With Q in control, Hawks willing to follow
GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Blackhawks survived the loss of their captain for the final quarter of the season, endured a nine-game losing streak, suspensions, concussions ... and yet still cruised into the playoffs.
Well, not actually cruised, but compared to the way they backed into the postseason last year on the final day, anything else certainly looks like a smooth ride.
Hawks vs. Phoenix
All games televised on CSN
Thursday: at Phoenix, 9 p.m.
Saturday: at Phoenix, 9 p.m.
Tuesday: at Hawks , 8 p.m.*
April 19: at Hawks, 7 p.m.
x-April 21: at Phoenix, 9 p.m.
x-April 23: at Hawks, TBD*
x-April 25: at Phoenix, TBD
* Radio broadcast on WIND 560-AM; all other games on WGN -720-AM
A ton of the credit goes to the players who stepped up during the tough times — guys like Brent Seabrook, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, etc., but there also has to be a little love given to the man behind the bench — Joel Quenneville, who has now made it to the postseason in 13 of his 15 years as a head coach.
There certainly wasn't much love for Quenneville in late January and early February when the Hawks were sputtering their way through that nine-game losing streak.
It got so bad that some in Hawks Nation even suggested it might be time for some change at the top.
Change as in fire Coach Q.
"That was tough for us as players to listen to," Patrick Sharp admitted. "Everyone has their opinion, and they have the right to voice it, but I know in our locker room there was no one asking for that or even thinking about that.
"He's our leader. He's a guy we look to in every situation. He's got the experience — we won a Stanley Cup with him — and then you're hearing things that he might be fired.
"If that would have happened, all of us would have been upset with ourselves because we were the ones on the ice controlling the situation."
But as the losses continued to pile up, the calls for change — any kind of change — grew louder and louder.
"I think that's the easy way out," Viktor Stalberg said. "That's what people are going to do when things aren't going the right way — ask for trades or for coaching changes."
While some were up in arms during the Hawks' tailspin, Quenneville remained cool as a cucumber throughout the streak. No tirades. No theatrics.
OK, maybe just a few ... early on.
"The first couple of games he was mad and screaming, and then he kind of thought to stay positive, knowing that screaming doesn't always work," Bryan Bickell said.
And that's how Quenneville remained after a 3-2 overtime loss in Vancouver ended January with 4 straight defeats.
He stayed that way through an ugly loss in Edmonton. Another in Calgary. And then 3 more defeats to Colorado, San Jose and Phoenix. Always staying the course, trusting that the players, the system and a rededication in the defensive end would eventually right the ship.
"That's the thing that impressed us during that streak; he didn't really waver too much from his beliefs," Sharp said. "We changed a few things as a team, but he wasn't stressed out.
"He wasn't coming in with a beard like he hadn't shaved. He was getting his sleep. He was still the same old Joel. Just patient and knowing that we'd be a better team for it."
But even Quenneville's patience was tested by a 3-2 defeat in Nashville, the team's ninth and final loss of the streak.
"It was a brutal loss," Quenneville said. "Things had to change. And they did, but you don't know that at the time. It was an excruciating loss where you're thinking, 'Oh, man, hopefully this is the end of it.'"
The Hawks snapped the streak with a win over the Rangers in New York and went on to go 16-5-4 the rest of the way to qualify for the playoffs for the fourth straight season under Quenneville.
"You look at his personal accomplishments; I think he's top 10 all-time in victories," Sharp said. "That speaks for itself."
The numbers are pretty staggering.
Quenneville's 624 wins lead active head coaches and that mark ranks seventh in NHL history. His 1,163 games behind the bench also lead active head coaches and rank him 10th all-time.
In his 324 regular-season games behind the Blackhawks bench, the team has compiled a record of 186-99-39. His regular-season points percentage of .634 is the best in Chicago franchise history, while his .609 postseason winning percentage (28-18) is the highest for a Blackhawks coach since 1940.
That, in part, is why upper management for the franchise never thought about letting Quenneville go.
"Absolutely not," Hawks president John McDonough said recently. "We have great confidence in Joel; he's been through these things before. He's won two Stanley Cups, one as an assistant coach and one as a head coach.
"I've been in sports for 32 years. We've seen these losing streaks — they're not a lot of fun to go through. Good teams figure a way to come out of them — which we did. There's no panic button here."
And there certainly was no panic button with Quenneville, even when the Hawks were experiencing the lowest of lows in a challenging season.
"This year was a good learning experience for me, the team and himself," Bickell said. "When we were on that nine-game skid, not a lot of teams the caliber of our team go on that kind of skid, but we passed through it and I think it made everyone stronger and better."
Stalberg certainly agrees.
"Joel and everyone else in this locker room knew that we had too good a team to be losing games like that, so we knew if we sorted some things out that we'd get it back on the right track and I think we did," Stalberg said. "And we're better for going through it."
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