It's an unfamiliar position, to be sure, for the Chicago Blackhawks: fifth place in the Western Conference, which is once again so tight that only five points separates them from front-running St. Louis (95).
If the playoffs started today — we hate using that because, obviously, they don't, but go with us for a minute — the Blackhawks would begin on the road (gasp) against the Colorado Avalanche that have stymied them so well this season.
Sweating it out, Blackhawks fans? Perhaps you are. But if you're a hockey fan, someone who appreciates a great regular-season finish, you love this. It's drama, it's exciting and it's that "amazing race" that coach Joel Quenneville refers to every late winter/early spring.
The Blackhawks weren't part of this fantastic finish last season. Having sprinted out of the blocks as quickly as they did, the Blackhawks were catching their breath and looking back at the finish line to see who finished Nos. 2-8. Brandon Saad said this frantic fight for the top spots could be "beneficial" for the Blackhawks, keeping them on their toes and sharp for the postseason. True, but it could be having that same effect on their conference foes.
So buckle up and enjoy these final 16 games for what they'll be: a thrilling, scintillating, suspenseful jockeying for position. And while we ponder the great, late regular-season hockey, we also visit a few thoughts about the Blackhawks right now.
1. Yes, the Colorado Avalanche wrapped up their regular-season series against the Blackhawks on a high on Wednesday, holding on for a 3-2 victory. The Blackhawks were right there at the end, but we agree with Jonathan Toews' assessment on the game: "We needed to find urgency and determination from the start," he told reporters post game. "Maybe we can learn that lesson now. Games aren't going to get easier. It's time to play playoff-style hockey if we want to win games." Indeed, the Blackhawks were doing that in the final 10-15 minutes. Colorado, however, did it for the full 60.
2. Blackhawks fans have given a name to their anticipation, and it is Teuvo Teravainen. People haven't been this excited for a guy's arrival since a fat man barreled down some of our chimneys a few months ago. It's understandable; if Teravainen does come to Chicago, and it's very likely he will, it will feel like the Blackhawks got a very belated Christmas present. We saw Teravainen first hand at training camp. No, he's not the biggest guy but he does have mad skills. For those of you who didn't watch the World Juniors, you missed a great preview. If/when Teravainen gets here, general Stan Bowman said they're not going to put the weight of the world on the kid's shoulders. Still, it will be fun to see where the kid fits in, how he treats the "dress rehearsal" this would be for him and what it could lead to next season and beyond. What? We may not have any more second-line center questions beginning next season? Don't tease us.
3. The Blackhawks' combined record vs. the Blues and Avalanche is 1-4-3. We talked about lack of urgency earlier and, along with that, the Blackhawks have lacked something else in five of those losses: the opening goal. Chicago is 30-1-6 when scoring first this season but against the Blues and Avs, that early lead has been hard to find. Sure, a 1-0 deficit shouldn't be that tough to overcome for a team with this much firepower. But trailing puts a team in chase mode, and the Blackhawks have been in that spot with these two too often this season.
4. How many believed a goaltending controversy was being born when Quenneville went with Antti Raanta instead of Corey Crawford on Wednesday night? Yeah, we didn't either.
5. Looks like Patrick Kane is starting to find his goal-scoring groove, and his way back onto the highlight reels, just in time for the stretch run. Now if Bryan Bickell could tap into his playoff mode, the Blackhawks would be in great shape.