ANAHEIM, Calif. — Duncan Keith had a perfectly valid reason why the Blackhawks were on the verge of setting a franchise record for road victories in a season. It’s the same reason they’ve clinched the top seed in the Western Conference.
They’re pretty good.
“Well, I think we’ve got good depth here,” Keith said. “You’ve seen guys like [Nick] Schmaltz come in, and [Ryan] Hartman’s pushing for 20 goals, [Richard] Panik’s got 20 goals. That all plays a part in being able to win hockey games. It helps when you have guys that are scoring goals and it’s not just [Patrick Kane] and [Artemi] Panarin and [Marian] Hossa. I think that’s the biggest reason for the success we’ve had.”
Unprecedented success, really.
The Hawks entered Thursday night’s game at Anaheim with 24 road victories, matching the franchise record set just two years ago. Only the Rangers have fared better, with 27 road wins.
With most of their top stars resting, the Hawks lost a testy game 4-0 to Anaheim. And with one more meaningless game remaining Saturday in Los Angeles, they might not break the record. But even tying the mark is significant.
While the Hawks always have been a good road team — they haven’t finished with a sub-.500 record away from the United Center since 2007-08, the rookie season of both Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane — their gaudy road record is a good omen. In their previous two best seasons — 24 wins in 2014-15 and 23 wins in 2009-10, they went on to win the Stanley Cup.
And while the Hawks will have home-ice advantage through at least the first three rounds of the playoffs, should they make it that far, being able to win on the road is crucial.
“It’s always important to have home ice, and it feels good to start at home and to have that feeling going into a series,” forward Andrew Desjardins said. “But the way we’ve been playing on the road, you can have that confidence going into any game.”
The Hawks actually started last season 1-5-0 on the road, a rare hiccup that left them scratching their heads. But since then, they’ve gone a remarkable 44-22-8 away from home.
“I don’t know what exactly it is, why this year has been so great on the road,” Hossa said. “It seems like maybe on the road, we play a tiny bit simpler, and maybe that’s more effective for our team. When we play smart defensively, simpler, we can create more chances and we can score more goals that way.”
There’s no obvious reason. The Hawks are 13th in the league in road power play, 18th in road penalty-killing, ninth in the league in road goals scored, and 10th in the league in road goals against. But the goal for away teams is usually to keep things a little tighter, and the Hawks have had a knack this season for pulling out close games. They have a league-high 24 one-goal victories, and are a sparkling 14-4-3 on the road in such games.
“We’ve found ourselves in a lot of one-goal games, and we’ve found ways to win them,” Kane said. “I think that’s important. It makes a big difference. So we’ve had that intangible with us all year, where we’ve won close games. It’s been a huge part of the season where we’ve played well on the road.”
As for Thursday’s game, the most notable events were a Corey Perry retaliatory slash on Ryan Hartman’s arm, briefly knocking Hartman out of the game; and Nick Ritchie knocking Michal Rozsival out of the game with a punch in the face following a Rozsival cross-check of Perry. Without their top three defensemen and their top two centers, the Hawks were stymied by Ducks goalie John Gibson, who made 37 saves.