This is a blown opportunity for the Blackhawks, regardless of how far they’ve come. They deserve credit for climbing out of their early-season hole, but they righted themselves quickly enough to have a shot at the playoffs with more than a month to go.
It’s what they’ve done since then that doomed them in the wild-card race, not their dreadful start.
The Hawks fought off elimination for another day by forcing overtime before losing 4-3 to the Jets on Monday, but they’re one step away from this being over after the Avalanche gained a point in their shootout loss to the Blues.
Any point gained by the Avalanche or missed out on by the Hawks will end their season. The team refuses to accept that as inevitable.
“We put ourselves in this position where we have to hope other teams win, so it’s not where we want to be,” center Dylan Strome said. “But sometimes in hockey you need some luck. So hopefully we can get some the next three games.”
A few breaks went the Hawks’ way to keep that small hope alive. Mark Scheifele appeared to give the Jets a 4-2 lead with three minutes left — “I’m sitting there at 4-2 thinking that our season is pretty much done,” Strome admitted — but video coach Matt Meacham lobbied coach Jeremy Colliton to challenge that the Jets were offside.
The goal was nixed after review, and Strome tied the score 40 seconds later with the Hawks going empty-net.
Had they lost in regulation or the Avalanche won, the Hawks would’ve been knocked out. Now they look to the Avalanche’s home game Tuesday against the struggling Oilers, hoping for an upset so their game Wednesday against the Blues still will matter.
“We put ourselves in that situation,” defenseman Duncan Keith said. “That’s the tough part, knowing that we’re in this hole. But there’s nothing we can do about it now.”
The Hawks could’ve done something about it in the last six weeks. Remember when they had the second wild-card spot all to themselves for a few moments after a victory Feb. 20 in Detroit?
They had played at a 107-point pace for more than two months to get there, then they slid again. They’ve gone 8-7-3 to flounder in a wild-card race that was there for the taking.
They’ve lost twice to the last-place Kings during this rut, dropped consecutive home games to non-playoff teams in the Canucks and Flyers and narrowly avoided getting swept in a recent weekend home-and-home against the Avalanche.
“Well, we’ve struggled to get the results we need,” Colliton said of his team’s play in the last month or so. “I don’t think we’ve played badly; we just struggled to score. Power play’s gone a little cold.
“The compete level, I’ve got no issues with. I think defensively we’ve tightened up, so that’s a positive going forward. We just haven’t been able to take that next step. Disappointing, certainly. We want to be in the playoffs; we want to be in it right to the end. But we are where we are.”
None of the teams that has been in the mix for the last spot is overwhelming. The Avs are the most talented among them, but they only took the lead after going 6-0-1 the last two weeks.
The Hawks will spend their offseason knowing that could’ve been them, but they fell short in the most crucial stage of the season. It’s easy to point to the 9-18-5 start, but they got past that. Folding down the stretch is what put them on the edge of being buried.