Stars in the division with eight games to play.
“We remind ourselves we have to work through it — that’s the only way it’s going to get better and we’ll go from there. We know what we’re capable of this year and once we get to the postseason, we’ll remind ourselves of that and look at the big picture and try to take it shift-by-shift and get out of this little funk we’re in.”
If this is just a “little funk,” the Hawks have more than enough talent, experience and leadership to dust themselves off, re-charge and find a way to head into the playoffs with momentum. The concern is that after yet another decisive loss, it’s more than that. Since dominating the Stars in an impressive 5-1 road victory on Feb. 11, the Hawks have lost 10 consecutive games to Western Conference playoff contenders (0-7-3). They’ve been outscored 40-14 in those games. Overall, the Hawks are 6-9-3 in their last 18 games. They are 10-12-3 since their 12-game winning streak ended on Jan. 19.
This was their fourth loss to the Stars in five regular-season games, and each time they’ve fallen behind 4-0 — in the first period twice and the second period twice.
“It was just hard to watch,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “I don’t know if it’s confidence or whatever. But I think we have to find a way to rectify the way we play and play with more urgency.
“Whether it’s mentally or physically [being fatigued], I don’t know. Pucks go off our sticks; we lose pucks. The last game as well [against the Wild] — we had 3-on-2, 3-on-1, 2-on-1, a breakaway, 2-0 shootouts and not one shot on net. We’re just not sharp.”
The litany of disaster included goals by Stars fourth-liners Colton Sceviour and Vernon Fiddler, a power-play goal by Patrick Eaves and a short-handed goal by Fiddler — all in a 7:09 span of the first period.
When Sceviour scored an uncanny goal to start the barrage, it seemed like a fluke. After Teuvo Teravainen won a faceoff in the defensive zone, Trevor van Riemsdyk lost the puck along the boards behind the goal line and Sceviour banked it from behind the net off Scott Darling’s stick for a 1-0 lead at 11:34.
But the Stars scored 25 seconds later when Fiddler beat Leighton from in front of the net off a pass from Sceviour to make it 2-0 at 11:59.
After Toews was called for high-sticking, Eaves scored on the power play to give the Stars a 3-0 lead. The Hawks had a chance to cut into the lead when Brett Ritchie was penalized for tripping. But that fell apart quickly when Artem Anisimov’s pass along the boards skipped over Kane’s stick, leading to a mini-breakaway for Fiddler, who beat Darling and stunned the crowd with a short-handed goal that gave the Stars a 4-0 lead.
By then, the home crowd had had enough — and booed the Hawks as they left the ice after the first period.
“Our fans are great, so I’m not going to say anything [about that],” Toews said. “Obviously it’s not the show fans expect. They want to see us win by four or five goals. It’s unfortunate that we get booed in situations like that, but it is what it is. We’ll focus on things we can do on the ice.”
The Hawks embark on a four-game Western road trip to play the Flames, Canucks, Jets and Wild. Only the Wild are playoff contenders.
But the Hawks have a lot of work to do regardless of the opponent. Right now they look like a team that has played a lot of hockey over the past three seasons.
“You can come up with a laundry list of excuses,” Toews said. “We’re not going to point fingers at any exact thing that could be the culprit. We have to work through it and that’s what we’re going to do.
“Our goal [is] to play our best hockey when we get to [the playoffs]. So if this is a moment that in the end is going to make us a better team, we’ll understand what we need to do to be more effective in the long run [and] be that team that competes deep into the playoffs. We have to work through this right now. That’s our only choice.”