Rozner: Blackhawks are longshot to make playoffs but still have a lot to play for
Had the Blackhawks played all of March with the impressive desperation they displayed in the third period Sunday night, they might already be sitting in a playoff spot.
As it stands now, with seven games remaining in the season, they might need to run the table to reach the postseason, and get some help along the way.
Regardless, there is much good to take from the last few months of hockey, as the Hawks have begun to find a consistent lineup and understand better what head coach Jeremy Colliton wants from them.
Without team defense, you're not going anywhere in the NHL and the Hawks are starting to figure it out.
"Everyone is getting more comfortable with how we have to play," Colliton said. "We're defending as five (with) a little more communication out there and recognizing we can create offense from doing well defensively."
Offense from defense. Yup, it's not exciting, but it's as old as the league and it works.
"We're getting there, as far as the recipe for how we can win these types of games," Colliton said. "Going forward and hopefully the playoffs, that's how we have to defend."
The Hawks have allowed 15 goals (not including empty-netters) in their last 8 games (5-2-1), for a 1.86 GA, but have scored just 9 goals in their last 5 (2-2-1), including 2 in an overtime loss to Vancouver and a single goal in a loss to Philadelphia, 3 points that may ultimately cost the Hawks a playoff spot.
Those were solid defensive efforts, but they were not 60-minute games when the Hawks really needed them against teams they should have been able to take down in regulation.
"The goals have kind of dried up in some ways, so it's made it hard on us to get wins," Colliton said. "But it's still important for us to get comfortable defending the way we need to."
Colliton is absolutely right about this. Offense comes and goes. The only thing you can control is how you play a 200-foot defensive game, and that remains the best formula for making the playoffs and going deep in the postseason.
Still, there are many positives.
Since the middle of December, the Hawks have the 10th-most points in the NHL and the fifth-best record in the West, just 6 points from being best in the conference.
Since the middle of January, they have the seventh-most points in the NHL and the third-best record in the West, also 6 points from being best in the conference.
It's quite a turnaround considering what Colliton had to do on the fly, which was install a new system with a core of veterans that had played for one coach the last decade, all with a constantly changing lineup and new players inserted after trades and call-ups.
It's been a difficult task for the coaching staff and the players, but there has been substantial progress and reason to be optimistic about next season.
In the meantime, the Hawks would benefit from finishing strong, even if their playoff chances are fading with less than two weeks remaining.
"We know it's tough," said Duncan Keith, who scored the game-winner in OT Sunday night against Colorado. "The standings are what they are. Our focus needs to be one game at a time and control that.
"Good that we got the 2 points (Sunday), but we need to go into Arizona (Tuesday night) and play just as good as a game, if not better, to beat those guys."
The Hawks still have lineup issues to be addressed this summer, and there will be time to get into that later, but as the season wraps there is evidence to suggest they could be headed in the right direction.
The last 7 games matter because -- if for no other reason -- jobs for next season are on the line.