Now that 82 games have passed and a record of 46-21-15 has resulted in 107 points during the season, the Chicago Blackhawks are set for their Stanley Cup Playoff battle vs the St. Louis Blues this Thursday evening. On the eve of the Chicago Blackhawks first game of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, I find myself looking back at the long journey that has unfolded during this eventful season. I would like to share some of the events that took place, both good and bad. Streaks, slumps, and injuries seemed to be the cycle of events that resulted…
A LOOK BACK INTO THE SEASON
Since the NHL and the NHLPA did not have to negotiate for a new collective bargaining agreement in the off-season, things got off to a normal start once again with the kickoff of the season on Tuesday Oct. 1, 2013. This was a special day for the Chicago Blackhawks as they rolled out the red carpet and raised their 2013 Stanley Cup banner. They also did something that hadn’t happened since 2009; they actually won the game after raising the banner.
For the month of October the Chicago Blackhawks put up an 8-2-3 record. This was pretty respectable but things were a little different from the previous year where they didn’t lose during regulation until their 24th game of the year. The Blackhawks first loss of the 2013/2014 season came early, just three games in, to none other than the St. Louis Blues with a score of 3-2. What a coincidence that is who they will be playing in the first round of the playoffs, right?
For the month of November the Chicago Blackhawks put up a respectable 12-2-1 record. The Chicago Blackhawks seemed to get comfortable and rode two separate streaks during the span. The first was a 4 game win streak after bouncing back from an overtime loss to the Calgary Flames. The Hawks rode Patrick Sharps superb play from Nov. 3 – Nov. 10 and he earned the NHL vote for Third Star of the Week. Patrick Sharp’s contributions included an NHL league leading six assists and seven points in three games. Following the streak the Hawks saw a slight skid after falling two out of three games to divisional rivals, the Nashville Predators and Colorado Avalanche. However, things turned around quickly as they posted a 6 game win streak to close out the end of October as the best in the league.
For the month of December the Chicago Blackhawks put up an 8-3-3 record. This was a pretty decent month considering the circumstances at hand. The Chicago Blackhawks started the month of December off on the wrong leg, literally. Corey Crawford, one of the Blackhawks most important pieces was sidelined with a leg injury December 8 after pushing off his leg while trying to make a save. The original verdict was that Crawford would be out a minimum of 3 weeks to let this one heal. So with that hitting the Hawks and some fearing the worse, they called upon their rookie goaltender Antti Raanta to take over in-goal. Refreshing your memory, Raanta had only seen 4 games for the Chicago Blackhawks prior. Given those circumstances Raanta did a solid job keeping the team pieced together while putting up a 4-1-1 record in the first 6 starts since Corey Crawford’s leg injury.
For the month of January the Chicago Blackhawks put up a 4-3-7 record which was the first month without a winning record. They did manage to scratch 7 points out of overtime loss, shootout loss games however. Corey Crawford made his return on January 2 after missing nearly a month as expected. Though he did lose his first two contests, they were not solely on Crawford’s play. It was more on the team effort or lack thereof in their case. Some threw out the questioning of who the Blackhawks number one goalie should be but in the end as it should be, Corey Crawford is their starter and Antti Raanta serves as the backup.
For the month of January the Chicago Blackhawks put up a 2-2-1 record. Most of the games happened earlier in the month before the Sochi Olympic break which went from Feb. 7 – Feb. 27. Some of the Blackhawks got to take a break and recover during this stretch, while 10 others on the team dealt with long flights, time changes, larger ice to skate, and more games squeezed in a short amount of time. The Blackhawks ended up representing 5 different countries in the Olympics sending Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya, Marcus Kruger, Marian Hossa, Michal Handzus, and Michal Rozsival. Many questioned the effects of having so many people from one team playing in the Olympics with the chance of losing a player to injury and also the physical toll on the body down the stretch of a long season.
For the month of March the Chicago Blackhawks put up a 7-7-1 record which was a rollercoaster of a ride. The Blackhawks started the month off with a bang, March 1, in the Stadium Series vs the Pittsburgh Penguins with a 5-1 victory during a cold and snowy game. It looked as if the Blackhawks were going to put together something great after that win but things unfolded. The loss of Patrick Kane March 19 against the St. Louis Blues was a huge loss, putting him on the DL for the rest of the season until the playoffs. After that the players not being consistent, getting to the front of the net, and not attempting to go after the pucks proved to be their problems against the teams that counted the most. They were getting beat by their division rivals losing key points that would prove to be critical in the end. Then to add more salt to the Hawks injury wound, Jonathan Toews was sidelined also until the playoffs from absorbing a bone crunching hit March 30 against the Penguins. Then Blackhawks went on to lose the game and close the month on a 3 game losing streak. To make things worse, all 7 losses in the month of March were division foes. As a result, the Hawks will be starting the playoffs on the road in St. Louis.
For the month of April the Chicago Blackhawks put up a 4-2-0 record which was surprising after not having Kane and Toews in the lineup. Instead, they called up their 19-year-old 2012 1st round draft pick, Teuvo Teravainen, for a few games and got some crucial points from their young guns like Ben Smith and Jeremy Morin. They all put together some good efforts and a 4 game win streak but there was just not enough games left to gain an advantage in the standings. The last two games of the season vs. the Washington Capitals and Nashville Predators had no significance whatsoever. They mainly gave some of their key starters a rest in preparation for the long playoffs ahead.
The Chicago Blackhawks still find themselves favored as the winner of the 2014 Stanley Cup Finals even after the roller coaster of events that have played out during the season and the injuries sustained. This is because of the depth of team and the way Joel Quenneville uses his players to his advantage. As you may have already figured out Joel Quenneville is probably the top coach in the league when it comes to effectively motivating and positioning his team. If he sees something weird in a line he will change them on a period to period basis or even a shift to shift basis if he needs to. As you saw recently, the lines are changing for the addition of Toews and Kane so keep a close eye on the results. LET’S GO HAWKS!
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