Blackhawks have long way to go even if they sneak into playoffs
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The Blackhawks are nearly out of time. They need to string together victories immediately if they’re serious about chasing a playoff spot. One more slump, even a small one, will bury them and turn their focus to next season.
Patience and progress were important when the Hawks began climbing out of the basement a few months ago, but they aren’t worth anything in the homestretch of the wild-card race. All that matters now is getting points.
‘‘These are our playoffs right now,’’ captain Jonathan Toews said. ‘‘It’s do-or-die. Not much has to be said.’’
A futile West Coast trip left the Hawks eight points behind the Stars and Wild or the Western Conference wild cards, and the gap might widen to 10 by the time they take the ice for a home game Thursday against the Sabres.
They have 16 games left, eight of which are against teams currently in the playoff field, and they will get seven shots at fellow wild-card competitors.
The Hawks had a playoff spot in their grasp after a victory two weeks ago in Detroit, but they lost four of their next five games. In addition to trailing the Stars and Wild by eight points, they trail the Coyotes — who have won six in a row — by six and the Avalanche by five.
Toews considered the ever-narrowing path and called for everyone to be ‘‘as shortsighted as we can,’’ meaning every game must be approached like an elimination game. He’s a realist, but he isn’t backing down.
‘‘Doesn’t matter what happens, you have to keep that optimism,’’ he said, delivering a quote that could be included in the handbook for a team captain. ‘‘The only way you want to go into any game is with that attitude that good things are going to happen, you’re going to work hard and it’s going to pay off.
‘‘You believe in each other. You have the guys in the room to do the job, as I’ve said before. That’s all we can worry about.’’
That’s true, but coach Jeremy Colliton takes more of a long-term view. Players vie for the moment — each game, each period, each loose puck — but management is charged with developing a legitimate, sustainable contender.
‘‘I think it continues to be about the performance because that’s how we’ll get the points,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘We’re still trying to build something here.’’
The competitor in Colliton craves the playoffs, but he isn’t preoccupied by the arbitrary measurement of whether the Hawks sneak in or fall just short. They aren’t the team they need to be either way, and finishing eighth in the conference instead of ninth won’t change that. A wild card would be a nice reward, but it wouldn’t signify much.
The last three weeks have cleared up any questions about what the Hawks really are. They’ve gone 5-6, and the games have been mostly middling performances that barely beat bad opponents or admirable efforts that still weren’t enough to take down good ones.
They ended their California swing with one of the latter, fighting hard before falling 5-2 to the Sharks in a game similar to the losses a week ago against the Avalanche and Stars.
‘‘It tells me we have a high capacity, but we haven’t found consistency,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘We have some young players who are still learning what it takes to win at this level, and we’ve got to raise our minimum level.
‘‘We’ve got to get better. We’re still not where we want to be.’’
There isn’t enough time to get there this season, regardless of whether they make the playoffs. Colliton’s vision might materialize with some roster renovation and a full opportunity for him to implement his program, but that would be next season and beyond.