SUNRISE, Fla. — Eleven days ago, the Blackhawks were clinging to a one-point lead over the -Minnesota Wild in the Central Division and a two-point lead over the San Jose Sharks in the -Western Conference.
Then the wheels fell off in Minnesota and San Jose.
The Wild lost for the ninth time in their last 11 games on Saturday, a dismal 4-2 defeat to the Vancouver Canucks. And the Sharks lost their sixth in a row, falling to the Nashville Predators 7-2. That gave the Hawks an eight-point lead on Minnesota and an 11-point lead on San Jose, which is now tied with the Anaheim Ducks for first in the Pacific Division. In other words, barring a catastrophic collapse, the Hawks have the top seed in the West all but wrapped up.
All that’s left to play for is the Presidents’ Trophy, with Washington, Columbus and Pittsburgh all within reach. With that in mind, coach Joel Quenneville isn’t considering giving players games off down the stretch. Not yet, at least.
“I don’t foresee that coming now,” Quenneville said before the Hawks’ 7-0 loss to the Florida Panthers on Saturday. “Maybe our last couple [of games] on that last trip [to Colorado, Anaheim and Los Angeles], we’ll visit with where we’re at.”
The Hawks haven’t practiced since March 15, and they likely won’t practice again until the end of the regular season. They didn’t even hold a morning skate Saturday because BB&T Center is so far from the team hotel. So with all those days off, Quenneville said he wants his players to “max out” in games, though he’ll try to balance out the ice time. He said the Hawks have been “ordinary” in their last handful of games and wants to see them return to the form that saw them win 12 of 13 into early March.
“We still want to win, we want to play well,” Quenneville said. “I still think there’s a level that we want to make sure we’re playing [at] going into the playoffs. So let’s not be content just playing games. Let’s play the right way and see what happens. We’d like to pick up points here and push ahead, but playing the right way is probably the most important thing between now and the end. Hopefully, we can get to that level where we’re very happy with our team game. If we can seal being first in the division or conference, that’d be great.”
The Chicago chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association nominated Marian Hossa for the Masterton Trophy, given each year to a player who best exemplifies “perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication” to hockey. Each team has a nominee, and the PHWA will choose a winner at the end of the season. Hossa, whom Quenneville frequently refers to as “the consummate pro,” is in his 18th NHL season, and has 24 goals and 18 assists in 66 games.
Johnny Oduya’s reunion with Niklas Hjalmarsson lasted only a couple of games, but the veteran defenseman isn’t disappointed to be paired with Brent Seabrook instead. After all, he won a Stanley Cup with Seabrook in 2015, after doing so with Hjalmarsson in 2013.
“It’s all about how you perform and how you play and who’s hot,” Oduya said. “That’s how you want to have it — you want it to be competitive. And there’s still opportunities for a lot of different looks depending on the situation. There’s absolutely no disappointment. Coming back here, I knew I came to a good team, just as I did [in 2012]. I’m just trying to fit in.”
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