Coach Joel Quenneville is always searching for some form of motivation this time of year. These are the dog days of the season, when the excitement of the playoffs is still several weeks away, and the grind starts to catch up to players, with mental and physical fatigue setting in. But with more than a quarter of the season still to go and the playoffs out of reach, Quenneville is looking for a new way to keep his players focused and motivated, telling them, “It’s fun to be a spoiler.”
Thing is, Quenneville’s just assuming that it’s fun. He wouldn’t really know. At least, not as a coach. This is Quenneville’s 21st season as a head coach, and the 20th one he’ll complete (he was fired by the Blues in February 2004). In all those years, he missed the playoffs one time. By one point.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been in this role,” Quenneville conceded. “It’s nothing to get excited about, but I still think as a staff and as a team, let’s play the right way, and have fun playing competitive hockey. Be successful and enjoy it.”
Well, the Blackhawks couldn’t even play spoiler Wednesday night. Not with the fellow seventh-place Ottawa Senators in town. But it turns out the Hawks don’t need a whole lot of artificial motivation. It seems winning is kind of fun, and still worth playing for, especially after a month of brutal losses.
“The joy in the locker room after a win is way different than a loss,” Anton Forsberg said after the Hawks’ 3-2 shootout victory over the Senators, which Forsberg punctuated with a stop on Mark Stone in the bottom of the seventh round.
The Hawks had lost nine of 10 games, and seven of their last eight home games.
“Obviously, a lot of guys in this room are used to winning, and no one likes losing,” said Nick Schmaltz, who scored to open the seventh round. “To get that good feeling in the locker room and get a win for our goaltender who played really well, it’s good to see that.”
It was a matchup of two of the league’s biggest disappointments. The Hawks went from 50 wins to seventh place, while the Senators went from Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final to seventh place. And the game had all the excitement you’d expect from a matchup of also-rans.
After a predictably sleepy start, with the Hawks holding the Senators to just two shots on goal through the first 16 minutes, Patrick Kane scored off a nice drop pass from Vinnie Hinostroza. Ottawa’s Zack Smith answered less than two minutes later to make it 1-1. Artem Anisimov knocked in a beautiful Kane pass from the point at 5:53 of the second to make it 2-1, but Ottawa again responded, with Matt Duchene going top shelf at 12:01 of the second.
Forsberg did the rest. In an encouraging sign for a team in search of some goaltending stability down the stretch and in the future, Forsberg made several big saves in the third period — and got some help from both of his posts during overtime —to extend the game long enough for Kane, Alex DeBrincat and Schmaltz to score in the shootout.
It was two points. A win. Something to feel good about. It’s a low bar, but a clearable one for this team. But while Quenneville and most of the team seems to have lowered their expectations, Kane’s still holding out hope that these last six weeks will be truly meaningful.
“We need every point we can get at this point,” Kane said. “There’s still belief in this locker room. Obviously, we need to go on quite a run and have a big record here down the stretch. But take it a game at a time. It’s nice to get two points.”
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