Chicago Blackhawks: It’s Not Over Until It’s Over

By Gail Kauchak

Feb 26, 2015; Sunrise, FL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks left wing Brandon Saad (20) celebrates his goal against the Florida Panthers with center Brad Richards (91) center Jonathan Toews (19) defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson (4) and defenseman Duncan Keith (2) in the second period at BB&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

My meathead co-worker already has the Chicago Blackhawks exiting the playoffs in the first round.  He’s not calling for Daniel Carcillo to play, so at least we have that going for us.  But I’m sure he’s not alone in his frustration with the Blackhawks in this final stretch of the season.  Three losses in a row by a measly score of 2-1 is not the way to go out with a bang.

But the end of the season is not the end.  The Chicago Blackhawks have clinched a playoff spot.  This is only the beginning.  “We’ve been starting on the road in a lot of playoff series over the years, and you just have to be ready for Game 1 and take who we have to play and be ready.”  Coach Quenneville doesn’t sound too concerned about starting on the road.  He mentioned a few days ago that the Hawks have actually played a better, simpler game away from home.

So it’s obvious the Hawks weren’t looking to win these last games to get home ice advantage.  Their opponent choices as of right now could be the Anaheim Ducks, the Nashville Predators, or the St. Louis Blues.  But the scoring is so close it will take everyone’s last game to determine the final seeding.  So it also doesn’t seem to be a concern to win to play a certain team.

With that being said, maybe it’s more important to rest players and try some different looks.  I certainly hope this is the case, because otherwise I would question a number of choices Coach Quenneville and his staff have made recently.  Let’s take a look at some of these decisions to determine why the Hawks have not been playing very well, and how they can hopefully pull things together for a deep playoff run.

The Hawks have been playing without Kimmo Timonen for the past two tilts.  Timonen might be largely unproven so far, but he is a steady and consistent defenseman.  He is 40 years old, and can’t play heavy ice time.  But I certainly feel he is still a better option than either Michal Rozsival or David Rundblad.  It has been announced that Timonen has an upper body injury.  Let’s hope this is code for a reason to rest Timonen so he is able to contribute when it really counts.

The proven defensive pairings of Brent Seabrook/Duncan Keith, and Niklas Hjalmarsson/Johnny Oduya also haven’t been playing together very much in these last games.  But when and if they are reunited in the playoffs, this could be a wonderful thing.  Is Coach Q just testing them?  Perhaps forcing them to go outside of their comfort zone?  Then when they are put back together they can turn it on?  Let’s hope so.

On the offensive side of things, it has also been announced that Brad Richards will not play for the rest of the regular season, but he should be ready for the playoffs.  Again, this is an older player who could use this last week to rest and prepare.

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Marcus Kruger also did not play on Thursday night against the St. Louis Blues.  It’s not surprising that Kruger has an injury; he arguably gets hit more than any of the guys on the team.    Kruger might be a fourth liner, but he is great at shutting down the opposition, and he is strong on the penalty kill.  Let’s hope he is better soon, as he is a key component for the team.

During the Minnesota game, Coach Q had Rozsival, Rundblad, and Kris Versteeg out on the ice during the final minute of the game.  At the time, the Hawks were down 2-1, and a score would have tied it and forced overtime.  Why, I ask you?  And why is Versteeg still on the first line?!

And of course there is the missing piece of Patrick Kane.  Kaner is practicing and taking shots, but when will he be cleared for contact?  It’s even been hinted that Kane has been finding ways to have contact while the rest of the team is on this last regular season road trip.  It will be interesting to hear more about Kane’s progress when the season ends.  When will he be able to return?  He could certainly help with scoring, and on the non-existent power play.

Captain Jonathan Toews would say there are no excuses, but the above are a number of reasons that the Hawks haven’t been able to put their best foot forward.   Most of these things can be remedied, but is it too late?

What do you say Blackhawks fans?  Are you like my friend Rich and think they’re not good enough to make it past the first round?  Or do you hold out hope that they can pull it together?  We will find out soon.

The final regular season game is tonight against the Colorado Avalanche.  After that we will know what place the Chicago Blackhawks will finish in the standings.  And we will know who they play in the first round of the playoffs.  Let’s go Hawks!

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