Barring a miracle, the Blackhawks' nine-year playoff run will come to an end in April.

But is this a one-season blip? A flash in the pan? A fluke?

"Let's hope so," said veteran defenseman Duncan Keith before the Hawks departed on a three-game road trip that began in San Jose on Thursday. "We were out in the first round the last two years. I don't think that's very good either."

No it's not, but those two teams won 50 and 47 games.

This one will be lucky to win 40 and has struggled for a variety of reasons.

Yet, a healthy Corey Crawford and a rebound year from Brandon Saad would certainly put the Hawks back on the right path in 2018-19. You have to figure Nick Schmaltz and Alex DeBrincat will continue to improve. The power play can't get any worse.

Defensemen Jordan Oesterle, Gustav Forsling and Jan Rutta (if he re-signs) should be better on the back end. Perhaps Stan Bowman accelerates Henri Jokiharju's timeline and the 2017 first-round pick surprises with a big season.

Really, it shouldn't take that much for the Hawks to turn this ship around.

"Every team's got good players and there's not a whole lot difference between winning and losing," Keith said. "(There's also) not much difference between getting into the playoffs and getting out. Sometimes there's hardly a difference.

"That's a good thing at the end. It's up to us to get better and improve.

"It's going to take a lot of work."

Especially from the veterans.

Somehow, someway, Jonathan Toews needs to find his game again.

Brent Seabrook must do a better job of getting his shot through traffic. Perhaps borrow a page out of Cody Franson's book by taking a shorter windup to surprise goalies more often.

Finally, there's Keith.

Despite an uneven season, he remains far and away the Hawks' best defenseman. Keith will be 35 in July, but he still skates well and is the perfect example of how to approach the game on and off the ice.

It would nice if Joel Quenneville -- assuming he is the coach -- reduces Keith's ice time to 22 or 23 minutes a game. If he can, you'd see a fresher, more productive player on a nightly basis.

One thing's for sure -- Keith doesn't want to go through this again next season.

"It's not fun; it's frustrating," he said. "But it is what it is now.

"Makes you realize just how important it is to have a good start and carry that through with some momentum. (Then) you develop confidence in one another and that can go a long way."

Something the Hawks haven't done since 2015.

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