The Blackhawks hovered in the locker room after their 4-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Friday night. It’s a team that’s brimming with confidence, thanks to great hockey and the 11-0-3 record that the work has produced.
And as the Blackhawks continue to win, they continue to push themselves. The past has taught them not to rest on principle, laurels, or a Western Conference lead.
“We learned our lesson last year: we were in first place and lost nine in a row,” said Patrick Sharp, who is one of many Blackhawks who firmly recall that tough stretch. “We’re good now, but the idea is to get better.”
The Blackhawks have played that way all season, doing everything to get better performances. Sure, they’ve had some nights that haven’t been so great. It’s an 82 – make that 48-game – season. Mistakes happen. Goals-against happen. Regulation losses – eventually, you’d have to think – happen. But this is definitely not last year’s Blackhawks team. These Blackhawks have each other’s back, support one another on every play and are getting balanced contributions up and down the lineup.
“No one’s really satisfied with what we’ve done team-wise or personally,” Patrick Kane said. “Everyone wants to show the team’s better.”
Captain Jonathan Toews, who settled a score with Joe Thornton on Friday – the San Jose captain got a late shot in on Toews last season – said the Blackhawks earn their confidence through the work.
“We’re winning games and getting goal scoring from different lines,” he said. “You can work as hard as you want, do everything right. But if you don’t score or find ways to win games, your confidence isn’t at the same level. We work hard, we do the right things and things go our way. We want to keep that going. It’s a good thing to see contributions through all parts of our lineup.”
Indeed, the Blackhawks have gotten those--just look at their last few games. Yes, the names of Kane and Toews and Dave Bolland are there. So are Andrew Shaw, Bryan Bickell and Marcus Kruger--third and fourth-line players who have contributed on both sides of the puck. The Blackhawks have a lot of pride in their game right now.
“I like the preparation,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We had a real good start, real good pace in the first period (on Friday), and we like all four lines looking like they weren’t losing momentum. We’re getting contributions from everyone. It’s a nice feeling. We all don’t want to let each other down.”
The winning has led to a few things, besides the obvious confidence. Line changes have been rare, enabling guys to build up chemistry and familiarity with one another. The same goes for the special teams units.
What winning hasn’t led to is less focus. During their six-game road trip, Duncan Keith said the Blackhawks barely looked at who their next opponent was. It wasn’t about the other team. And based on how they’ve played in their return home, it still isn’t.
The Blackhawks are confident and focused. They’ll need that to continue the rest of the way, beginning Sunday with a rematch against the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings. They’ve come a long way in a short amount of time. Confidence is high. So is their expected level of play.
“One day and one game at a time, but we like our start, the consistency and the balance,” Quenneville said. “We have a tough opponent next. Let’s get excited about it.”