Blackhawks lose to Hurricanes, mathematically eliminated from playoff contention
A 5-2 defeat Monday officially knocked the Hawks out of the race. But they have been realistically dead for a while.
The Blackhawks’ mathematical chance of qualifying for the playoffs died Monday as quietly as their realistic chance did two weeks ago.
The Hawks long ago had accepted their fate, even before their 5-2 loss to the Hurricanes — their fifth consecutive defeat — dealt the official blow.
‘‘It doesn’t change the message as far as what we’re trying to do,’’ coach Jeremy Colliton said. ‘‘We have to get better, have to keep improving.’’
‘‘Obviously, [it’s] not the spot we want to be in with four games left,’’ wing Alex DeBrincat said. ‘‘We had a good stretch there in the middle of the season, but you’ve got to play a full season. It’s tough. But these next four games, we’re still building for something in the future. Still have to play hard.’’
The Predators’ overtime victory against the Blue Jackets and the Stars’ overtime loss to the Panthers means the fourth and final playoff spot in the Central Division almost certainly will go to the Predators.
The Hurricanes, who lead the Central and the NHL with 77 points, raced to a 4-0 lead midway through and never looked particularly threatened. They finished with a 39-18 edge in scoring chances, according to Natural Stat Trick.
Collin Delia relieved Malcolm Subban, who continued the Hawks’ run of poor goaltending starts by knocking in the Hurricanes’ first two goals himself, and provided a bright spot.
Making his first NHL appearance since Jan. 17, Delia stopped all 19 shots he faced and made the Hawks’ decision to exile him from the goalie rotation for months seem questionable.
‘‘I just want to battle for the team,’’ Delia said. ‘‘It’s definitely been a long, long road for me, but my focus is just trying to help the team win as best I can. And if that’s playing or if that’s [being] in a supportive role, so be it.’’
Colliton has rotated the Hawks’ lineup heavily in recent games and likely will continue to do so. Defenseman Nicolas Beaudin displaced Riley Stillman, and forward Pius Suter returned in Brett Connolly’s spot Monday.
But turnovers have remained an issue, no matter the personnel.
‘‘If we want more success, we have to manage the puck better,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘If we’re under pressure, we have to . . . support [each other], make enough plays to advance [the puck], get through the neutral zone. There was some unforced stuff, too, that fed their transition [attack].’’
Mitchell battling mental grind
Colliton was happy to see rookie defenseman Ian Mitchell score a goal to help boost his confidence.
Mitchell, back in the lineup lately after more than a month mostly out of it, talked earlier in the day about how this season has taxed him mentally more than physically.
‘‘When I was playing every night the first 30 games, I thought, ‘I’m really starting to get into a groove,’ ’’ he said. ‘‘But . . . a couple of [bad] games and you get rattled, get thrown off your game. You really understand how difficult a league it is. I’m going to work really hard to try to get that consistency back.’’
Mitchell cited ‘‘a couple of not-so-great plays’’ he made March 18 and March 20 against the Lightning as particularly discouraging for him.
‘‘For a while, I was letting the time run out instead of trying to do good things, create offense,’’ he said. ‘‘Those are things I’ve been trying to get back in the time I haven’t been playing.’’