Hockey is a mental and physical grind. Every sport is. But sometimes the mental part can take a larger toll on you than the physical aspect.
While they’ve been decimated by injuries this season, the Blackhawks are also trying to fight through the mental challenges of the drastic ups and downs. The second they start making up some ground in the Western Conference playoff race, the Blackhawks lose a few in a row and get knocked back down.
And it can be exhausting.
"It’s a challenge," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "We want to be in the race, we want to play important games, we want to have a chance to play further. Every team goes through it, every team goes through ups and downs throughout the year, and how do you bounce back quicker? The down period in your game, how do you turn it around and when you’re playing well, how do you ride the wave longer? How do you avoid complacency coming into your game?
"It could be over a stretch of weeks, it could be even in a game. You have a good period, you’re up 3-0. Can you stick with it? Can you mentally maintain the sharpness that you need to close out a game? We struggle with that at times. That’s why we are where we are. So keep working at it."
Every team goes through its fair share of challenges. The Blackhawks aren’t any different.
But this is the second consecutive season they’ve been just outside the playoff picture but not good enough to get above the line. That’s why the Blackhawks have been stressing the importance of stringing together a big run, so they can not only make up ground but build a cushion too.
The Blackhawks didn’t do themselves any favors this past week. They lost to Calgary and Nashville, two teams ahead of them in the standings, and are eight points behind Winnipeg for the final wildcard spot.
At this point, the Blackhawks are closer to the basement of the West than they are the playoffs. Five points separate them and Anaheim Ducks from the bottom.
There’s a lot of hockey left in the season, but the Blackhawks don’t have any margin for error. They have to get hot. And they have to get hot quick.
"Of course, it's tough," Robin Lehner said. "That's kind of the league right now. You look around the league, for the most part, everyone can beat each other. Everyone, for the most part, can beat any team but the teams that makes the playoffs, they're the ones that can do that consistently and that's not just go on runs and long winning streaks. It's not lose two in a row. Just show up consistently and work ethic and structure every night and that translates to wins because even when you have an off night, work ethic and structure gets you points no matter what. Because you're not going to have your best nights every night.
“So that's obviously, we're trying to learn and it's frustrating. Still, nothing — as you guys are well aware — how many times we've been written off this year and then climb back in? Hopefully, the next time we climb back in we keep it going. It's all we can try to do."
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