Too little, too late for Chicago Blackhawks?
Imagine if the Chicago Blackhawks had beaten either Colorado or Dallas at the United Center in late February.
Or if they'd shown up in Los Angeles on March 2 instead of getting blown away by the worst team in the Western Conference.
Or if they salvaged a point in San Jose the next night.
Imagine where the Hawks would be now.
Especially in lieu of the way they looked in ensuing victories over Buffalo, Dallas and Arizona. And the way they followed those efforts with a 5-4 victory Wednesday night at Toronto
Indeed, the Hawks (31-30-9) would be a playoff team as of Thursday instead of 4 points behind eighth-place Arizona, 3 behind third-place Minnesota and 1 behind 10th-place Colorado.
The Hawks' maddening inconsistency -- which showed up in spades during an ugly third period in Toronto -- may cost them a playoff berth, but what we've seen of late bodes awfully well for the future.
• Duncan Keith, who scored his fifth goal of the season to open the scoring in Toronto, is quietly enjoying a bounceback season and managing to hold Father Time at bay.
• Brendan Perlini is playing like a man possessed. His seventh goal in six games gave the Hawks a 2-0 lead at 12:55 of the first period, and he also added 2 assists.
• Rookie Dominik Kahun has been a terrific find by general manager Stan Bowman. His quickness, stick-lifting ability, sneaky shot and ice awareness have been on display all season. Kahun, by the way, made it 3-0 at 17:13 of the first.
• Then there's Brandon Saad. You know -- the $6 million man who was washed up at 25? Well, his goal at 18:46 of the first period made it 4-0 and gave him 23 on the season. Fourteen have come in the last 31 games.
If you missed it, that's right -- the Blackhawks led Toronto 4-0 after one period, then went up 5-0 on Alex DeBrincat's 38th goal at 12:32 of the second.
Game over, right? Not with these Hawks.
The Leafs (42-23-5) made a furious charge in the third period, scoring 3 goals on a whopping 29 shots. They nearly tied it multiple times, but Collin Delia -- who took over for an ill Corey Crawford after 40 minutes -- turned away 6 shots in the final 69 seconds, and the Hawks held on for dear life to claim a huge victory.
One, by the way, that came against one of the top teams in the league. A team that sports 39-goal scorer John Tavares, 32-goal scorer Auston Matthews, the magical Mitch Marner (60 assists) and one of the top netminders in Frederik Andersen.
"From the start, we came out blazing," Perlini told Pierre McGuire on NBCSN. "We're a team that's in the hunt here. We're chasing. We acted desperate from the start. We let it go a little bit (in the third period), but important to get those points."
Here's what coach Jeremy Colliton told reporters: "Would have like to see us handle it better. We had some unforced errors that maybe gave them extra chances, but they were going to get chances when they're pushing like that. …
"We'll deal with the stuff we didn't like on Friday and we'll still enjoy the win."
When the Hawks lost at Winnipeg on Dec. 11, it dropped them to 9-18-5.
Since then they are 22-12-4. Those 48 standings points since Dec. 12 are more than Columbus, Winnipeg, Dallas, Nashville, Minnesota and Toronto. It's only a bit fewer than Washington (50), Calgary (53), Pittsburgh (53) and St. Louis (53).
Next up for the Hawks is a game at Montreal on Saturday, home games against Vancouver and Philadelphia, and back-to-backs with Colorado.
Imagine if they win four or five.
Then a playoff berth may not seem so imaginary after all.