Perhaps it was a mix of happiness and a little relief going through the Chicago Blackhawks’ locker room on Thursday night.
With line changes and an all-around game clicking, they were playing their game again in a lopsided 6-1 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets. Now they have to keep it going for 18 more regular-season games.
The Blackhawks got the sparks they needed, be it team-wise or individually, with some line changes on Thursday. Now they hope they have a consistent run to the finish, starting on Sunday night when they face the Buffalo Sabres, a team that’s gone through a lot of upheaval but that the Blackhawks cannot dismiss easily.
“We have to be respectful,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We approached the Columbus game the right way and have to have the same type of attitude going into tomorrow’s game. When you look at the standings, what’s at stake, every game will have some meaning.”
Considering the Western Conference race the Blackhawks can’t afford any letdowns. Anaheim sits atop the conference with 93 points. The St. Louis Blues, who already won Saturday afternoon, remain in second place and now have a three-point edge over the Blackhawks (88). Colorado is still right behind them with 87 points.
But the Blackhawks enter Sunday’s game with a positive jolt thanks to Thursday’s outing and line changes that got them out of their offensive drought. With Marian Hossa likely absent at least another week with an upper-body injury, the Blackhawks are looking to maintain offensive stability.
“We mixed up the lines to get some spark and it played out,” said Bryan Bickell, who scored his second goal in his last three games on Thursday. “It gives us some confidence with those lines and, with Hoss being out for a bit, hopefully we get things rolling here.”
The Blackhawks’ final 18 games are a mix of Eastern Conference opponents and division foes – they face Colorado one more time, St. Louis twice and Nashville three times. Points will be at a premium, and the Blackhawks know they’ll have to gather as many as they can down this stretch.
“Playing the right way: that’s what you look for because you have to play the right way to get points,” Quenneville said. “We definitely have to keep our attention in the right place. That’s never much of an issue with this group anyway, but we have to be sharp. Let’s get that consistency going because we want to finish first.”