The Blackhawks were sniffing a playoff spot at American Thanksgiving, trailing the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference by only one point from a points percentage standpoint. And they were coming off back-to-back contests in which they took three of four points from the hottest team in the NHL in the Dallas Stars, including a 3-0 shutout victory at the United Center on Tuesday.
But a home-and-home series this weekend against a decimated but speedy Colorado Avalanche team was a real opportunity for the Blackhawks to show their stripes and they weren’t competitive in either of the two games.
The Blackhawks looked outmatched in every facet despite what the numbers showed, and the early holes they dug themselves did them no favors. They uncharacteristically gave up six combined first-period goals after allowing only 15 in their first 24 games (which was the second-fewest in the league), and were outscored 12-5 total in the two games.
It didn’t help that the Blackhawks were without Duncan Keith (groin injury) in Saturday’s 7-3 loss, but the issues went deeper than that. They were at least a step slow to every 50-50 race, didn't win many board battles and failed to capitalize on their chances unlike the Avalanche.
Where the Blackhawks could have changed the complexion of the game was towards the end of the first period, when they were awarded a 5-on-3 power play for 58 seconds, and the start of the second period when they had a 5-on-4 advantage for 2:27. They generated several quality opportunities but couldn’t cash in, and after the Avalanche killed off those penalties they scored 15 seconds later to extend their lead to three. They didn’t look back from there.
The Blackhawks have relied on Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner all season long to bail them out in key situations, but at some point it needs to be reciprocated by the 18 skaters in front of them. Lehner gave up five goals on 14 shots for a save percentage of .643 before head coach Jeremy Colliton made a goalie swap to spark his team, which isn't a bag he likes to reach into. In this case, he had no choice.
The Blackhawks started November by picking up at least a point in eight out of a possible nine games for record of 6-1-2. Since then, they're 1-4-1 and their mini home-and-home series against Colorado served as a reality check.
"It's just time to look ourselves in the mirror and just do the right thing is what it's all about," Lehner told reporters. "It's on us as players to do the right things."
The Avalanche looked like a Stanley Cup contender this weekend. The Blackhawks looked like a team still trying to find its way.
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