Chicago Blackhawks still feel they're in it to win it
By John Dietz
After watching the Blackhawks drop the first three games of a critical five-game road trip, there may be some who believe they should throw in the towel.
You know, play for draft position. Trade anyone of value. Start thinking about off-season moves and contract extensions.
Just don't tell the players something like that.
Because they still believe the postseason is well within reach.
"We've been in this position the last couple of years and we haven't capitalized on the opportunity to get ourselves back in the playoffs," Patrick Kane told reporters before scoring an empty-net goal and dishing out 2 assists during the Hawks' 8-4 victory Saturday night at Calgary. "We have that chance again ...
"I think if we put something special together down the stretch ... it could be big for us heading into the postseason. We could have a lot of momentum."
So is Kane dreaming? Delusional? Completely unrealistic?
Well, maybe not.
At 26-24-8 after defeating the Flames on the strength of a 4-goal second period, the Hawks are actually 3 points better than a year ago at this time when they were 24-25-9.
And remember what happened next?
That's right -- coach Jeremy Colliton's squad went 9-5-0 over the next 14 games and was just 5 points behind Arizona with a game in hand with 11 games remaining.
But the Hawks proceeded to lose three straight and that essentially was that.
In order to overcome the odds this season -- and they aren't impossible when you look at the home-heavy schedule in March -- the Hawks better hope GM Stan Bowman doesn't start unloading players as the Feb. 24 trade deadline approaches.
While this trip has been a disappointment thus far, the Hawks were leading against Winnipeg and Edmonton, then played extremely well against Vancouver, firing a whopping 49 shots on goal in a 3-0 loss.
They came out strong against Calgary as well, scoring 30 seconds in on a Jonathan Toews goal and eventually grabbing a 6-3 lead by getting second-period goals from Brandon Saad, Alex Nylander, Alex DeBrincat and Nylander again.
Colliton had to be especially pleased that DeBrincat (just 5 even-strength goals all season) and Nylander (2 goals previous 34 games) spearheaded the scoring spree.
Nylander gave the Hawks a 4-2 lead at 5:28 of the second when he faked out goalie David Rittich with some nice stickhandling in front of the net. About 13 minutes later, Matthew Highmore won a puck battle behind the net and threw a perfect pass to Nylander, whose one-timer past Cam Talbot made it 6-3.
Dominik Kubalik and Kirby Dach also scored for the Hawks, who are in last place in the Central Division but still right in the thick of the tight wild-card race. Robin Lehner was strong in net, making 19 of his 38 saves in the third period.
Up next is a critical week in which the Hawks must convince Bowman they are still a playoff-caliber team when they square off against Winnipeg, the Rangers, Nashville and Dallas.
If they do, the roster may well stay mostly in tact.
If not? Well, it promises to be an interesting, nerve-racking time for many.
• Defenseman Ian McCoshen, acquired in a trade with Florida earlier this season, scored 2 goals in Rockford's 4-1 victory over Cleveland on Saturday. The IceHogs, who have won five of six, also got goals from Brandon Hagel (18) and Dylan Sikura (13). Sikura is on a 10-game point streak in which he has 4 goals and 9 assists. John Quenneville, who had an assist, has 5 goals in the last eight games.
Scouting reportBlackhawks vs. Winnipeg Jets, 7:30 p.m. at Bell MTS Place
TV: NBCSCH • Radio: WGN 720-AM
The skinny: Winnipeg defeated the Blackhawks 5-2 last week but lost its last two games -- 4-1 to the Rangers and 3-2 to the Sharks. ... The Jets already boast a quartet of 20-goal scorers in Kyle Connor (29), Patrik Laine (24), Mark Scheifele (23) and Nikolaj Ehlers (20). Connor, just 23, is 4 goals away from No. 100 in his career. Laine needs 6 goals for his fourth straight 30-goal season. ... Winnipeg is 5-for-18 on the power play and 9-for-10 on the penalty kill over the last four contests. ... The Hawks are 2-1-1 against the Jets this season.
Next: New York Rangers, 7 p.m. Wednesday at United Center
-- John Dietz