Hawk Talk: Down the Stretch They Come

126577.jpg

Hawk Talk: Down the Stretch They Come

Monday, Mar. 22, 2010
8:45 P.M.
By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

Another week crossed off in the countdown toward the post-season, and another week of the Blackhawks knowing what they have to do before the playoffsbut still not doing it. Whatever positives were forged in their shutout victory in Los Angeles were quickly erased in their shootout defeat two nights later in Phoenix. The more defensive lapses, the more important their goaltending must be for post-season success. When those lapses are kept to a minimum, we saw the results earlier in the season. Thats the evidence, proof and belief Stan Bowman used at deadline time paired with a minimal number of willing trade partners and salary cap considerations. It wouldve been a great statement to make against the upstart Coyotes on their own ice, letting the Desert Dogs know who the Big Dogs were. But that team as the limbo over its ownership and where theyll call home drags on has certainly become reflective of the name of the city where it currently resides (Phoenix, that is, not Glendale).

While the Hawks plug away these final three weeks trying to regroup defensively, there may not more important games in their final eleven than Tuesdays rematch with the Coyotes, and the final regular season game, hosting Detroit. Thanks in part to the one that got away Saturday, Phoenix remains the only Western Conference team the Hawks have yet to beat. Should they meet again, it might do them good to know they can beat them, and have beaten them. Who knows what the value of that regular season finale will be to the Hawks and Red Wings for playoff positioning, but it also might do them good to know they can beat Detroit at full-strength, heading into the second season (provided neither team is resting up its top guns, as was the case last year). The Wings began the week showing what they can do when healthy, going 6-1-1 in their last 8, and the most favorable schedule of the contenders down the stretch has them poised to be movin on up (see below).

After Tuesday, seven of the Hawks eight games that follow are against teams on the outside of the playoff standings, looking in, with three weeks remaining. That either sets up nicely for them with teams they should beat, or can be a trap against opponents either in a state of desperation, or having nothing to lose in a spoiler role. Heres what the Wests eight playoff teams (as of March 22nd) face down the stretch in their respective schedules, along with the two teams within six points of 8th place, as well as the three teams all seven points back of the 8th spot. Since just about everyones NCAA brackets are blown up, maybe we can play the game based on their schedules of where each team will finish at the end of the regular season, and wholl be playing whom in round one.

1. Blackhawks (97 points)
11 games left Four vs. current playoff teams
Two games against teams in 9th & 10th (Calgary & St. Louis) Two games vs. three teams (Anaheim, Minnesota, Dallas) all seven points back2. Phoenix (97 points)
Nine games remaining Seven against current playoff teams One game vs. 9th-place Calgary Zero games vs. ANA, MIN, or DAL3. Vancouver (92 pts)
10 games left Five against current playoff teams One game vs. Calgary Three games against the three teams all seven points back (2 - ANA, 1 - MIN)4. San Jose (96 pts)
10 games remaining Five games vs. current playoff teams
One game against Calgary
Four games vs. the three within seven points of 8th place (2 - MIN, 2 - DAL)5. Nashville (89 pts)
Nine games left Five against current playoff teams Two games vs. St. Louis
One game vs. Dallas
6. Los Angeles (87 pts)
11 games remaining Five games vs. current post-season teams
One game against St. Louis
Four games vs. the trio seven back (1 - DAL, 1 - MIN, 2 - ANA)7. Colorado (86 pts)
10 games left Seven games vs. playoff teams One game against Calgary One vs. ANA8. Detroit (85 pts)
10 games left Four games against playoff teams Have a 7-1-1 record in last nine games
One game left vs. Minnesota and St. Louis
9. Calgary (81 pts)
10 games left Seven games against current playoff clubs Zero games vs. St. Louis
Two games against the three teams within seven points (ANA, MIN)10. St. Louis (77 pts)
10 games remaining Six opposite current playoff teams Zero games vs. Calgary Two games vs. teams 11-13 (DAL, ANA)11. Anaheim (76 pts)
10 games left Five games against current playoff clubs One game vs. St. Louis
Two games against Dallas12. Minnesota (76 pts)
10 games remaining Seven games vs. current playoff teams One game against Calgary One game vs. Dallas13. Dallas (76 pts)
10 games left Five games opposite playoff clubs One game against St. Louis
Three games vs. other teams with 76 points (2 - ANA, 1 - MIN)
Chris Boden is the host of Blackhawks Pregame and Postgame Live on ComcastSportsNet.

