With second half looming, Blackhawks tackle major opportunity on home ice

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The Blackhawks’ Duncan Keith and the Knights’ David Perron collide during Friday’s first period. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

It’s not as though the Blackhawks have been a train wreck this season. Their 44 points through 40 games would have put them rather comfortably among the top eight of the Western Conference standings in the last two NHL seasons.

So why — with a half-season to go after their home game Sunday against the Oilers — do things feel one false move from going off the rails? Because it isn’t 2016 or ’17, that’s why.

‘‘We talk every year that we don’t want to be fighting life and death to get into the playoffs,’’ coach Joel Quenneville said before the Hawks’ 5-4 loss Friday to the Golden Knights. ‘‘Outside of one other year, we’ve always been in a great spot and always competing for the top of the division. This year, not the case. But you look at the strength of our division, it’s amazing.’’


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The Hawks are in last place in the logjammed Central and tied for 11th place in the West, but opportunity undoubtedly is knocking. The game Friday started a stretch of eight of their next nine at the United Center on the heels of a six-game road trip.

Home ice has been pretty friendly to the Hawks this season, but now it’s time to start piling up the points.

‘‘It’s very important, especially given where we are in the standings,’’ winger Patrick Kane said. ‘‘It seems like everyone’s kind of bunched up there in the standings. It would be nice to get ourselves in a good position where we can, I guess, not take our foot off the gas but feel comfortable where we are in our game and try to [maintain it].’’

No one can touch the Knights’ best-in-hockey home record (17-2-1), but the Hawks still have ‘‘the best building in the league’’ — or so Quenneville would have folks believe.

‘‘Let’s use it to our advantage,’’ he said. ‘‘We have to get back in that favorable position of being above the [playoff] line.’’

Still feelin’ it

Veteran goalie Corey Crawford has been out with an upper-body injury since Dec. 23 and has been on injured reserve since Dec. 27. Before the game against the Knights, Quenneville called Crawford’s status ‘‘indefinite.’’

‘‘We’ll know more when he gets on the ice,’’ Quenneville said.

Center Artem Anisimov hasn’t played since Dec. 28, also because of an upper-body injury. One of the Hawks’ leading goal-scorers, Anisimov appears to be closer than Crawford to making a return.

‘‘Arty is more day-to-day right now,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘We’ll know more when he gets on the ice. He may be closer to skating.’’

Scratched off

A surprise late scratch was winger Ryan Hartman, who had four points in his last four games. Hartman participated in the morning skate but might have been dealing with lingering effects from a collision during the Hawks’ game Wednesday against the Rangers. Richard Panik took Hartman’s place in the lineup.

Follow me on Twitter @SLGreenberg.com.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

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