After four consecutive underwhelming performances against non-playoff teams that led to a grand total of two points, the Blackhawks have reeled off two straight victories against a couple of the toughest teams in the Western Conference. On Sunday night, it was the Jets that watched the Hawks “go through the motions” for the first 40 minutes of the game before turning it on in the third period and pulling off a last second win on the road. Then last night at the United Center, the Kings fell victim to a rather dominant performance by the Blackhawks that ended with a final score of 4-1 in favor of the home team. Just like that, the Hawks went from being in a Wild Card spot to one point behind the Blues for second in the Central, and four behind the Predators for first place with one game in hand.
Their victory over the Kings may very well have been the best all around performance we’ve seen from the Blackhawks this season, and it came without arguably their best player in the lineup. Right from the opening puck drop, you could see that the Hawks were playing with more energy and desperation than they have in quite some time. They were relentless on the forecheck and kept L.A. pinned in their own end for long stretches at a time. All four lines contributed with either goals or strong shifts that seemed to wear down the Kings.
It is performances like the one we saw last night that make you believe this team, the Hawks, still have all the potential in the world to roll right through the playoffs to the Stanley Cup. When they come out playing with energy and desire like we saw against L.A., I’m not sure that there’s a team in the NHL that could win four out of seven games against the Blackhawks.
Scott Darling proved a big point to me last night. After letting in possibly his softest goal of the season right at the end of the first period, he bounced back in the second and third periods by making a number of big saves without letting in another goal. This showed me that he is strong mentally and won’t let one hiccup lead to another and another. He was quoted after the game as saying something along the lines of “The guys told me not to worry about that goal and that they would get it back for me.” Sure enough, the Hawks struck twice in the first couple minutes of the second to get a 3-1 lead in the game. When a goaltender feels that his team has his back and has confidence in him, that almost always propels him to stronger performances on the ice. The same goes for Corey Crawford, who will undoubtedly be the team’s starting goalie for the playoffs.
With the Hawks now coming off of back-to-back huge wins and 80 straight minutes of solid hockey, they cannot let up. They absolutely need to continue to build off of these last two games and use them as building blocks moving forward. With two more games remaining against the Blues, and one against the Wild, the Blackhawks will need to put forth their best effort to beat those teams and secure a good seed in the playoffs. Second place in the Central is certainly not out of reach by any means. Nor is first for that matter. At the same time however, if they falter in the final two weeks of the season, they could be looking at a Wild Card spot to open the playoffs. My point again: don’t let up.
Patrick Kane update
Kane skated during the Hawks’ optional practice yesterday morning and apparently did everything but take contact and slap shots. Quenneville said afterwards that Kane continues to look real quick and solid on the ice, and that “good news” could be coming soon. Does this mean that the 12-week recovery period may be less? We can only hope.