Will lopsided loss shake Blackhawks from their slumber?

Will lopsided loss shake Blackhawks from their slumber?

The Blackhawks have talked the past several games now about how they need to play better, how they need to get back to their 60-minute game. But even when you tell yourself you have to improve the message doesn't always translate into immediate action. That's especially true if, despite so-so play, you're still managing victories or still eking out a point.

Sometimes, you need a jolt to realize you have to get better. Well, that thud the Blackhawks made in South Florida ought to get their attention. 

The Blackhawks' 7-0 loss to the Florida Panthers on Saturday night, that "ugly, ugly game," as coach Joel Quenneville, is the latest in what's been a mediocre stretch for the team. They've been leaning on their goaltending again (please see Minnesota, Montreal, Ottawa and Dallas games). Or they've been leaning on their ability to wake up in the third period after sleepwalking through the first two. Sixty-minute games and four-line rotations, such a big part of the Blackhawks' success through February and early March, have been absent.

Call it the Blackhawks' mid-March malaise.

[VIVID SEATS: Buy Blackhawks tickets] 

It hasn't been more painful because the Blackhawks have still found ways to get points. Or at least they did until Saturday night, when two "yapping" penalties – Quenneville's (accurate) description of Ryan Hartman and Marcus Kruger's unsportsmanlike calls – started the Blackhawks' demise against the Panthers. Players told the traveling media following the game that this was a wake-up call. It ought to be.

Granted, the Blackhawks' late-season issues aren't as bad as some of their fellow Western Conference teams. The Minnesota Wild are 3-10-1 in March. The San Jose Sharks have lost six in a row. This also isn't the first time the Blackhawks have gone through this late-season mediocrity.

Entering the 2015 postseason they struggled to score goals and lost four in a row (five goals in those four games). It turned out alright. Still, best to avoid bad habits.

Perhaps the Blackhawks are in a bit of a swoon because, really, there's not much for which to play in these final few games. They don't care if they win the Presidents' Trophy (and they probably won't). They're currently in first place by seven points following the Wild's 3-2 overtime loss to Detroit on Sunday. Whether the Blackhawks finish first or second, they'll start this postseason at home. 

So is this panic-inducing? No. Is it a concern? Certainly. The Blackhawks can't start thinking they'll automatically flip the switch as soon as the postseason begins.

The Blackhawks want to get their four-line rotation going again. Artem Anisimov returning in the next week or two will certainly help that. They want to get their overall game going again. The Blackhawks have been telling themselves what needs to be done for a few games now. Maybe they needed a wake-up call. On Saturday, they got it. 

Fast Break Morning Update: Blackhawks give up season-high seven goals

Fast Break Morning Update: Blackhawks give up season-high seven goals

Here are some of Saturday's top stories in Chicago sports:

Five Things to Watch: Bulls visit Bucks in final regular season meeting on CSN

Jonathan Marchessault's hat trick leads Panthers rout of Blackhawks

Javier Baez won’t change his style around Cubs after World Baseball Classic: ‘We’re not showing anybody up’

White Sox: Carlos Rodon feels reassured after clean MRI

Marian Hossa named Blackhawks' nominee for 2017 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

Former Bulls center Joakim Noah suspended 20 games for violating NBA's anti-drug policy

Rule 5 pick Dylan Covey takes advantage of showcase as White Sox down Indians

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

2017 NFL Draft Profile: Illinois OLB Dawuane Smoot