Four games into the second half of the season, in the midst of a fierce and crowded race for the last one or two playoff spots in the Western Conference, the Blackhawks have passed the point where it’s acceptable to take a night off.
This isn’t like seasons past, when a playoff berth was a birthright and the Hawks could coast from time to time — often for significant stretches.
‘‘Very rarely in this league is every game as important as it is now, in this season and in this stretch we’re in,’’ said Tommy Wingels, a veteran to the league but a newcomer to the Hawks.
But while the desperation in the standings is obvious, the desperation on the ice is too often nowhere to be found. And on Sunday, with a home game against a lousy opponent and with a five-day bye week offering no excuse not to ‘‘empty the tank,’’ in captain Jonathan Toews’ words, the Hawks sleepwalked through a putrid 4-0 loss to the Red Wings.
The Red Wings showed up. The Hawks looked like they were already in Mexico. And they no longer have that luxury.
‘‘That was tough to watch,’’ coach Joel Quenneville said. ‘‘We use the word ‘brutal,’ but that might be complimentary. Out to lunch. Nowhere near good enough.’’
The poor performance put a damper on what had been a promising 5-2-1 stretch since just after Christmas. And it continued a trend for the Hawks, who have taken their share of early vacations over the years. They’re now 2-7-1 heading into a break — Christmas, Olympic, All-Star or bye week — dating to the 2014 Olympics.
Now the Hawks can spend the next five days stewing on one of their worst efforts of the season.
‘‘Across the board, we weren’t good enough,’’ Toews said. ‘‘We’ve got a lot to think about over our break here.’’
Aside from a penalty-kill that has staved off 20 consecutive opposing power plays, the Hawks did nothing well in this one. They fell behind 2-0 early on close-range one-timers by Dylan Larkin and Mike Green, both largely the product of poor coverage and an inability to clear Red Wings out of the goalmouth. Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi put the game away with goals in the third period.
But the Hawks never threatened, even when it was close. They couldn’t score. Heck, they couldn’t connect on a pass, enter the zone or get the puck anywhere near Red Wings goalie Petr Mrazek (27 saves). They went 0-for-3 on the power play for the third consecutive game.
They didn’t do much of anything.
‘‘Most nights, you get what you deserve in this league, and we got what we deserved,’’ Wingels said. ‘‘Our lack of energy, our lack of intensity, our willingness to let them get to pucks first, to sit back and not attack — it showed in the result. There’s no excuses. . . . We just didn’t have it. We didn’t have our best, and that’s on us as players.’’
Quenneville put it more succinctly: ‘‘If you don’t compete, you don’t have a chance. And today we had no chance.’’
The bye week is designed to be an opportunity to unplug mentally from the grind of the 82-game season, to go somewhere warm and to turn off your brain. But with other teams playing all week, the Hawks will be even further behind when they return. So Quenneville wants this loss to stick in the Hawks’ craw, whether they’re home with family or on the beach in Cabo.
‘‘Have a little fun,’’ he said. ‘‘But hockey still has to be in the back of your mind . . . knowing it’s going to take a lot more than what we showed in the first half of the season. We’re going to need everyone going all-out every single night to have a chance.’’
Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.