The Chicago Blackhawks’ 7-3 record over the past ten games has been a product of the teams’ continuous improvement, but the ‘Hawks must continue on this dominant path.
It has been rather exciting watching the Chicago Blackhawks really find their stride as the post season is creeping ever so close. The ‘Hawks have finally begun to look like more than a one-line team, and not to mention, Jonathan Toews is playing like he’s possessed these days. The ‘Hawks had been in desperate search of the right component to establish a solid top line and seemingly always failed, but that is not the case anymore.
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The first line combination of Richard Panik, Jonathan Toews, and Nick Schmaltz, almost single-handedly led the Blackhawks past the Central Division leading Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night. With a grand total of 10 points divided among the three, the ‘Hawks inched within five points of the Wild.
Perhaps the best part of the victory was the perfect timing in which it was achieved. Minnesota suffered the 5-3 home loss to the ‘Hawks and are now faced with their mandated bye week. The Wild will be at home while the Blackhawks will be battling the Arizona Coyotes and the rival St. Louis Blues, which creates a huge opportunity to gain some ground in the Central Division. Despite the outcome of these two games the Minnesota Wild will find themselves with 3 games in hand on the Blackhawks. However, the Blackhawks must make the most of these games, as well as the remaining schedule because first place is absolutely worth fighting for. And why exactly does first place need to be a priority for the ‘Hawks?
Hypothetically speaking, if the 2016-17 regular season ended today the Blackhawks would face the 3rd place St. Louis Blues in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Maybe I’m alone here, but I personally despise this matchup. Troy Brouwer’s go ahead goal in the ‘Hawks’ opening round matchup with the Blues last year still leaves an awful taste in my mouth. Find a happy place! Find a happy place!
I fear that this matchup would be rather troublesome for the ‘Hawks despite the St. Louis Blues being an entirely different looking team. You can call it a fork in the road or a hurdle, but we Blackhawks’ fans call it the St. Louis Blues.
Without a doubt, this rivalry brings out the best in the Blues and it is truly taken to heart in every meeting. Since the firing of Ken Hitchcock, the St. Louis Blues have gone 7-3 under Mike Yeo (same as the Blackhawks in the past ten games). The Blues’ big problem with goaltending isn’t completely turned around but is looking much better. Not to mention, Vladimir Tarasenko is officially the “‘Hawks killer”, averaging more points against the Blackhawks than any other NHL player. Although it’s too early to declare this the set in stone opening round matchup for the Blackhawks, I truly find this particular matchup with the St. Louis Blues to be the least ideal.
A far better matchup would be the possibility of taking on the Nashville Predators. Once again, this is all hypothetical but the Predators currently hold the 1st Wild Card spot and would be facing the first place Minnesota Wild in the first round in the playoffs.
Without question, the Nashville Predators are still a huge work in progress and have far more questions than other divisional opponents. Pekka Rinne’s play is far from the dominant goaltending he had put on display when the ‘Hawks faced the Preds in the first round of the 2014-15 playoffs.
Teams who currently find themselves in a playoff position could digress or improve. Obviously there are zero teams that are locked in place so this could be a whole different situation come April. We never know what the future holds but if one thing is certain, the Chicago Blackhawks find themselves in an excellent situation to climb the Central Division ladder as the team has played lights out as of late. The excellent play of veteran players like Toews and Kane absolutely reunites throughout the entire ‘Hawks’ lineup and especially fuels the youngsters.
Something worth fighting for
Earning first place honors is universally a desired situation no matter what sport or activity. It creates drive and purpose for teams. It pushes players to be the best they can be. In the Blackhawks’ scenario, the time is now to keep pushing the peddle to the floor and build on what has been a successful February in the NHL. This was a team that during the start of the season couldn’t kill a penalty to save their lives. This was a team that this year and last had struggled to roll with four lines, severely hurting the ‘Hawks offensively.
The Blackhawks’ recent play is the exact recipe for a very deep playoff run and quite possibly a shot at 7th Stanley Cup trophy for the franchise. With March just on the horizon, every point must be sacred for the Blackhawks. It’s time for the Blackhawks to capitalize against weaker opponents whom should be easy victories, and most importantly, divisional matchups. The time is now to continue to chase the Minnesota Wild in hopes of having a more favorable matchup come playoff time, and even more importantly to gain the massive boost of morale that the winning mentality will bring.