VANCOUVER, British Columbia — It’s disingenuous to say that playoff seeding doesn’t matter at all to the Blackhawks. Just because they’ve won the Stanley Cup and reached overtime of Game 7 of the conference final as a third-place team each of the past two seasons doesn’t mean they don’t want home-ice advantage, that it wouldn’t make life easier.
And you can be sure the last thing the Hawks want is to slip into fourth place and open up the playoffs against the Los Angeles Kings or Anaheim Ducks.
It’s just that the Hawks don’t freak out about these things.
“I wouldn’t say that the group is casual about it,” said Andrew Ladd, who still says “they” more than he says “we” as he readjusts to life in Chicago. “I guess I’d say that they’re more comfortable with adversity than most teams. When they’re down, there’s no panic. There seems to be a comfort level in terms of what they can do — I mean, what we can do.”
What matters most isn’t where the Hawks finish, but how they finish. And after a dreadful 1-4-2 stretch, the Hawks have righted the ship a bit with a pair of wins in Western Canada, including Sunday’s 3-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks, won on Ladd’s tie-breaking goal with 2:27 left in the game. It’s the first time the Hawks have won consecutive games since Feb. 28 and March 2.
The win clinched a playoff spot for the Hawks, a foregone conclusion even with the recent slide. It’s the eighth straight season the Hawks have made the playoffs, after missing out in eight of nine seasons.
“The main focus is to be playing the best you can, and usually when we’re doing that and playing our best, the results follow,” said Trevor van Riemsdyk, who had the primary assist on the first two Hawks goals. “We’ve really just got to focus on playing the right way, and part of that is just finding ways to win.”
Now, the Canucks and the Calgary Flames aren’t exactly elite competition (the loss was Vancouver’s eighth straight), so take the two wins — neither an overwhelming show of domination — for what they are. But with six games left in the season, the Hawks need all the positive vibes and forward momentum they can get.
And despite the team’s power-play drought extending to 23 straight without a goal, and despite the Hawks failing to hold on to a third-period lead, there was plenty to like in this one. Teuvo Teravainen scored while filling in for the injured Artem Anisimov on the second line, Scott Darling had another strong game (26 saves) in his sixth straight start in place of the injured Corey Crawford, and Marcus Kruger helped the Hawks kill off a four-minute Jonathan Toews penalty in the third.
“We wanted to build on last night’s win and just keep getting points,” Ladd said. “We understand where we’re at in the standings. It’s still a dogfight for positions, and these are the games that you need to have. And a lot of times, it’s tough when you’re playing against a team that has nothing to lose and a lot of young guys that are trying to prove something. They can go either way.”
The first period was the best the Hawks have played in a while, as all four lines created offensive chances. Tomas Fleischmann got the lone goal of the period, scoring from the top of the right circle off a van Riemsdyk pass and through a Dennis Rasmussen screen. The Canucks tied it midway through the second period on an Alex Burrows goal in the low slot. Darling kept the game tied with a huge stop on Jake Virtanen on a 2-on-1 a few minutes later.
The Hawks took the lead back at 5:37 of the third period off a tic-tac-toe play — Patrick Kane to van Riemsdyk to Teravainen. Kane has a league-high 94 points with six games left in the season. The Hawks then killed off the Toews’ high-sticking penalty, aided by a brilliant Darling save on Burrows. But Sven Baertschi’s net-crashing goal at 14:18, sparked by an Artemi Panarin turnover, tied it up.
Ladd’s sixth goal since coming to the Hawks — and his third in the last two games — with 2:27 to go was the difference, set up by a Toews drop pass in the slot.
The Hawks still have a significantly easier schedule down the stretch than Dallas or St. Louis, both of whom are four points ahead. But it gets a little tougher Tuesday in Minnesota against a Wild team that has won all four meetings so far this season.
“We’ll take the four points,” Joel Quenneville said. “And hopefully we can go into Minnesota and do something we haven’t done all year.”