This Blackhawks team is clearly flawed, clearly overmatched and clearly still hanging on for dear life against the top-seeded Golden Knights.
But the Hawks’ Game 4 win, keeping their season alive at least until Tuesday, didn’t feel like a surprise.
It’s what the Hawks did all regular season long, even if that was nearly half a calendar year ago now.
They were never talented or structured enough to make a truly extended run into the normal eight-team playoff field, but they stuck around on the fringe of the bubble for an impressively long time. Every discouraging losing streak was matched with an uplifting turnaround; every embarrassing loss canceled out by a spirited, if not exactly beautiful, win.
The Hawks, on the ice, have made it clear over 78 games — 70 regular season, now eight postseason — that they’re a subpar team in terms of skill and composition. They’ve also made it clear they’re an elite team in terms of character, determination and leadership.
Sunday’s gutsy Game 4 victory was just the latest of many, many examples.
After losing 11 of their first 16 games last fall, the Hawks ripped off a four-game winning streak in mid-November — including three wins over eventual playoff teams, including these Knights — to somewhat right the ship.
After three blowout losses to the Avalanche in less than a month, the Hawks incredibly rallied from a 3-1 second-intermission deficit on the road in the fourth meeting Dec. 21 to win 5-3.
After suffering a humiliating 7-1 loss to the Devils entering the Christmas break, then learning during the break that Brent Seabrook and Calvin de Haan were both out for the season, the Hawks immediately routed the then-surging Islanders to start the second half.
After conceding a goal to goaltender Pekka Rinne, of all people, in a 5-2 home loss to the Predators on Jan. 9, the Hawks ripped off five straight wins, including a sweep of their Ottawa-Montreal-Toronto swing.
After a disastrous start to their crucial late-February Western Canada road trip, the Hawks set a season scoring high in an 8-4 demolition of the Flames.
After seeing Robin Lehner and Erik Gustafsson shipped out at the trade deadline, indicating general manager Stan Bowman had punted on the Hawks’ playoff hopes, the Hawks rallied from down 2-0 to win in Tampa, starting a four-game win streak that restored a sliver of hope.
And while the chaos and confusion of the start of the coronavirus pandemic swirled around them on March 11 — still the last major-league, fan-attended sports event in Chicago — the Hawks put together one of their most complete efforts of the year in a 6-2 rout of the Sharks.
The Hawks, at a mediocre 32-30-8 when the season stopped, probably didn’t didn’t deserve to be in the playoffs based on merit. But based on spirit, they probably did deserve it.
Few teams fought harder, against a more uphill road, for a longer time period, than the Hawks did all season.
They’re doing so again this week against the Knights, hoping to win four straight against the conference’s top seed to miraculously advance. A global pandemic-induced format change won’t bail them out this time; in fact, they’re almost certainly still doomed.
But the scrappy effort in the face of that doom nonetheless re-emphasizes the most admirable and likable aspect of this Hawks team: their resilience.