As the Chicago Blackhawks continue to see their playoff hopes fade, every game in front of them becomes that much more pivotal. It’s not just that they are no longer playing up to the surprising standard they set early on this season, it’s that the teams around them in the standings have simultaneously elevated.
One such club is the Dallas Stars, who have steadily crept up and now sit right behind the Blackhawks in the Discover Central Division. Being in such close proximity, matches between the two will have direct implications on who ends up where by season’s end. So, winning really is the only option — for both sides.
While neither will find elation from the overall results in this series, the Blackhawks certainly seem to be on the wrong end of the momentum swing from how it shaped up by the end of Thursday’s tilt.
Records & Results
Having lost four of their past five, another two-game set against a Stars team that they were 3-1-0 against could have been just what the Blackhawks needed. However, Dallas is in a battle of their own and isn’t looking to do Chicago any favours along the way.
April 6 vs. Dallas Stars: 4-2 (W)
April 8 vs. Dallas Stars: 5-1 (L)
Whether the Blackhawks could secure these four points or not was a crucial test of what they are made of and they ultimately failed. They are no longer in a position where they can afford to split a series. Having done far more losing of late, every win matters that much more. Only earning one of the two available here just doesn’t cut it.
Chicago is now 18-18-5, with 41 points, sitting in fifth place of Central. The Nashville Predators currently have a four-point lead for the last playoff spot and Dallas is only two wins away from bypassing the Blackhawks, with three games in hand.
Welcome Home, Hinostroza
We might as well start with a positive, as they are few and far between of late. We’ve come to accept that Stan Bowman can’t get away from re-acquiring past players. Yet, there is always intrigue in anticipating their excitement and energy once re-infused into the lineup. And Vinnie Hinostroza did not disappoint.
In what was the start of their pre-deadline trade activity with the Florida Panthers, the Blackhawks welcomed Hinostroza back. He began his professional career in Chicago and last competed with the team in the 2017-18 season. He since moved on to play with the Arizona Coyotes and Panthers before this recent reunion with the club that drafted him.
His most productive season to date came in 2018-19 when he earned 39 points in 72 games with the Coyotes. His stats then began to decline. Yet, in the two games since returning, Hinostroza already has higher assists, points, takeaways, hits, and average ice time than he did through nine contests with Florida in 2020-21.
Clearly, Hinostroza finds comfort in that Chicago sweater, and we hope he continues to for both his and the Blackhawks’ sake.
Lazy to Rely on Lankinen
It’s become beyond abundantly clear that Kevin Lankinen is Chicago’s number one netminder. Rightfully so, as he’s earned that title and opportunity throughout this impressive rookie campaign. However, that doesn’t mean he should be worked to the point of detriment.
By the conclusion of this set versus the Stars, Lankinen had played 12 of Chicago’s past 14 contests. It’s one thing to ride the hot hand, but at what cost? Besides, his stats have come back down to Earth in recent weeks, so rotating starters can certainly be rationalized.
Lankinen looked tired on Thursday and justifiably so. Chicago lost 5-1, despite Lankinen’s expected goals against being only 2.91. While he’s performed beyond expectations most of the season, overworking him will only result in burnout that translates into these types of performances.
This isn’t about punishing Lankinen, either. It’s about protecting him. He should be rewarded for his solid play and the success he’s helped Chicago achieve, but they need to ensure they are now setting him up for the best opportunities to progress. While he’s obviously their goalie of the future, supporting him in the present is a prerequisite.
Tale of Two Teams
Implementing a Jekyll and Hyde type of approach at the best of times this season, it’s hard to predict which Blackhawks team we’ll see on any given night. They sweep the division-leading Panthers in decisive fashion one week, yet haven’t found one win through five attempts against the mediocre Predators.
During Tuesday’s 4-2 win, the Blackhawks bettered the Stars in shots, faceoff percentage, blocks, and they went perfect on the penalty kill. Whereas on Thursday, they only won 42 percent of the draws, were outhit 46-31, went 0/3 on the power play, were 33.33 percent effective shorthanded, and accumulated only 10 blocks to Dallas’ 23.
“We have been giving up too many goals and it’s very frustrating. We take a lot of pride in the penalty kill, so it stings when you’re giving them up, but you’ve just got to stick with it.”– Blackhawks defenceman Connor Murphy
While stats can always be handpicked to fit a narrative, the reality is that Chicago’s numbers generally align with their end result. With that said, they continue the roller coaster ride they’ve now been on for weeks, ending this series with a far less exciting turn in that ride.
Playoff Picture Looking Fuzzy
The last time these two teams met, the Blackhawks looked rather comfortable in the fourth and final postseason slot within their division. So much so that splitting the mid-March series still saw Chicago retain that position. Well, times have changed.
This time around, it wasn’t their playoff spot that was on the line, as they no longer owned it. With Nashville having recently taken over fourth place in the Central, Chicago sits right behind them, as Dallas continues to ascend from below.
What’s worse, for the Blackhawks, is that the Stars have additional opportunities to both tie and surpass them in the standings once they’re caught up in games played. Chicago’s outlook isn’t much better when you consider they share a win percentage of .500 with Dallas at the moment.
In short, while Chicago has more wins on record than Dallas, they aren’t currently setting an advantageous pace for future gains. Besides, overthinking it all is irrelevant if one of these teams keeps winning while the other does the opposite.
Who’s Up Next
Up next for the Blackhawks is a re-match with the Columbus Blue Jackets. It would be an understatement to claim that wins on both Saturday and Monday are necessary for Chicago. On top of it all, the Blue Jackets are riding alongside the Stars as both look to leapfrog the Blackhawks in the standings.
It’s now or never for this team to pick up the pieces and decide if they are, in fact, a playoff-worthy team or not.
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Freelance thinker, paying too much attention to digital aesthetic. Oxford comma enthusiast. Spider-Man supporter. Sports fan, with two favourite hockey teams. If the Blackhawks and Maple Leafs ever meet in the Stanley Cup Final, you can find me wherever they’re playing that night.
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