GLENDALE, Ariz. — Five down, one to go.
The Chicago Blackhawks are seeing the light at the end of the ice-show trip tunnel, their Friday night contest vs. the Phoenix Coyotes their last heading into the Olympic break. It’s been a physically challenging trip, and it would be easy for some to look toward pending vacations, others to look toward the Winter Games.
But the Blackhawks won’t be doing that. Underestimating Phoenix would be a bad idea, first of all. That and the Blackhawks, with one game remaining, have one goal in mind: pass the Anaheim Ducks and regain the Western Conference lead. They could do that with a victory on Friday, though the Ducks would need to lose to the Nashville Predators on Saturday for the Blackhawks to retain first place. Still, being in first or keeping pace are priorities.
“We definitely still have a job to do, and our goal is to become first in the league after tomorrow. Obviously, getting a win there would (help) put us in that position,” Brandon Bollig said. “So that’s what we're looking to do. Guys are excited for the break and for the Olympics, but our minds are definitely in the right spot and we’re looking to get a job done tomorrow.”
The Blackhawks had a so-so start to this road trip but are once again finding their way through a long trek. They’re currently 3-0-2 on this stretch, getting a possible five of six points against the California opponents San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim. That’s important, because those are three tough locations through which to go. Coach Joel Quenneville called it “weathering the storm,” following the Blackhawks’ 2-0 victory over Anaheim on Wednesday night, and players agreed.
“We got some big performances,” said Corey Crawford, who got his first shutout of this season on Wednesday. “We definitely had a chance to get three wins; it was a tough loss in the shootout (in San Jose). But against those teams ... they were three tough games, and we were definitely happy with the way we played and the points we got out of those games.”
Quenneville said focus hasn’t been a problem throughout the trip, and he doesn’t expect it to stray on Friday.
“We were wondering going into it how we were going to be, but you have to commend the guys for their attitude, their approach and starts to the game,” he said. “We had a real good trip, very professional, very business-like. We have mometnum going into this game, and we want to take care of business and prepare how we have every game on this trip. We’ve played in three tough buildings in a row; we anticipate the fourth one tomorrow as well.”
[RELATED: Flight cancelled: Blackhawks shut out Ducks]
The Blackhawks are almost at the Olympic-break finish line. They’re not done yet, however. With a successful West Coast swing, they’re tapping on the Ducks’ shoulder in the standings. They’d like to be ahead of them, or at least continue to breathe down their necks. They’ll have to get past a determined Phoenix team to do so.
“These last three (games) we’ve felt great, and we’re not looking to take a game off before break," Bollig said. "We’re looking to continue that (success)."