It’s difficult to complain about the Blackhawks 9-3-1 stretch without Patrick Kane, but not impossible. Their last two losses have been to teams that are all but out of the playoff chase. And they weren’t close in either game — clearly outplayed in road losses to the Stars (4-0) and Flyers (4-1). Is that just the Hawks being the Hawks, or an indicator of a bigger issue?
Coach Joel Quenneville doesn’t think it’s a red flag. “No,” he said Friday after the Hawks’ morning skate prior to facing the Columbus Blue Jackets at the United Center. “A lot of these teams that look like they’re not in the playoffs — Dallas, give them credit, they’re as good as any team in the league right now. Philly has one of the best records at home. We had stretches where we could have put ourselves in the game, early in the game, and we didn’t do it. You’re seeing a lot of teams either on the bubble or not in the playoffs, they’re beating anybody. That’s the league today. They’re playing for jobs, or opportunity.”
So it probably won’t be any easier tonight against the Blue Jackets (34-35-4, 72 points), who are seventh in the Metropolitan Division of the Eastern Conference, but are 7-1-0 in their last eight games. The Blue Jackets overcame a 2-0 deficit to beat Anaheim 5-3 on Tuesday — their third consecutive victory over a team currently in the playoffs (they also beat Vancouver and Calgary).
“They’re a dangerous opponent. We’ve got to approach this like a playoff game,” Quenneville said. But there’s the rub. The Hawks are usually pretty good when they approach it like a playoff game. But outside of a marquee opponent or absolute desperation, there’s no telling just what it is that motivates this team to “flip the switch.” A seventh-place Blue Jackets team usually doesn’t do it.
So it’s the same old thing for the Hawks. They’re five points behind the Blues (with one game in hand) for second place and six points behind the Predators (with two games in hand) for first place in the Central Division. They’ve got to play with a sense of urgency.
“It goes for anybody right now, whether you’re on the verge of missing the playoffs or you’re trying to battle your way back into a playoff spot,” captain Jonathan Toews said. “It’s the type of mind-set we’ve got to put ourselves into, even though we’re maybe not in the same boat as Columbus right now. Every night is big points for them and for us, as well. We’ve got to play with that same type of desperation.”