Just when you thought the Chicago Blackhawks had righted the ship, they were blown out in a crucial matchup. But more chances exist in the very near future to prove the team is heading the correct direction.
When the Chicago Blackhawks lost 4-0 to the Dallas Stars on Thursday in a battle of Western Conference wild card teams, it was easy to see fans getting back in the dumps, as they had been before the Blackhawks’ five-game winning streak.
We thought the Blackhawks may have turned a corner and might get back to their old winning ways. But they proved they still have a long way to go to become a serious contender this season, and that the next few months will likely be a grind.
But while looking far into the future can be fun, it’s not what the Blackhawks need right now. No doubt they know this, but it’s fair for fans to recognize it as well. The Blackhawks face two particularly important contests before 2017 even lets out — and, no, one of them is not tonight’s game against New Jersey.
Go West, young men
It’s always nice to test yourself against solid competition from another conference. While I’m still not sure what to make of the New Jersey Devils, winning against a team that is currently top three in the cutthroat Metropolitan Division would be a nice look for the Blackhawks tonight.
That being said, losing the game wouldn’t be quite so damaging because the Devils and Blackhawks aren’t directly fighting one another for playoff spots. However, the same can’t be said of Chicago’s remaining foes this calendar year.
Maybe road matchups against Edmonton and Calgary aren’t terribly appealing on paper, especially with bigger things going on outside hockey this time of year. But the Blackhawks had better not feel that way, because it could play a big role in the Western Conference playoff hunt.
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Vancouver is also in this run of games, but I don’t consider it a contender right now. The Blackhawks still need to take the Canucks seriously, of course, as dropping points to an obviously bad team is no way to convince yourself you’re heading in the right direction.
But those games against the Oilers and Flames have a different meaning. Playing Edmonton on the back end of a back-to-back is pretty ugly timing for the Blackhawks. The Oilers are one of those speedy teams that can screw up what the Blackhawks want to do simply by moving. And while the Oil hasn’t been amazing this season, it is on a three-game win streak and just five points behind Chicago.
The Flames, meanwhile, are tied with the Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild at 39 points, though they have games in hand on neither. Still, falling short against a team that’s right there with you for a wild-card spot is a huge issue, no matter the time of year.
Matter of timing
It’s not necessarily that the Oilers and Flames are the Tampa Bay Lightning. I think both Edmonton and Calgary are underachieving this season, but the bigger issue here is that they’re both directly in contention with the Blackhawks for a playoff spot.
It might seem like losing to a team like Dallas is even worse because the Stars are also in the Central Division, but the Blackhawks are a sketchy pick for top three in the Central right now. Therefore, teams like Edmonton and Calgary need to be treated like division foes.
The Blackhawks just can’t afford to lose to either of these teams right now. Though they’ll always tell the media they aren’t panicking, there has to be a sense of concern with the fact consistent success against good teams just hasn’t existed this season. Not even good teams — teams the Blackhawks need to beat.
Consider, Chicago is five points from being above only the Arizona Coyotes in the Western Conference. Despite a five-game winning streak, the Blackhawks are not running away with anything. As such, they can’t afford to overlook Calgary or Edmonton right now.
I put those two in this discussion over Vancouver, which is situated between the Flames and Oilers in the standings, because of the aforementioned belief of underachievement. Calgary and Edmonton have pieces in place to turn things around quickly, and they have pieces in place to embarrass the Blackhawks when they can’t afford to be.
Getting outworked, as the Blackhawks were against Dallas, just won’t cut it in Edmonton or Calgary. In fact, if that happens, I’d say panic would be a very fair emotion to feel among the Blackhawks fandom.