After loss to Vegas, Chicago Blackhawks in the hot seat
Believe it or not, it's crunchtime for the Chicago Blackhawks.
Because while it's true that there are still 42 games remaining and the Hawks are barely out of a wild-card spot, they must take advantage of a home-friendly schedule over the three weeks or they're in deep, deep trouble.
With Corey Crawford still out with an upper-body injury -- and no timetable for his return -- it's not far-fetched to imagine coach Joel Quenneville's squad going into a tailspin. They are relying on 32-year-old Jeff Glass to hold the fort down in net, and while he's played well thus far, it's fair to wonder how long he can keep it up.
He was solid against Vegas on Friday, but his teammates hung him out to dry far too often and the Golden Knights erased a 4-3 deficit with a pair of third-period goals to hang a 5-4 loss on the last-place Blackhawks.
"It wasn't a great night for our D," Quenneville said.
No, it wasn't.
The worst gaffe came when Connor Murphy got caught trying to keep the puck inside the Hawks' zone, only to have it poked away by Reilly Smith. The Golden Knights' winger raced the other way and beat Glass to the blocker side with a nasty wrister for the game-winner with 6:07 remaining.
"I thought the puck was close enough that I could dive in and keep it in," Murphy said. "The guy poked it by me and got a breakaway. I've got to be smarter with those plays."
Murphy wasn't the only Hawks D-man to have a rough game.
Jonathan Marchessault made it 2-0 when his blast when off Jordan Oesterle's stick and through Glass' legs. William Karlsson made it 3-1 at 5:54 of the second period after the puck came off the end boards and slid past Brent Seabrook. Karlsson fired into a gaping net for his team-leading 21st goal.
The Hawks stormed back and took a 4-3 lead thanks to goals by Patrick Sharp, Nick Schmaltz and Jonathan Toews, with Toews' coming 30 seconds into the third period.
But it wasn't enough and Vegas (28-10-2) improved to 13-1-1 in its last 15 games. The Hawks fell to 19-15-6 and 10-6-2 at home, where they play seven of their next eight games.
If they don't turn it on soon and go something like a 3-6-0 during this nine-game stretch, it could be a death knell for a franchise that has reached the postseason for nine straight years.
"We've kind of put ourself in this position; that's where we're at," said Patrick Kane. "So it's like every game's kind of -- I don't want to say a must win -- but you've got to try to get points every game you can and take advantage of the games at home. It's going to be a dogfight until the end of the regular season."
Sharp, who had 3 goals in the first 36 games, has scored in back-to-back contests. Schmaltz has 11 points in the last 11 games, and Toews has scored in three straight.
Vinnie Hinostroza scored the Hawks' other goal and added 2 assists, including a gorgeous pass to Toews that made it 4-3.
These are all great signs from an offensive standpoint, but the Hawks know they can't be allowing almost 40 shots a game if they plan on making a run.
Especially with their backup goalies trying to keep them afloat.
"Every point is super important," Toews said. "You're in your building -- you've got to find a way to get 1 or 2.
"We had some moments tonight where we played with desperation. That's the way we've got to play through 60 every single game from now on."