All season the Blackhawks have been a tough bunch to figure out.
They have looked great one night and dreadful the next.
The Hawks have defeated the Red Wings four times in five games. They split four games with Vancouver, the best team in the NHL during the regular season, and went 4-0 against Los Angeles and 3-1-2 against Nashville, two very good clubs.
Yet there were unexplainable losses on home ice to Edmonton (twice), the league’s worst team, Columbus (twice), Colorado and Minnesota.
Yet for all their shortcomings and inconsistencies, there isn’t a contender in the Western Conference looking forward to drawing the Hawks in the first round of the playoffs.
That’s because when the Hawks are on their game, focused and flying around the ice using their speed and skill, they can be as good as anyone in the league.
“We’ve shown what this team can do when we play together and play as a team,” defenseman Brian Campbell said.
The problem is the Hawks aren’t in the playoffs as the regular season comes down to its final day. Only one playoff spot remains in the West and the Hawks can take it today by beating the Red Wings again at the United Center.
If the Hawks lose in regulation, they then would need Dallas to lose or win in a shootout in its finale at Minnesota.
All that matters to the Hawks is getting into the tournament, where every spring in the NHL somebody proves crazy things can happen.
“We’ve seen it before where teams that finish seventh or eighth get on a roll and do some damage,” Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “Once you get to the playoffs anything can happen.”
Ÿ Just last season the Montreal Canadiens finished eighth in the East and went to the conference finals. The Philadelphia Flyers made the playoffs on the final day of the season, winning in a shootout, no less, finished seventh in the East and went to the Stanley Cup Finals, where they lost to the Hawks in six games.
Ÿ Calgary finished sixth in the West in 2003-04 and went to the seventh game of the Finals before losing to Tampa Bay.
Ÿ Edmonton was the eighth seed in 2005-06 and reached the Finals, where the Oilers lost to Carolina in seven games.
There are plenty of reasons for the West’s top teams such as Vancouver, San Jose and Detroit to fear the Hawks in the playoffs.
This is a battle-tested group that knows how to win when the pressure is all around them. There are 12 players back from last season’s Stanley Cup championship club led by clutch playoff performers Toews, Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Dave Bolland (if healthy), Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Campbell.
Toews won the Conn Smythe Trophy last June as the MVP of the playoffs and is in the midst of a career season. Sharp tied for the league lead with 11 playoff goals last spring while it was Kane who clinched the Cup with his overtime goal in Game 6 of the Finals. Bolland starred in a defensive role, shutting down three of the best centers in hockey in Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin, San Jose’s Joe Thornton and Philadelphia’s Mike Richards.
The Hawks would enter the playoffs with inexperience in some spots, particularly in goal. But despite being a rookie, Corey Crawford has come up big down the stretch in one pressure-packed game after another with Friday’s win at Detroit his 33rd of the season.
Besides, Antti Niemi showed last season a rookie goalie can take a team all the way to the Cup.
It would be a bitter pill to swallow and a potential setback for the organization if the dust settles today and the Hawks aren’t in the playoffs, but Toews doesn’t even consider that scenario.
“These last two games (against Detroit) and the pressure we’re under right now is getting us ready (for the playoffs), but we’re not looking ahead to anything,” Toews said. “We’ve got a job to do (today) and we’re going to do it.”Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.