Amid all the losses, Blackhawks are trying to reinforce a ‘winning culture’

SHARE Amid all the losses, Blackhawks are trying to reinforce a ‘winning culture’

Jonathan Toews (right) and Brandon Saad (20) watch a replay during an offside challenge of Saad’s goal during the first period Thursday night in Winnipeg. (AP Photo)

BUFFALO, N.Y. — It was a fair question and a fair time to ask it, an attempt to find a faint silver lining on the black cloud that has hovered over this Blackhawks this season.

Now that their playoff fate is set in stone, the heavy weight of a disastrous February off their shoulders, might the Hawks play a little looser and try to start having fun again in the last dozen games of the season?

Captain Jonathan Toews wasn’t having it.

‘‘You guys can determine what you think is set in stone and what isn’t, so I’m not going to comment on that,’’ Toews said before the Hawks’ 6-2 loss Thursday to the Jets. ‘‘For us, you have pride as a team. You know what you’re capable of as a team, even if you’ve underachieved or you haven’t had the success you’ve been looking for in the last couple of months.’’

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OK, the Hawks haven’t been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention just yet, but even 12 consecutive victories to close the season undoubtedly will leave them several points shy of a postseason berth.

For the Hawks themselves, though, these last three weeks are about more than just playing out the string and getting on with their summer vacations. Only six were here when the Hawks were winning Stanley Cups. So for the core veterans, it’s about regaining that lost confidence and swagger and reminding the others that what has happened this season is unacceptable. That complacency, even when the playoffs are out of reach, isn’t tolerated.

‘‘Sometimes you need that fire,’’ said winger Patrick Kane, who has emerged as a significant leadership voice this season, particularly for the younger players. ‘‘A lot of guys this season have been humbled in a lot of ways with the way the season’s going. And for these young guys, they haven’t really been around a winning culture yet. So it’s important to try to keep that going, to try to keep winning games and get them to feel that feeling — what it’s like to win games in here and have that winning culture.

‘‘I don’t think that’s anything we want to create in here, where losing is acceptable and it’s OK if we lose a game because of the position we’re in.’’

But finding some fun amid the frustration is part of that. The eight-game losing streak that killed the Hawks’ season in February was a miserable stretch, one that seemed to weigh heavily on the veterans and dampen the enthusiasm of the younger players. That weight is gone now. Losses mean nothing, but victories still mean plenty. You can hear it in players’ voices and see it in their demeanors after the occasional good game.

The trick is stringing a few of those strong efforts together.

‘‘The game’s a lot more fun when you’re winning,’’ rookie Alex DeBrincat said. ‘‘So we want to win every game we can and maybe go on a run this last bit of the season.’’

Second-year center Nick Schmaltz admitted that there’s less pressure these days and that maybe that can help a bit. But there’s still some urgency — only now it has to come from within, not from the standings.

‘‘The standings are what they are,’’ winger Patrick Sharp said. ‘‘But there’s a lot of importance in these games going forward.’’

The kids are getting the message, even if they’re not yet getting the results.

‘‘We’ve got to make sure we’re ready to go next year,’’ Schmaltz said. ‘‘And that starts with these games we have left this year, with building that culture.’’

Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.


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