The Chicago Blackhawks suffered two more heart-wrenching losses this past week following a soaring 4-0 victory over the Winnipeg Jets. Granted, the Minnesota Wild and Dallas Stars make tough opponents — both teams have defeated the Blackhawks in multiple competitions this season, and the Dallas Stars have the most goals of all teams in the league.
Still, when you look at the Blackhawks’ last 10 games, Chicago only posted three wins, and those wins came against teams that are not currently in the playoff picture (although the Detroit Red Wings are just outside a wild card spot). In recent performances, the team looked dull and frustrated, and now many fans are starting to feel like its Stanley Cup dreams are sinking below the horizon.
But things are not all bad in the land of Chicago hockey. Forwards Andrew Shaw and Richard Panik played incredibly well in the losses to Minnesota and Dallas. Together, they scored all four of the Blackhawks’ goals in those games, with each skater scoring in each game.
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Against Minnesota, Shaw sweetly dragged the puck around a sprawling defenseman and snuck a shot past Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk. Shortly after that, he helped the ’Hawks tie the game when he drove toward the net before sliding the puck up to Duncan Keith for a shot from the blue line. Panik collected the rebound from Keith’s shot and coolly swept it behind the net before smashing it in for a wrap-around goal.
A few days later, against Dallas, Shaw struck first again, only this time the goal was more spectacular. Off a faceoff, Shaw wriggled through the slot to the front of the net. Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa circled up toward the point with the puck before throwing it toward the net. The shot was deflected, and it popped off Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen’s pads. Shaw batted the puck out of the air and into the net in an amazing display of hand-eye coordination. Then, midway through the third period, Panik received a pass at the side of the net from teammate Teuvo Teravainen. In a desperate attempt to save the obvious one-timer, Lehtonen dove out and went down on his stomach. Panik waited for Lehtonen to go down, pulled the puck below the goal line and stuffed it into the net for the goal.
Even though the Blackhawks lost both games, the stellar play of Panik and Shaw ought to be celebrated. Neither player is known as a goal scorer. And while coach Joel Quenneville is famous for shuffling his players around like a crazed magician, he normally plays Shaw and Panik together on the fourth line. For the most part, the fourth line plays a high-energy game, springing in on the forecheck and providing the kind of pressure that can lead to advantageous turnovers. They punish opponents with hits. They battle along the boards. And they like to loiter around the front of the net and bang the rebounds home.
Watching the games against Minnesota and Dallas, it was clear that Shaw and Panik were outworking the other team every shift on the ice, and that hard work resulted in some great goals. It is great to see the guys on the bottom line clicking, grooving and scoring goals. Most teams that make deep playoff runs generate scoring from all levels of their depth chart, so if the Blackhawks want to be successful in the playoffs, they will need more goals from third- and fourth-line guys like Shaw and Panik.
This is the right time to start building momentum and developing line chemistry as the Blackhawks look forward to the playoffs. The first round of the playoffs will see the Blackhawks battle any one of these Central Division teams: the St. Louis Blues, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild or Nashville Predators. They may even draw the Pacific Division’s Los Angeles Kings or Anaheim Ducks. If they hope to be playing hockey well into June this year, the Blackhawks will need to find ways to defeat their Western Conference opponents — teams that have dominated them all season long.
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If Shaw and Panik continue to play with the same energy and determination they have shown recently, they may rally the team for one more blitz through the final weeks of the regular season. Panik’s and Shaw’s game will certainly serve as the roadmap to victory for the Blackhawks in the coming weeks. This skilled group of players will have to work a lot harder if they want to finish the season strong and hit the first week of the playoffs feeling unstoppable. Who better to learn from right now? Both Shaw and Panik are lighting it up like Wild Bill. Let’s hope they can inspire their teammates to play with more energy and, of course, to score more goals.
Here come the ’Hawks! The mighty Blackhawks!