The Blackhawks have little to play for but next season. But that still might be a lot to play for.
With the playoffs all but a pipe dream, the Hawks still hope to lay a foundation for a recovery that renders this season a blip instead of a full-blown downturn.
“I don’t know if we’re that far away, to be honest with you,” Patrick Kane said after scoring the tiebreaking power-play goal with 3:16 left in a 3-1 victory over the Bruins before an announced crowd of 21,819 at the United Center. “You can look at some things and say we need to change this or that. Obviously, that’s going to be a topic of conversation over the summer.
“But I think our goaltenders have done a great job this year, especially with Crow [Corey Crawford] going down and taking some more responsibility. And I think once we do get Crow back, whether it’s this year or next year, that’s going to give us an extra boost, too. That’s a goal, to try and get in the playoffs in the Western Conference, and it’s not as easy as it sounds. So you get yourself in, you have a chance to do anything.”
With tanking not an option, the Hawks (30-32-8) took a step in the right direction with their victory over the Bruins, responding in the third period instead of wilting, which they have done too many times in this disappointing season, including the 7-4 loss to the Bruins on Sunday in Boston.
Kane and Brent Seabrook scored goals 2:11 apart after Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara beat Anton Forsberg for a 1-1 tie at the 10:57 mark of the third period. Jonathan Toews assisted on all three goals to give him nine points in his last six games. Defenseman Erik Gustafsson had two assists to give him six points in four games since signing a two-year extension last Tuesday. And Forsberg stopped 31 of 32 shots.
The Bruins were without Patrice Bergeron (broken foot), Brad Marchand (upper body) and goalie Tuukka Rask (rest). For what it’s worth, after a 2-10-2 stretch that doused their playoff hopes, the Hawks are 6-6-0 in their last 12 games. With 12 games to play, they are determined not to play out the string.
“I think you learn some things about some guys,” coach Joel Quenneville said about the final meaningless stretch. “[John Hayden] in two games coming back up here . . . all of a sudden he was a net-front presence on the power play. Did a good job on his positioning. That’s something you can learn from.
“[Matthew Highmore] scores a goal [Saturday]. I thought he played another good game [Sunday]. But playing the right way and doing the right things is what we’re looking for. There’s nothing wrong with evaluating and keeping an eye on the younger guys.”
Kane rifled a shot past backup goalie Anton Khudobin 18 seconds after Chara was called for a double-minor for high-sticking Brandon Saad and drawing blood. It was his 25th goal of the season.
“I think the biggest thing is just going out there and having fun playing hockey,” Kane said. “It’s really not that bad of a situation. You’re playing in the NHL. We’d all love to be in the playoffs and in a position where we could win the Stanley Cup. We’re still playing for a great organization, in front of great fans. You almost treat these games like playoff games. Just enjoy it and try to keep improving.’’
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