Blackhawks’ playoff bid on the brink after 3-1 loss to Flyers

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Flyers center Sean Couturier sunk the Blackhawks with an empty-net goal in the final minutes. Kamil Krzaczynski/AP

The Blackhawks have stayed in the playoff race no matter how badly they’ve slumped at times. They can’t keep getting away with that, though, and they’re on the brink of dropping out for good.

The Hawks squandered an enormous opportunity Thursday by losing 3-1 to the Flyers and now need an incredible finish to steal a wild-card spot. They are four points behind the Coyotes and Avalanche with nine games remaining and haven’t looked like they’re up for the fight.

It’s dire, but the Hawks aren’t conceding yet.

“We’re right in there,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “People think we’re out, and we find a way to climb back in. … That’s good that we’ve showed that resilience. We’d like to take that next step.”

Beating the Flyers would’ve been the next step. The Hawks didn’t fall further behind, but they missed a chance to pull within one game of a playoff spot after the gift of the Coyotes losing to the Panthers.

The Avalanche, meanwhile, are making the push the Hawks need to make. Their win over the Stars moved them into a tie with the Coyotes at 78 points, one ahead of the Wild and four up on the Hawks and Canucks.

It sets up what seems like a make-or-break weekend for the Hawks, who visit the Avalanche on Saturday and host them Sunday. If the Hawks get three or four points out of it, they’ll regain their footing. If they don’t, that might be the end.

“The points are still there for us,” center Dylan Strome said. “We’ve got four huge points this weekend that are up for grabs. Just gotta take advantage of that.”

It’s hard to say whether they can. They blitzed the Maple Leafs and Canadiens on last week’s road trip and ran their winning streak to five games, then fell flat at home in an overtime loss to the sputtering Canucks.

The effort was there against the Flyers, but the Hawks couldn’t score. They unloaded 41 shots and held a 27-12 advantage in that category over the second and third periods, but Erik Gustafsson’s first-period goal was all they got.

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They wasted another stellar game by Corey Crawford, who has found his rhythm after a choppy couple of games in his return from a concussion. Crawford stopped 25 of 27 shots and has a .961 save percentage in his last six games.

The Hawks’ overall play was fine, but not good enough in this phase of the season.

“If the performance is good, we’ll get our points,” Colliton said. “I’m aware of the standings, I’m aware we need points, but it’s how we play that matters.”

He is right to think that way when it comes to the Hawks’ long-term trajectory, but the standings don’t have a column for good tries. Points are the only currency, and the veterans realize time is almost up.

When asked about Thursday being a must-win and his team failing, Jonathan Toews paused and replied, “Well said.” There’s little else to add. It’s points or nothing.

He didn’t praise the effort much. Instead, he said there’s always more the Hawks can do, especially on offense after scoring five goals in the last three games.

“We have to find a way to be better here,” Toews said. “Can’t allow ourselves to fall short and not get any points anymore.”

Getting the offense running again is their answer. The Hawks’ overwhelming firepower led by Toews, Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat has carried them the last few months but has faded lately.

Kane has one goal in his last nine games, Toews has two in his last 10 and DeBrincat has two in his last nine. The power-play attack that had been elite went 0-for-2 against the Flyers and has three goals in its last 30 chances.

They’ll have to ignite that on the fly to save their season this weekend.

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