SUNRISE, Fla. — In late March 2015, the Blackhawks stumbled their way through a miserable stretch of hockey, suffering three lopsided defeats to Dallas, Philadelphia and Columbus — three non-playoff teams — in a four-game stretch. It raised concerns about complacency, about playoff readiness, about how the Hawks were groping in the dark for that switch they have to flip every April.
Less than three months later, they were Stanley Cup champions.
So take this Jonathan Toews comment — spoken with poise but with purpose after an abysmal 7-0 loss to the Florida Panthers on Saturday night — with that in mind.
“If we continue to play like that and think we’re going to turn it on come playoff time, we’ve got another thing coming,” Toews said.
History lesson aside, there certainly are some red flags being raised by the Hawks’ poor efforts over the last week. They fell behind 3-1 to lowly Colorado before rallying for a win. And they fell behind 4-1 to Vancouver, another team playing out the string, before salvaging a point. Then came their effort Saturday, an all-around team failure against another team with nothing to play for.
It was the Hawks’ worst loss since a 9-2 drubbing in Edmonton on Nov. 19, 2011, and their first 7-0 loss since Feb. 14, 2001, against San Jose. In the grand scheme of things, it won’t mean much. The Hawks are comfortably ahead in both the conference and the division. Fighting complacency is now as big a goal as winning the Presidents’ Trophy.
“It’s more of a wake-up call for all of us,” said Ryan Hartman, who earned himself a double minor and a benching after mouthing off to a referee. “We haven’t been playing good hockey at all lately.”
Coach Joel Quenneville called it an “ugly, ugly game,” but mostly shrugged it off. He pinpointed a moment in the second period as the turning point — when a Dennis Rasmussen breakaway chance turned into a Marcus Kruger interference penalty, with Hartman already in the box for hooking and unsportsmanlike conduct. Instead of a penalty on Florida, as Quenne-ville wanted, the Panthers got a five-on-three power play. Already up 1-0, the Panthers cashed in on the two-man advantage and were off to the races. Jonathan Marchessault had a hat trick, Jonathan Huberdeau had a goal and three assists and Aleksander Barkov had a goal and two assists as the Panthers poured it on.
Hartman was benched for more than 20 minutes after his — in Quenneville’s terms — “mouthing” penalty, and Kruger sat for a while, too, after taking one of his own. The Hawks committed five penalties in the second period alone, including a roughing minor for Patrick Kane, who dropped the gloves and came perilously close to his first official NHL fight in a scrap with Jussi Jokinen. The power play was awful, with just three shots on three chances. Corey Crawford was yanked after giving up four goals on 25 shots, and Scott Darling promptly allowed three more goals on the first five shots he faced.
It was just one game. And it might be a chuckle-worthy footnote in a matter of weeks, or even months. But there’s a lesson to be learned from it, all the same.
“You can’t let a score like that affect your confidence, or affect your overall game and what you’re going to do in the next game,” Toews said. “But there has to be some sense of urgency, some sense of pride. We can’t let that complacency creep into our game.”
Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.