Last nights Blackhawks vs Red Wings games may have been one of the best games all season, not just for Chicago, but across the league. It was high-paced, low-scoring, tightly contested, and it pitted two Original Six division rivals against one another with two precious Western Conference points on the line.
While Chicago continues to struggle with injuries – Dave Bolland is out indefinitely with concussion issues and All-Star MVP Patrick Sharp is D2D with a knee injury sustained in a recent tilt with Phoenix – they also struggle to continue to produce and dig points out of the remaining games in the schedule.
At the start of March, midway through a winning streak, with nearly 20 games left, getting enough points seemed, if not easy, then at least reasonably achievable. But they dropped more points on the table at Florida; fought to get single points out of Tampa and Washington; left the door wide open for WC rivals in Dallas; and finally, in an all-too-familiar scenario, left a 2-point lead in the locker room during the third period against Anaheim at home.
In Detroit yesterday, Chicago showed they’ve got what it takes to win and that this team, reconstructed and constantly under trial of injury all season, can still pull together and make things happen. The roster remains studded with stars, coupled with a stable of hungry-to-win rookies and acquisitions. When it works, it’s a thing of beauty; when it doesn’t, it leaves fans groaning into their beers and reaching for the remote control.
Tonight, the Hawks face up against the Bruins. Boston has been solid all year, riding Vezina candidate Tim Thomas to the top of the Northeast division and a current 42-23-10 record. Thomas lost his starter position to Tuukka Rask last year, but this year took it firmly back and has been nothing short of superb.
However, like many Eastern Conference teams, the Bruins have had their moments this year – blowing a team out of the water one night (win over Tampa Bay on 12/2, 8-1) and then giving up their own share of goals in others (a loss to the Red Wings on 2/11, 1-6). But along the way, there’s something you notice about the Bruins this year: they spend a lot of time racking up goals. It’s not just that Boston wins or that Thomas/Rask are keeping the score down for the opposition; it’s that there’s a lot of games on their record this year – wins – that look like 4-0, 7-4, 8-1, 5-2, 6-0, 7-5, 6-3, 7-0.
So, the Blackhawks can’t go into this simply thinking that they’re going to outscore the Bruins. No — this is one that Corey Crawford is going to have to flat-out out-duel Tim Thomas. And Chicago’s defensive corps can’t show up half-asleep; and the forward lines need to hold onto the puck like it’s glued to their sticks. Jonathan Toews needs to be a force of nature; and Marian Hossa needs to be the same magnificent player he was last night. Patrick Kane has to show up with the kind of goals that won the team the Stanley Cup last year; and the third and fourth lines need to play like they think they’re first or second.
The Blackhawks have two weeks left on the schedule, but they have one week – just 7 games – left to play. Realistically, to keep any hope of playoff dreams alive, they need to get bare minimum 8 points out of those games, but for comfort’s sake, 10+ would be better.
Until they don’t make the playoffs, or until somebody knocks them out of the playoffs, they are still the defending Stanley Cup Champions.
These are the days to prove it.