Fifteen days ago, the Blackhawks flew home from Ottawa feeling pretty good about themselves, all things considered.
Sure, they were without their No. 1 goaltender and their No. 2 center, but they were coming off an 8-2 trouncing of the Senators in which they scored four power-play goals, they were in a wild-card spot, and they were about to begin a six-game homestand with a five-day break in the middle.
“A great schedule at home,” coach Joel Quenneville said Wednesday morning. “And taking advantage [of home games] is something we’ve always done here.”
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Well, there are quite a few things the Hawks have always done that they’re not doing anymore: Winning at home. Winning in general. Scoring at will. Suffocating opponents. Making the playoffs.
The Hawks rallied to salvage a point Wednesday but lost 3-2 in overtime to the Maple Leafs, when William Nylander beat Jeff Glass on a penalty shot just six seconds into the extra session — tying the NHL record for fastest regular-season overtime goal.
It was the Hawks’ fourth straight defeat. As a result, the Hawks ended up with just three out of a possible 12 points on the homestand, and sit six points out of the playoff picture as they head back on the road for the next five games. They won’t be back at the United Center until Feb. 6, and it is hard to know whether the Hawks will even be within sniffing distance of a playoff spot at that point.
“There’s still time to get on a run, to get excited, and then go from there,” Quenneville said.
Time is running out, however. There are 34 games left in the season, and the Central Division isn’t getting any easier. There seems to be a general malaise setting in among the Hawks, a defeated resignation to their fate. Connor Murphy insisted that’s not the case, but acknowledged the Hawks are struggling to find any sense of swagger and fun.
“Guys are competitors, guys are mad,” Murphy said. “[But] we talk about having fun and making sure that you remember — we’re the Blackhawks. It doesn’t get much better than this. And if we play with pride and play together, things are going to go our way.”
A few things actually did go their way against the Leafs. Much like in Monday’s loss to the Lightning, the Hawks played well enough to win, but came up with little to show for it.
The most encouraging aspect of the game was the power play, which potted a pair of goals after going 0-for-16 in the previous five games. The Hawks spent most of Tuesday’s practice working on new looks for the moribund power play, having what Patrick Kane called a “healthy discussion. It paid off against the Leafs.
On their first power play, Nick Schmaltz and Kane worked below the goal line and fed the puck out to a pinching Brent Seabrook on a set play. Seabrook’s shot ticked off Leo Komarov’s stick and in to end the drought. And after falling behind 2-1 early in the third, Schmaltz tied it on another power play, popping in a Vinnie Hinostroza rebound after Artem Anisimov got a couple of whacks at it and fell on top of Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen. Toronto challenged for goalie interference, but the goal stood.
Murphy said a quick turnaround in Detroit on Thursday could help. Quenneville agreed, but couldn’t help but lament a wasted homestand that could be a lost season’s defining stretch.
“Hey, let’s try to get a little life out of tomorrow,” Quenneville said. “But we certainly left a lot on the table here.”
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