COLUMBUS, Ohio —Earlier in the season, the Blackhawks might have focused on the positives. They got robbed a handful of times by an all-world goaltender. They hit two posts. And in the third period of a tied game, they dominated the puck. Dominated shots. Dominated scoring chances.
But at this stage of the season, in last place and needing a miracle —“more than an amazing run,” is how Joel Quenneville put it —there’s no time for moral victories. No patience for silver linings.
The Hawks are as tired of this same old story as everybody else.
“You could sit there and say we played good, we had chances, whatever,” Patrick Kane said with a hint of disgust in his voice following Saturday night’s 3-2 loss to the Blue Jackets. “But once again, just didn’t get the job done.”
There’s your epitaph on the 2017-18 Hawks season —“Just didn’t get the job done.” And after this loss, it’s safer than ever to get to work on that tombstone. Three wins in four games entering the Columbus game had given the Hawks some life, and their chances of making the playoffs skyrocketed from 0.3 percent to 0.7 percent. But there was no margin for error. And Saturday was a big error.
“There’s a lot of positives today,” Vinnie Hinostroza said. “But a couple of negatives. And the negatives always outweigh the positives.”
The third period encapsulated this whole frustrating season for the Hawks. With the game tied 2-2, they were all over the Jackets. But nothing went in. Brandon Saad was absolutely robbed by Sergei Bobrovsky on consecutive shots four minutes in. In all, the Hawks had seven scoring chances in the third period; the Jackets had one. And, of course, that one chance turned into a deflating goal-against. Josh Anderson pulled up short on the rush and fired a sharp-angle shot through Duncan Keith and Anton Forsberg for the game-winner.
Was it an easy save? Not necessarily. But it was the kind of save the Hawks have been lacking ever since Corey Crawford was injured.
“It was a tough one to give up there in that situation,” Quenneville said. “Innocent play and it’s in your net.”
Throw in two hit-posts by Hinostroza — one of which, of course, was immediately followed by a Columbus goal —and it just about summed up the Hawks season. After all, the Hawks lead the league in drawing iron, doing it 54 times.
There’s a fine line between winning and losing, between generating offense and scoring goals, between dominating play and dominating the scoreboard. And the Hawks have been on the wrong side of that line nearly all season.
“Yeah, ‘Bob’ made some big saves, but at the end of the day, it seems like that’s how it’s going,” Saad said. “We’re not capitalizing, then we’re giving up one chance the other way, and it’s going in. It’s frustrating.”
Quenneville also was frustrated with Ryan Hartman, who was benched for the second and third periods after a foolish high-sticking penalty behind the play killed a Hawks 2-on-1 (Hinostroza was flying down the ice with the puck) and led directly to a Cam Atkinson power-play goal.
Quenneville chose to make it a teachable moment.
“[You’ve got to] know the situation,” he said. “We’ve got the puck on a 2-on-1 and we’re playing well.”
Despite entering the game just three points ahead of the Hawks, the Jackets are clinging to the second wild card in the East. And while the Jackets are looking to add before Monday’s trade deadline, the Hawks are looking to sell off spare parts.
A finishing touch here, a game-changing save there, and maybe things could have been different.
“Those are the games you’ve got to find ways to at least get points,” Kane said. “It’s been kind of the story of the season, where we’ve struggled to do that.”
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