With their win against the Colorado Avalanche and the Los Angeles Kings’ loss to the Calgary Flames, the Chicago Blackhawks officially clinched their playoff spot on Sunday night. It will be the ninth consecutive appearance in the post-season for the team.
It took a bit of work for the Blackhawks to secure their playoff spot last night. Prior to the game, it was known by both the team and their fans, that a win for the Hawks and a loss for the Kings could secure Chicago’s Stanley Cup run. Patrick Kane opened the scoring with a beautiful goal, but the Hawks were quickly put into a hole when the Avs’ Mikhail Grigorenko put in two in a row and when Sven Andrighetto tallied the lone goal of the second period. It wasn’t until the third period, when the Hawks finally started to get things together. Jonathan Toews, Richard Panik, and Artemi Panarin all put up goals within a time span of thirty-four seconds. Toews then scored another goal a few minutes later in the period, and Marcus Kruger put the final nail in the coffin with two seconds remaining in the game.
The game last night describes a large portion of the problems that the Blackhawks have faced this year. Even as a solid team, they still, of course, have issues to fix before playoffs officially start. Within this game and a number of their past games, the Blackhawks have looked slow in the majority of the game. Whether it is the beginning forty minutes or the last forty minutes, the Hawks sometimes have a hard problem putting together the full sixty minutes. In the majority of these cases, it is the offense who fails to show up when needed and the team instead relies on the defense to keep them in the game. Going into the playoffs, this will not be a strong strategy, especially given who the Hawks could potentially play.
There also has been some heavy reliance on the goaltending this season, and the Blackhawks will need to be careful about testing that method out in the postseason. Both Scott Darling and Corey Crawford have been spectacular, but playing in a series, especially in the time span given, can cause a goalie to face some serious physical, as well as mental, fatigue. Instead, the Blackhawks will want to tighten up the defense and use the veteran experience of members like Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook to their advantage.
On the plus side, however, it appears that the Blackhawks continue to grow stronger and more complete as the days to playoff hockey draw closer. With the addition of John Hayden, the Blackhawks have looked like a more-complete, all-around package. They are currently waiting for the return of veteran Marian Hossa, but considering that his injury is not particularly terrible, it doesn’t seem like it will be that long until he returns. The Hawks are also expected to get a boost when Artem Anisimov returns from his injury, which should be right around the start of round one.
In addition to securing their playoff spot, the Blackhawks also remain atop the Central Division and the Western Conference with their win last night. They are seven points above the Minnesota Wild, who used to lead the division, but have recently hit a rough patch. Though it could definitely change with time, it appears that the Hawks are very likely to play the Nashville Predators or the St. Louis Blues in the first round of playoffs. Hopefully, as the season comes to a close and the games become more and more of a big deal, the Blackhawks will be able to keep the train chugging along and continue moving up the hill.