If there is one thing the Chicago Blackhawks have been doing consistently this season, it is being inconsistent.
Just a few nights ago, they managed to shut out the St. Louis Blues by a margin of 4-0, in spite of losing Patrick Kane to injury midway through the game. It was certainly not a foregone conclusion that the Blackhawks would pull off a win, let alone a shutout, against a team they have struggled against all season and to whom they ceded the top spot in the Central Division in the wake of the Great January Slump.
Yet they did win – in an impressive and commanding fashion to boot. But the Hawks knew that no matter who they faced next, they would have to step up their game in the absence of Kane. Brandon Saad and Michal Rozsival were also still sidelined with injuries. Bryan Bickell managed to outdo himself and try to make up for lost time by delivering a season’s worth of hits in one game against the Blues, so we would likewise be out for a while.
Reinforcements were called in: Jeremy Morin was sent up from Rockford, and Teuvo Teravainen flew over from Finland but needed some acclimation time before jumping into a game. On Friday, the Hawks managed to beat the Carolina Hurricanes, but the signs of struggle were painfully clear as they just eked out a 3-2 victory over a team that has been lingering in the bottom 10 in the overall NHL standings.
Just yesterday, the Philadelphia Flyers handed the Blues another loss; earlier today, the Blues rebounded and beat the Pittsburgh Penguins. So all the Blackhawks would have needed to do to close the gap to 4 points is to win in today’s rematch against the Preds, whose record was practically the same as that of the Canes. Sounded simple enough, right?
The first period seemed promising. The Hawks were outshooting their opponent in typical fashion. Sheldon Brookbank thought he would start the sideshow a bit early this time by engaging in some fisticuffs with Rich Clune a mere five minutes in. Then came the late first period goal: Ryan Ellis fired a long shot that Mike Fisher tipped in just behind Corey Crawford with just a little over a minute to go. The other noteworthy part of the first period: Andrew Shaw’s massive hit on Seth Jones, which ended up taking Jones out for the rest of the game.
The second period was hardly any different. The Hawks peppered Pekke Rinne with pucks but just couldn’t crack him. On the other end of the ice, Crow let in an arguably soft goal by Gabriel Borque on his glove side. But for the most part, silence fell on the United Center. Loud snoring and crickets could be heard over the sounds of skates and sticks, briefly interrupted by a couple of scrums: one early in the period when Morin hit Roman Josi and found himself at the bottom of a Preds pile led by Eric Nystrom; the other when Shea Weber instigated a fight with Kris Versteeg after the whistle blew to end the period.
The third period – well, the good news is that the Hawks managed to keep from being blown out, even if they were unable to keep from being shut out. Among the many frustrating things from tonight’s game – other than being completely devoid of a sense of urgency – was the ongoing inability to capitalize on power plays. The Hawks had 5 (count ‘em, FIVE!) power plays with which to try to close the gap and at least get a point by taking the game to OT.
With today’s Blues win and Hawks loss, the Hawks stand 6 points behind the lead in the Central Division and a mere 3 points ahead of the Colorado Avalanche (and these two teams that bookend the Hawks each have a game in hand). Coach Quenneville has mentioned it was “likely” that Teuvo would see some real ice time in Tuesday’s game against the Dallas Stars. Remember the last time we had a Finn step in for an injured Hawk, circa November/December 2013? It worked out pretty well then, from what I recall.
Here’s hoping for similar results when Teuvo finally joins the lineup this week. With Kane out for the remaining 10 games of the regular season, the Hawks could certainly use the reinforcement while they sort themselves out and gear up for the playoffs.