Sidney Brown brings his weekly dispatches from the front lines of Blackhawks fandom every week during the hockey season
After last Sunday’s loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Chicago Blackhawks were past an 11-game stretch where they had a 4-6-1 record and they just captain Jonathan Toews to a lower body injury after being hit hard by Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik. I wrote that that period and the moments around it was a wake up call.
Just whom was going to step up and fill the roles vacated by Toews and the earlier injured Patrick Kane? In the immediate (the last three games, to be exact), there have been a few willing participants: Bryan Bickell (one goal, one assist); Marcus Kruger (one goal), team-leading scorer Patrick Sharp (two goals, one assist) and most pleasantly, Ben Smith, with three goals including the game-winner Friday against Columbus.
None of these contributions belie the fact that Kane is the Hawks’ best offensive player and that Toews is the Hawks’ best all-round player and team influence…with that said, it also has to be said that there is enough talent on this team to tread water until the playoffs when Toews and Kane are expected to return.
The self-diagnosed wake up call apparently did some good, with the team going 3-0 with wins over playoff teams in Minnesota, Columbus and St. Louis. How much do these wins mean at this point of the regular season? Not much beyond having home ice advantage against the Colorado Avalanche in Round 1 and even that is a shallow victory because traditionally home ice doesn’t mean that much in the playoffs because the teams are so evenly matched.
With one week left before the postseason starts, the Hawks will need to shift their game into a playoff-style type tempo immediately. In the playoffs, there are not a lot of high-scoring games, the kind of games the Hawks have been most successful in this season. Teams usually play strong, defensive-minded games because that’s the way teams advance — with physicality and a minimum of mistakes.
In last year’s playoffs, the Hawks proved they can play that style and they had an urgency in their play and the depth on the bench to execute it. Players like Bickell, Shaw and Smith will have to be constant presences in front of the net in order for Chicago to have a chance in the postseason. What do Hawks fans want to see in these last three games? No injuries, strong defensive play (especially in front of Crawford), very little turnovers of the puck over and a constant presence in front of the opposition’s goalie.
If the Hawks can do those things and continue their regular season-ending win streak then they should be primed and ready to defend their Stanley Cup championship regardless of the seed they receive.
Don’t forget to catch an exclusive interview with the NHL Network’s Kathryn Tappen this Saturday on Regal Radio’s “D & Davis Show,” exclusively on chicagolandsportsradio.com. Tappen will help me and the guys preview the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs!
The Week Ahead
Wed., April 9 — vs. Montreal, 6:30 PM (Home Finale); Fri., April 11 — at Washington, 6 PM; Sun., April 13 — at Nashville (Regular Season Finale), 7 PM.
(All times Central)
Team Leaders: Goals — Patrick Sharp (33); Assists — Duncan Keith (54); Points — Sharp (76); Goals Against Average — Corey Crawford (2.22); Penalty Minutes — Brandon Bollig (92).
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