Blackhawks

Fifth straight loss leaves free-falling Blackhawks 10 points out of playoff spot

ST. PAUL, Minn. — At the end of Saturday’s morning skate, coach Joel Quenneville gathered his players at center ice for the usual quick pep talk. He was upbeat and encouraging, not screaming, but his voice echoed through the empty Xcel Energy Center.

“Let’s [bleeping] get excited!” he said. “Let’s [bleeping] feel good about ourselves after one [bleeping] game.”

This is what it’s come to for the Blackhawks. Never mind the Stanley Cup. Never mind the playoffs. The “One Goal” at this point is one spirited effort, one measly victory, one night when they can go to sleep without feeling miserable about everything.

But the Hawks couldn’t even do that Saturday night in a dreadful 3-0 loss to the Wild, a fifth consecutive defeat that left them 10 points out of the playoff picture with 27 games to go. Everyone from the players to Quenneville to general manager Stan Bowman keeps insisting there’s a lot of hockey left to be played and that the Hawks aren’t out of it, but everything from the standings to the performance to the downtrodden mood of the team says otherwise.

Lance Bouma gets upended between Minnesota's Nino Niederreiter (left) and Ryan Super in the first period Saturday night. (AP Photo)

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“It’s definitely put us in a -terrible spot,” Quenneville said. “Very disappointing.”

Jonathan Toews, who’s been the guy answering to reporters for his team’s effort after most of these losses, pointed to a lack of quality scoring chances, a lack of second efforts, and a lack of finish. It’s an all-too-familiar refrain this season.

“Running out of words to say,” he said.

Which is fine, because Quenneville isn’t looking for words at this point.

“We want actions,” he said.

Less than seven minutes in, the Hawks had squandered a full two minutes of a five-on-three power play and trailed 2-0 on goals by Charlie Coyle and Mikko Koivu. This massive must-win game against the team in the second wild-card spot had barely begun, and it was already over. Coyle added a second goal at 2:22 of the second period.

At that point, Jeff Glass had given up three goals on seven shots. The Hawks dominated the shots (Devan Dubnyk made 44 saves, Glass finished with 16), but precious few of them were dangerous. The Hawks merely fired unscreened shots from afar, or flung pucks harmlessly on net with no follow-up.

Lance Bouma said the effort was there, and that “nothing’s over.” But that playoff window is closing, and it’s closing fast.

Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com