Sidney Brown brings his weekly dispatches from the front lines of Chicago Blackhawks fandom every week during the hockey season.
Winners of four of their last five games, the Chicago Blackhawks have themselves looking more in recent times like serious contenders for the Central Division title in the NHL’s Western Conference.
Getting heroics in abundance from its very own Captain Serious, Jonathan Toews, the team has been uplifted in a much-needed way as they head towards the Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’re seeing a team in Chicago with as much confidence and consistency as they’ve had at any point this season.
During the past week’s games, the Hawks scored a total of 15 goals while giving up 11. Yes, scoring has continued to be sufficient as the team continues its wait for Patrick Kane’s return while the Hawks’ defensive game has been good but still lacking stability at times.
Still, with Toews leading the way, the Hawks have remained successful and this past week may have seen new heights reached by a man who can be considered the best leader in the NHL.
Toews netted home the game-winning goal at Winnipeg on March 29 to secure an important 4-3 victory on the road and he managed to top himself at Buffalo this past Friday, scoring two goals only 45 seconds apart within the last 1 minute, 30 seconds of regulation, helping the Hawks pull out another 4-3 win. Toews bold effort seemed like a one-man recreation of the concluding moments of Game 6 in the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals.
The Hawks were able to overcome deficits at Winnipeg and at Buffalo for victories, but against better competition falling behind caught up with them. Two bad penalties at home against the St. Louis Blues on Sunday during the second period lead to the eventual go ahead goal for the Blues and a 2-1 loss on home ice.
Dumb penalties and inconsistent defensive play will hurt you every time and that has been a steady sub-plot for the Hawks the last few years. Fending off those negative traits is something more critical for the team now that their game is about as sharp as it can be heading into the playoffs.
Knowing whether or not the Hawks can get sharper is a great unknown as is whether or not they can win a playoff series without Kane? Chicago will find out sooner than later. Something else that’ll need to be found out is whether or not this team can clean up the silly mistakes and whether the team’s second and third-line players will contribute offensively and in keeping opponents from occupying too much space in front of Corey Crawford’s net.
With three games remaining in the regular season — including two against potential playoff opponents out of division — the Hawks are already engaged in a test of what playoff hockey is about. Kane is not a factor right now but the Hawks still have a chance to send a message that the road through the Western Conference can very well go through Chicago.
Central Division Standings (Entering Tuesday)
St. Louis Blues — 49-23-7 (105 points)
Nashville Predators — 47-22-10 (104 points)
Chicago Blackhawks — 48-25-6 (102 points)
Nashville: at Colorado, vs. Minnesota, at Dallas
St. Louis: vs. Winnipeg, vs. Chicago, vs. Minnesota
Chicago: vs. Minnesota, at St. Louis, at Colorado
From the looks of each team’s remaining schedule, the division-leading Predators hold the advantage competitively but the Blues have a slight edge due to their last three games being at home.
The only way the Hawks have chance to at least clinch a second place spot in the division it seems is for them to win out. It is possible?Yes, but the only thing that should matter to the Men in Red at this point is to play with consistency as the playoffs get closer to their April 15th beginning.
Goals — Jonathan Toews (28); Assists — Toews (38); Points — Toews (76); Goals Against Average — Scott Darling (1.86); Penalty Minutes — Andrew Shaw (65).
Goals Per Game: 2.7 (16th in NHL)
Goals Allowed: 2.3 (2nd in NHL)
Power Play Percentage: 17.8 (20th in NHL)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 84.2 (7th in NHL)
The Road Ahead
Tonight vs. Minnesota Wild — 7:30 p.m. (Reg. Season Home Finale)
Thursday at St. Louis Blues — 7 p.m.
Saturday at Colorado Avalanche — 8 p.m. (End of Reg. Season)
*All Times Central
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