Steve makes a lot of great points. Playing competitively and making these games truly matter is undoubtedly important as it helps this mixture of young, inexperienced players and veterans to grow as a team. That said, in that statement lies what I feel is the most important aspect of these final few weeks.
Like Steve points out, the Chicago Blackhawks aren’t currently on the same level as powerhouse teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning or Washington Capitals.
Yet the fact that this team is in the playoff discussion at all is a major step in the right direction. Charlie Roumeliotis pointed out all the positives strides the ‘Hawks taken to get to this point. What’s most important to me is that they continue taking these steps.
These final games carry weight. They have meaning. The young players on this roster have an opportunity to play in high-pressure games. Furthermore, the veteran core has the opportunity to play in those games with a new group of guys. They can take another step towards growing together as a team.
After all, that’s what this end-of-the-season-defying-all-odds-playoff-run should be about: growing as a group.
Win or lose, playoffs or no playoffs, there are valuable lessons to be learned in this final stretch. My hope is that the Chicago Blackhawks can find them, learn from them, and carry this momentum (and growth!) into being a better hockey team next year.
Jeremy Colliton just might be the guy to ensure that happens.
My most important aspect heading into the final stretch of the season? Go easy on Corey Crawford.
What does Corey Crawford need to prove this year? Whether or not the Chicago Blackhawks make the playoffs, the net is secure enough to keep his games at a minimum to ensure he his healthy in the off-season. Playing the hell out of him at this point of the year will not provide the playoff insurance fans are looking for. With the defensive problems and lack of real depth scoring, if Chicago makes the playoffs the road will be short. Also, a team with the league-worst penalty kill is going to have a tough time making big strides come playoff time.
Keep Crawford healthy and split the games more in Ward’s favor. Corey has been able to put up a .907 GAA in 30 games despite his heartbreaking back-and-forth injuries of the last year and a half. His jaw-dropping shutout in Montreal notwithstanding, that performance is highly unlikely to be sustainable to allow for a deep Cup run. By comparison, Cam Ward has also played in 30 games (27 starts) with a .893 GAA.
While his numbers may not be stellar, it isn’t awful either. On top of that, he was on a 5-game win streak prior to the overtime loss to the Canucks. #50 deserves the Masterton Memorial Trophy this summer, hands down.