Semyon Varlamov Made the Central Division a Must Win for the Hawks


Mar 12, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville looks on from behind the bench against the Colorado Avalanche in the first period at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

You ever see a bad movie? Here’s the title of the one I just saw the other night: Avs’ Ivan Drago vs. Hawks’ Clubber Lang IV. Spoiler alert: it was just as big of a disappointment as the first three.

Two nights ago our beloved Chicago Blackhawks took the ice in Denver against the Colorado Avalanche in their last chance of the regular season to beat the Avs’ red hot Rus, Semyon Varlamov. For many of the forward-thinking Hawks fans out there, this game carried a heck of a lot more significance than just another two points, though given the dog fight for the top spot in the Central Division, those points are pretty darn important too, especially when you don’t get them, like last Wednesday night.

Points and standings aside, last Wednesday night’s game was a measuring stick for the Hawks against the one goalie this season they’ve have not been able to beat and second spoiler alert: Varalmov put up another infuriating amount of saves (37 this time around) to deny the Blackhawks of a W yet again. I’ll spare you the gruesome details, but given this was the Hawks’ last chance this to prove they can get the better of Varlamov, and given the probability the Hawks may be meeting the Avs in the first round of the playoffs (with the Pepsi Center being the home ice if the post season started today), you probably wouldn’t be too hard pressed to find a Hawks fans with teeth marks on their knuckles (and not the cool kind – the nervous kind).

Let’s take stock of a few things here though. Pride and bragging rights aside, Varlamov, who is obviously playing a lights out season, is human, albeit frustratingly so, considering teams like the Edmonton Oilers lit him up with 8 goals this season. However, what worries me the most about Varlamov is who’s pulling his strings: the second winningest goalie and most winningest goalie in the playoffs in the NHL, Patrick Roy. The impact of Roy’s guidance of Varlamov in the playoffs is a scary prospect and one I’d prefer the Hawks not to experience first hand.

Let me be clear though. Should the coin fall a certain way, do I think the Hawks can beat the Avs in the playoffs? Yes. While the Blackhawks may be slow learners at times, they do learn, and they have gotten by formidable goaltenders before in the post season; Tuuka Rask and Jimmy Howard being the most recent. However, do I feel comfortable with the Hawks potentially playing the Avs in the first round of the post season? No.

So what’s the solution? Well we have to admit after the other night’s loss the Hawks are up against a bit wall if they don’t want to face Avs in the post season. So in order to avoid that match-up, they’ll need to win the Central Division.

As of this post, the Hawks are 5 points behind the division-leading St. Louis Blues and some of you more pessimistic fans out there may say the ship has sailed for the Hawks to reclaim the top spot given how little regular season is left, but let me break it down this way: even if the Hawks fail to recapture the top spot in the division, the byproducts they’ll achieve on their way to this goal will reap big dividends in the post season. The short of it: the Hawks need to string together some redemption wins so they have momentum to carry over into the playoffs, regardless of where they end up in the standings.

You have to believe after letting a beatable team, save for their horseshoe-swallowing goaltender, like  the Avalanche get the better of them one too many times this season has irked the Blackhawks; you only need to read the post-game player interviews to deduce as much.  The Hawks have lost face to their fans, but more importantly to themselves. Which is in all likelihood one of the main reasons Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman is bringing top-prospect (perhaps a bit too early -TBD) Teuvo Teräväinen from Finland to Chicago this season as opposed to waiting for the next to be the 19-year-old’s debut.

Don’t necessarily expect Teräväinen to be the Hawks’ ace in the hole, but his arrival in Chi-Town highlights the importance of finishing with the best possible record in the regular season to the Blackhawks organization, and that the rest of the team needs to step up their sense of urgency. This will hopefully translate into a slew or two of victories that will create leathal momentum for the Hawks going into the post season. The time to remind the rest of the NHL who the defending Stanley Cup champs are is now!