Why it's now or never for Chicago Blackhawks on this road trip
A Blackhawks team that many have left for dead has one final chance to keep their season alive.
It stars with a three-game road trip that begins in Minnesota on Saturday and continues in Arizona on Monday and Las Vegas on Tuesday.
Win all three or go 2-0-1 and there's hope. Anything less might sign the death certificate for a team that hasn't missed the postseason since 2008.
A regulation win against the Wild, which is fighting hard for the second wild-card spot, would pull the Hawks to within 6 points of coach Bruce Boudreau's club. The problem is Minnesota figures to be awfully angry after blowing a 3-0 lead to Arizona on Tuesday.
"That's not good enough," Boudreau told reporters. "Pretty simple. That was the message after the game and the message from here on in."
The message from the Hawks' dressing room for the better part of two months has been that one victory can change everything. Brent Seabrook repeated those sentiments after a 4-2 loss to Dallas on Thursday, then looked ahead to what must be considered the Hawks' biggest game of the season.
"It's a huge game," Seabrook said. "We've got to come out prepared to do the little things, prepared to work, prepared to battle. We need 2 points."
For that to happen, the Hawks must tighten up defensively and figure out how to build on their strong starts. What's maddening is that the Hawks are 2-3-2 in the past seven games despite scoring the first goal every time.
For coach Joel Quenneville, part of the reason his team fails to extend its lead to 2-0 or 3-0 comes down to shot selection.
"You get a lot of shot attempts, but you don't get the quality that should be there with that quantity," Quenneville said. "You've got to get it around the net a little more."
The numbers back him up.
The Hawks average the second-most shots on goal (34.3) in the NHL, but they are 14th in high-danger chances per game (11.12), according to naturalstattrick.com. (They are 28th in high-danger chances allowed (12.16), behind only the Islanders, Capitals and Rangers).
Players such as Brandon Saad, Jonathan Toews, Artem Anisimov and Ryan Hartman aren't doing a good job at establishing a net-front presence, so nobody's around to clean up rebounds.
The solution is simple: no more little mistakes; build on early leads; don't allow soft goals; score for a fourth straight game on the power play. And, although it may be difficult, keep your collective heads up.
"Whether you're unhappy, whether you're not confident, whether you're disappointed or frustrated or all of the above -- let's go," said Quenneville. "Play one game here on the road and start (the trip) out in a positive way. And keep going."
Like your life depends on it.
General manager Stan Bowman made an appearance on NBC SportsChicago on Thursday and said -- for the most part -- he doesn't expect the Hawks' roster to change much moving forward.
"We have a lot of new players this year relative to last year," Bowman said. "It's hard when you bring in 11, 12 new players every year. So next year's team is going to look very similar to this year's team. Not identical. … But some of these young guys, we're expecting them to take the next step."
Not surprisingly, Bowman said he does not expect to trade for a rental player at the deadline. If a move is made, it will probably be a "traditional hockey trade," like when Bowman sent Richard Panik to Arizona for Anthony Duclair in early January.
The Hawks recalled defenseman Carl Dahlstrom from Rockford on Friday and placed Jan Rutta on injured reserve. The 6-foot-4, 223-pound Dahlstrom has 3 goals and 20 assists in 47 games with Rockford and was picked to play in the AHL All-Star Classic. Dahlstrom, whom the Hawks took 51st overall in 2013, has never appeared in an NHL game.