The Blackhawks’ last playoff hopes, existing only in implausible scenarios entering the day, died quietly Tuesday.
A 7-4 loss to the Lightning, tying a neat bow on another eight-game season series in which the Hawks won just once — the other coming against the Predators — snuffed out the last flame.
The Hawks also lost defenseman Adam Boqvist for the rest of the season with a broken right wrist.
Coach Jeremy Colliton had subtly admitted earlier in the day that he knew the playoffs had become unrealistic. But he nonetheless hoped his team could stay alive a bit longer to test its many young players in pressure situations.
“The longer we can stay in the race, the better for everyone,” he said. “We want to get a win tonight to extend it just a little more, understanding the situation we’re in.”
Colliton didn’t get his wish. The Hawks are still mathematically alive, but no sane human can look at either the standings — where the Hawks still trail the Predators and Stars by big margins — or the Hawks’ 9-15-0 record since March 6 and see any possible route.
The Hawks began the day with a 0.8% playoff chance, per MoneyPuck. After the loss, it might take a microscope to read their odds.
The Hawks made the game semi-interesting late when they cut a 6-2 deficit temporarily to 6-4, but their defensive lapses through the first two periods proved too much to overcome.
“[If] we’re going to be competitive at the end here, we’re going to need to be better,” Colliton said. “We weren’t ready to compete hard enough away from the puck to give ourselves a chance to win. That’s really it.”
Much of the night was spent down to four defensemen after Boqvist was injured by an Erik Cernak hit and Connor Murphy earned 17 penalty minutes for fighting Cernak, who’d waited impatiently for the duel since tempers flared between the teams in early March.
Goalie Kevin Lankinen was pulled for the second time in four games after allowing three goals on 11 first-period shots. Ridden harder than the Red Line over the season’s second half, Lankinen has finally faltered lately, posting an .866 save percentage in his last nine appearances.
On the forward end, Mike Hardman was credited with seven hits in his NHL debut, and Dylan Strome reentered the lineup after two eye-opening games as a healthy scratch, but it didn’t particularly matter.
“We need to continue to build a mentality that we can win with going forward,” Colliton said. “We’re going to play these games, and someone’s going to win them, and someone’s going to lose them. And then after, we’re going to have to live with our performance. And your name’s on it.”
The Hawks still have questions to answer in their now-meaningless seven remaining games. But the most significant question — Can they make the playoffs? — was answered Tuesday.