Hawks beat Ducks, need to keep fire going
Two fire trucks -- their sirens wailing -- pulled up to the United Center on Saturday night in response to an alarm that went off somewhere in the building.
It was an appropriate scene for the Blackhawks, a team that absolutely must play scorching-hot hockey over the next three months to have any prayer of reaching the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Some might say that kind of thinking is utter nonsense -- that there's no way these Hawks will be playing past April 4.
And, honestly, who's to argue?
It does seem far-fetched to think coach Jeremy Colliton's banged-up, inconsistent squad could rack up 46-50 points in the next 36 games.
But COULD it happen? Sure.
As long as:
• Everyone steps up their games three or four notches.
• Brandon Saad and Dylan Strome return from injury soon.
• Robin Lehner and Corey Crawford steal multiple games in net.
• The Hawks understand that they must be in desperation mode every night. Every period. Every shift.
Those feats are easier said than done, although the last one is possible if Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Saad, Lehner and Crawford lead the way.
"Yeah, it's a challenge to keep that level every game," Colliton said after practice Friday, "but the best teams find a way to do it more often than not. And the situation we're in -- we need every single point."
Well, they got 2 of them against Anaheim after a 4-2 victory in which Dominik Kubalik scored a pair of goals, Jonathan Toews notched his 11th of the season and Lehner made 35 saves. Olli Maatta also scored as the Hawks (20-20-6) went 2-2-0 on their four-game homestand and moved within 6 points of a wild-card spot.
"I do think we're not far away," Colliton said after the win. "We met (Friday) and discussed where we're at and the opportunity that's still there for us. We're there. We're close. Not in the standings and I understand that. But the way you get where you want to go in the standings is you play hard, you play the right way, you're patient.
"Our game over a long stretch of time is improved. It doesn't mean we're the finished product, but if we keep getting better and the young players continue to develop, we can be in the race. ... We've got to have a little push here."
The upcoming schedule isn't all that daunting, so it's absolutely imperative that the Hawks rattle off some victories against Ottawa (16-22-6), Montreal (19-20-7), Toronto (24-15-6), Winnipeg (24-17-4), Florida (23-16-5), Arizona (25-18-4) and Minnesota (20-18-6).
The roller-coaster ride the Hawks have been on all season hasn't been easy for coaches or players. That's why it's so important for them to put together a steady string of performances that allows them to consistently climb the standings.
"Every team goes through ups and downs throughout the year, and how do you bounce back quicker?" Colliton said. "The down period in your game, how do you turn it around; and when you're playing well, how do you ride the wave longer?"
Against the Ducks, the Hawks rattled off 3 straight goals after allowing Anaheim to open the scoring 3:37 into the game. The Ducks managed to trim the lead to 3-2, but Maatta's third goal of the season with 16:01 remaining restored the 2-goal lead.
"You have a good period, you're up 3-0. Can you stick with it?" Colliton said. "Can you mentally maintain the sharpness that you need to close out a game?
"We struggle with that at times. That's why we are where we are. So keep working at it."
It worked against the lowly Ducks (17-23-5).
The key now is to turn this one-alarm fire into a five-alarm blaze.
Do that, and maybe those fire trucks will return to the United Center in mid-April to put out a sizzling bunch of hockey players.