Sunday, March 27, 2011Posted 3:06 PM
By Chris Boden
Saturdays loss to Anaheim marked the 24th time this season the Blackhawks led or were tied in the third period, and failed to come up with two points. Theyve come up with single points in just six of those games.
The defending champs have improved on that early-season flaw lately, but the timing--and the opponent--made number 24 hurt a little more. It dropped them to eighth in the West with eight games to go, three wins behind the Ducks in the tie-breaker, four points behind Los Angeles and Nashville and five in back of Phoenix. While Chicago has more games-in-hand compared to those four, the Monday and Tuesday back-to-backs in Detroit and Boston force them to live, learn and move on mentally to get on with the challenge of the final two weeks of the regular season. Theyll have consecutive days off just once in that span.
Weve done blown leads in the third period too many times this season. Weve been playing well defensively, havent allowed too many goals, yet we lost the game, said Troy Brouwer after the entire team was put through a half-hour workout Sunday morning (save for Patrick Sharp and Dave Bolland). Just had a couple little letdowns that led to their goals. Were taking the positives we can. We didnt get a lot of help in the standings and have to get ready to go into Detroit.
Its a Wings team the Hawks see three times these final two weeks and Patrick Kane knows what their arch-rivals probably thinking.
Its a huge game for us tomorrow, obviously," he said. "Im sure Detroit wants to send a message to us that they dont want us to be in the playoffs and get a little redemption on us. But if we go out and play the way we should, we should be okay.
The way the Hawks should play especially since Sharp joined Bolland on the sidelines is defense-first. Going by the numbers, theyve allowed three goals (and scored seven) in the last three games. They got burned on the only two they allowed Saturday by the best line in hockey right now, while their own offensive stars had trouble generating enough pressure.
The result increased the pressure on them this week to hunt for points against two teams that are among the leagues best, but have hardly been dominant at home. The Wings are 20-12-5 at The Joe. The Bruins are 18-13-5 at The Garden. The Wings wont have Pavel Datsyuk or goalie Jimmy Howard Monday against the Hawks, but Johan Franzens expected to return after missing four games with a groin injury.
So how about an updated estimate from head coach Joel Quenneville on the ever-rising bar on the points it will take to get into the playoffs?
Ninety-six, seven, eight," he said. "Thats a realistic number youre going to need. Theres a couple numbers up there youd like to get that put you in a much better spot, and that includes home-ice advantage.
Sharp a Bit Sharper
One week has passed since Patrick Sharps knee-to-knee collision in Phoenix that resulted in a two- to three-week timetable for his return. Joel Quenneville wasnt yet ready to change that when asked about Sharps progress Sunday, but expressed hope.
Im not going to say when hes hitting the ice, but hes making some rapid progress here," he said. "Im really pleased and encouraged that hes been able to ratchet-up his off-ice training and conditioning. Well get a better assessment, but I dont have a number of days before hes back on the ice, but weve been happy with his progress.
He also said he doesnt envision being at the point where they rule Dave Bolland out for the year after taking an elbow to the head two-and-a-half weeks ago. He again called the centers situation status quo, with a little bit of progress.
Once he feels well enough, Bolland would begin off-ice exercises and must feel no ill-effects before graduating to on-ice activity. Once that hurdles cleared without symptoms, hed have to pass baseline testing before getting a green light to return to practice.
The Line Dance
For those whove watched Joel Quenneville for three years, it shouldnt be a real surprise that he mixed the lines up at Sunday mornings practice. Troy Brouwer reunited on the left side with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, while Viktor Stalberg skated with Ryan Johnson and Fernando Pisani. Michael Frolik (0-for-4 in the faceoff circle Saturday night) was back at wing with Tomas Kopecky flanking Jake Dowell. Then there were Marian Hossa and Bryan Bickell centered byMarcus Kruger (6-for-12 on the dot versus the Ducks).
I think there is some upside offensively with him, Quenneville said of Kruger after practice. Hes got some quickness to him, and I think his overall thought process is exactly what you look for in a centerman. Im getting a little more comfortable in where you can use him and how often you use him.
As for Brouwer:
Whether its him or Bick, we can use some more physicality up front. I think we get more zone time, more threats off the rush, and need more of a net-front presence, fighting through that space and fighting through getting boxed-out. Its a tough area but we need those guys to be even more involved.
Im excited for it, said Brouwer. Ive played on-and-off with these guys for the last two years and feel comfortable playing with them. Hopefully we can go out and help the team.
No changes in net Monday night, where Corey Crawford (.958 save percentage the last three games) will make his 20th consecutive start in goal.
Chris Boden is the host of Blackhawks Pre and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet.