Tuesday night’s 6-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks was the third in a row for Chicago, who currently remain six points out of a playoff spot. With 10 of their last 16 games at home this month, should we be cheering for the Blackhawks to make the playoffs at this point?
If you were to ask this question 10 days ago, the answer would be a resounding “no.” The Blackhawks looked all but dead after a disastrous Canadian road trip in which they recorded a 1-4-o record. General manager Stan Bowman would subtract from the roster soon after, trading Erik Gustafsson and Robin Lehner at the deadline. The writing was on the wall: it’s time to pack it in this year and begin rebuilding.
Evidently, Blackhawk players didn’t get the memo. Just when you thought it was safe to root for the highest possible pick in next season’s draft, the Hawks reel off a three-game winning streak. If this feels familiar, it should — the Hawks have been as streaky as they’ve ever been this year, raising hopes with a solid winning streak; only to dash them with a prolonged losing streak.
Of the 14 games scheduled this month, only five will be against current playoff teams. Of those five games, four will be at home, including a critical home-and-home series against the Minnesota Wild. The Hawks will also play three back-to-back sets in March, the last of which will include the Nashville Predators on the tail-end at home. Minnesota and Nashville are currently five and four points ahead of Chicago in the Western Conference standings, respectively, and are two of four teams the Blackhawks will need to leapfrog in order to make the playoffs.
According to Moneypuck.com, the Blackhawks currently have a 10.9% chance of making the playoffs. Ironically, the Hawks’ chances actually decreased after last night’s win by .1% — only illustrating the fact that, although technically still alive, it may essentially be too late for the Hawks to control their own destiny. In addition, the final playoff spot in the Western Conference last season went to the Colorado Avalanche, who had accumulated 90 points. With 32 possible points remaining in the Blackhawks’ season, the Hawks would need to earn 22 points just to reach 90 — and even then, that may not be enough for the last Wild Card spot in the west this year.
Quite simply, although the Hawks’ remaining schedule is extremely favorable, their inability to display any level of consistency can’t be overlooked. It is no coincidence that the Hawks’ current three-game winning streak arose only after the trade deadline had passed; and included only one playoff team in the Tampa Bay Lightning, who were without stars Steven Stamkos, Blake Coleman and Patrick Maroon.
Anytime the Hawks have faced an important stretch of games — such as their five-game Canadian road trip in February or their back-to-back, home-and-home sets against Colorado and Dallas to end November — they have failed to rise to the occasion. At this point, one can only expect the same in their upcoming home-and-home games against Minnesota and their home game against Nashville. Although March will include 10 home games, for a team that has the third-worst home record in the league (14-13-4), the Hawks would need a level of consistency they have yet to exhibit all season — all while hoping for the teams ahead of them to falter.
It’s admirable that — with the exception of Alex Debrincat — all of the Hawks’ star players have dramatically improved their games since the deadline. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Dominik Kubalik, Duncan Keith, and Brandon Saad have all found their games. Rookie Kirby Dach’s development is beyond evident, as his ability to use his body and create plays has grown exponentially compared to earlier in the year. Dylan Strome and Alex Nylander are beginning to produce again after prolonged cold streaks; and Corey Crawford continues to be one of the most consistent Blackhawks this season. Even the Hawks’ power play is showing signs of life again. In other words, there are good things to build from this year, but making the playoffs won’t be one of them.