Blackhawks Hope To Put March Sadness Behind Them

Despite a much-needed victory over the Calgary Flames Saturday night, the Chicago Blackhawks have lost seven of their last ten games and have only earned nine points in the month of March. As the playoffs near, hopefully Saturday’s victory generates some positive energy before round one.

They came into March looking new and improved following an impressive trade deadline, and notched an imposing victory over the league-leading Washington Capitals in what pundits called a Stanley Cup preview. Soon after, a collection of the league’s contenders had their way with the defending Stanley Cup champions. Western Conference foes including the St. Louis Blues, Los Angeles Kings and leading Dallas Stars defeated the Blackhawks along the way to punching their ticket to April’s postseason festivities.

Now, the Blackhawks sit at fourth place in the Western Conference at 93 points, with the playoff-bound Anaheim Ducks (92 points) and scorching hot Nashville Predators (91 points) in their rear view mirror and closing fast.

Throughout the slump, the Blackhawks scored less than three goals per contest. For a team that introduced Andrew Ladd, Tomas Fleischmann, Dale Weise and Christian Ehrhoff to a potent roster consisting of point leader Patrick Kane and rookie sensation Artemi Panarin, you’d think they’d have no problem closing out the season. Nevertheless, that didn’t seem to be the case.

Speaking of Kane, #88 hasn’t had the flashiest month. Kane has registered only a goal and four points in his last 8 games.

His contributions are vital to the team’s success, as the Buffalo native has tallied a point in all but two of the Blackhawks’ 43 wins this season. Before Calgary’s tilt, Coach Joel Quenneville gave Kane a break from practice, hoping that it would help the winger reboot for the final stretch of games this season. On Saturday night, Kane assisted Teuvo Teravainen on an empty-netter to propel Chicago to a 4-1 win.

Chicago misses goaltender Corey Crawford, who has sat out the past couple of games due to an upper-body injury.

The netminder leads the NHL with seven shutouts and is tied for third in the win column at 35. His status remains day-to-day, as he didn’t travel with the squad for this weekend’s back-to-back games. Backup Scott Darling, who earned 1st star of the game honors with a stellar performance versus the Flames, will continue to start between the pipes. 34-year-old Michael Leighton will assist in relief. That will likely be a combination for the rest of the season, which ensures Crawford is healthy for round one of the playoffs.

Fortunately, the squad received a boost from Marcus Kruger Saturday night. Kruger returned from a dislocated left wrist.

Chicago has certainly missed its top penalty-killing forward in Kruger. He returned to a unit that ranks a lowly 24th in the league. Kruger brings dominance to the faceoff dot, winning 49.7% of faceoff’s before his injury back in December. The center was recently signed to a three-year contract extension on March 8. His presence is vital to the team’s success.

Also, versatile winger Andrew Shaw is peaking at the right time. In Saturday’s game, Shaw took an unnecessary slashing penalty, and then redeemed himself by scoring the go-ahead goal with 49 seconds left in the second period. He has scored a goal in 3 straight games.

Even with the recent collapse, history is on Chicago’s side when it comes to late-season losing streaks. Last time around, the crew went into the postseason with only five wins in their final 13 games. Well, safe to say that didn’t mean much.

With seven regular-season games remaining on the calendar, the Blackhawks hope to build on Saturday night’s momentum. They’ll play the Vancouver Canucks (27-34-13) Sunday night where one point can clinch a playoff spot. Can the Blackhawks put this recent slump behind them? Stay tuned for what should be an exciting ending to this NHL season.