Blackhawks

Four takeaways: Blackhawks playoff hopes take massive hit after West Coast trip

Four takeaways: Blackhawks playoff hopes take massive hit after West Coast trip

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 5-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center on Sunday:

1. Playing catch-up again

The Blackhawks trailed three different times. They responded twice. But they couldn't even it up the third time as the Sharks pulled away in the third period with a trio of goals, which included an empty-netter.

It's the fourth time in five games the Blackhawks failed to hold a lead at any point in the game despite scoring at least three goals in four of them. But quite frankly, it's the primary reason they've lost four of those five games since winning 10 of their previous 12. It's difficult to pick up victories when you're chasing the game and don't build any sort of cushion.

2. Effort was there, but high quality chances against remained

The Blackhawks knew what they were up against going into San Jose. Even though they were without Evander Kane and Erik Karlsson, the Sharks ranked second in goals per game (3.58), third in shots per game (33.8) and fourth in power play percentage (25.3). It was a big test for the defense.

And while the overall effort was certainly much better than it was in Los Angeles, the Sharks generated 29 scoring chances and 16 high-danger chances at 5-on-5, according to naturalstattrick.com. It's the 11th time this season the Blackhawks have given up at least 16 high-danger chances during 5-on-5 play. The Blackhawks themselves had eight.

3. Patrick Kane's dry spell

After recording at least one point in 20 straight games, Kane was held off the scoresheet for the third time in four games and second straight. It's only the second time this season Kane has been held without a point in back-to-back games, with the first and only other time being Nov. 21 and 23.

The Blackhawks are now 0-10-2 when Kane fails to pick up at least a point. They're 27-19-7 when he does, according to NBC Sports Chicago's stats guru Christopher Kamka. So yeah, there's a reason he's been in the MVP discussion. When he's on, so are the Blackhawks. When he's not, often times neither is the team.

4. Playoff hopes all but dead

The Blackhawks didn't do themselves any favors on this West Coast trip. It was important for them to pick up at least four of six points to stay in the hunt. But they managed to get just two, and it came during the first game when they squeaked out a last-minute victory in regulation.

With the loss, the Blackhawks are heading back home trailing by eight points for the final wildcard spot and have seen their playoff odds slip to 1.1 percent, according to sportsclubstats.com. Barring a miraculous run in the final 16 games, it appears the Stanley Cup playoffs won't be coming to Chicago for the second consecutive season.

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Four takeaways: Blackhawks lose ground in wildcard race with regulation loss to Avalanche

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AP

Four takeaways: Blackhawks lose ground in wildcard race with regulation loss to Avalanche

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on Saturday:

1. Losing ground

It's been well-documented much this weekend means for the Blackhawks. It could basically make or break their playoff chances with exactly two weeks left. They even got a break when they found out during warmups that Colorado's second-leading point getter Mikko Rantanen would miss the game due to an undisclosed injury, joining captain Gabriel Landeskog on the sidelines.

But the Avalanche seemed to elevate their intensity because of it. Just like their last meeting against Colorado, the Blackhawks failed to hold a lead at any point in the game and were forced to play catch-up in the third period when they fell behind two goals.

With the regulation loss, the Blackhawks fell six points out of the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference with only a game in hand. It didn't help that Arizona picked up a point, either. Time is running out.

2. Lack of power play success reason for offensive drought

The power play was one of the main reasons why the Blackhawks turned their season around at the end of December. It was converting at a 40 percent clip for months. Obviously, that was going to be unsustainable over the course of a full season.

But it has completely dried up over the last several weeks, and it's the primary reason why the offense hasn't been firing on all cylinders as of late.

The Blackhawks had three power-play opportunities against Colorado. They recorded 12 shot attempts, six shots on goal and generated four scoring chances but couldn't find the back of the net. They're now 1-for-25 on the power play in their last 11 games. The 5-on-5 success is there, but the 5-on-4 isn't.

The Blackhawks have scored only seven goals in their past four games, which comes out to 1.75 per game. That's not going to cut it.

3. Not taking advantage of defensive improvement

It really is a shame that the Blackhawks are hitting a scoring drought at the worst possible time. Because there's noticeably been a defensive improvement over the last week. It's their best stretch in a while.

Over the last three games, the Blackhawks have allowed 20 total high-danger chances at 5-on-5, according to naturalstattrick.com, for an average of 6.7 per game. They had given up double-digit high-danger chances in 13 of their previous 17 games, including consecutive games where they allowed 20 to Montreal and 15 to Toronto.

Their season average in that department before Monday was 11.5. So they've shaved off nearly five full high quality scoring chances per game in this mini stretch. That's a huge improvement. But they haven't had much to show for it, recording one out of a possible six points.

4. Turning the page fast

Fortunately for the Blackhawks, they won't have too much time to sulk on this regulation loss. The two Central Division foes will go right back at it on Sunday night at the United Center. And that's truly a must-win game for the Blackhawks. It's why they should start Corey Crawford on back-to-back days for the first time since November 2017.

Another regulation loss would put the Blackhawks eight points back with seven games left, and it would only be a matter of time before they're mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.

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'It can go one of two ways': Blackhawks mindset going into home-and-home series with Avalanche

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USA TODAY

'It can go one of two ways': Blackhawks mindset going into home-and-home series with Avalanche

The last time the Blackhawks and Avalanche met, it was viewed as the most important regular season game to date for the Blackhawks because it was a chance to finally pull inside the playoff picture and push the Avalanche out of it. That was Feb. 22.

Fast forward one month and the Blackhawks are approaching a home-and-home weekend series with the Avalanche, who are currently sitting in the second wildcard spot with 78 points. The Blackhawks are at 74 with a game in hand. They have an opportunity to make things real interesting with exactly two weeks left in the season.

“It can go one of two ways,” Jonathan Toews said. “So obviously we want to play our best hockey and make sure we’re in control of who gets the points in these next two.”

The Blackhawks were encouraged with how they played in that Feb. 22 against Colorado. They led in shot attempts (73-47), shots on goal (44-31), scoring chances (40-23) and high-danger chances (20-13), according to naturalstattrick.com, except the category that mattered most and that's the scoreboard (5-3 loss).

"It's one of our better efforts of the year," coach Jeremy Colliton said after the game. "Sometimes the results don't go your way, but the challenge is to reproduce [at] that level and I think if we do, we'll get our fair share of points."

The Blackhawks are hoping a similar performance will lead to the desire result this time around. These are a pair of four-point swings that mean so much at this time of year. Colliton even acknowledged on Friday that Corey Crawford could start in both games, which would be his first back-to-back action since Nov. 4 and 5 in 2017.

The Avalanche have won three in a row, and have outscored their opponents 9-2 in that span. They're coming in hot. The Blackhawks have scored only five goals in their past three games, so they're looking to end that offensive dry spell.

The good news? The Blackhawks are 8-3-0 in their last 11 road games and have a plus-6 goal differential over that stretch. They clearly have been feeling more comfortable on the road as of late. And maybe it'll help set the tone in an all-important series.

"We’re OK with a track meet, but on our terms," Colliton said. "We want to be the one with the puck and catching them before they’re ready to defend. But they’ve got some good players and we’ve gotta be aware of them when they’re on the ice and try to keep the puck out of their hands. Hopefully — we’re coming off a loss and we know the stakes here — we’ll be really good tomorrow.”

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