"Every game now is a playoff game, pretty much. We've got to approach it like it's life or death."
Those were the words of Drake Caggiula and that was the mindset for the Blackhawks going into their five-game road trip in Western Canada, which was easily their most important swing of the season, given the circumstances. All five teams were ahead of them in the Western Conference standings. The Blackhawks were knocking on the door of a playoff spot and had a chance to prove themselves ahead of the Feb. 24 trade deadline.
The Blackhawks finished the trip with a 1-4-0 record, picking up only two out of a possible 10 points. They ended the weekend six points out of the final wild card spot with two games in hand but four teams to jump. It's not impossible to get back in the race but the cards are certainly stacked against them.
So what did we learn about this team?
The easy narrative would be to say the Blackhawks shrunk in games that had playoff implications but that‘s just not true. They simply failed to capitalize on opportunities, which they had plenty of.
In Game 1 against Winnipeg, the Blackhawks held a 2-0 lead before allowing a shorthanded goal in the second period that was the first of five unanswered for the Jets, who went on to win 5-2. The Blackhawks went 0-for-3 on the power play and were outscored (1-0), outshot (3-2) and out-chanced (4-2) during those three opportunities. That was their downfall.
In Game 2 against Edmonton, the Blackhawks held a pair of one-goal leads — 2-1 in the first period and 3-2 in the second period — but couldn’t close the deal despite the Oilers playing without the NHL's best player, Connor McDavid. Again, a huge missed opportunity.
In Game 3 against Vancouver, the Blackhawks peppered a season-high 49 shots on goal on Jacob Markstrom, 25 of which came from high-danger areas, but couldn't crack the code. It was one of their most dominant performances of the season from start to finish, and they weren't even rewarded for it.
In Game 4 against Calgary, the market quickly corrected itself when the Blackhawks scored a season-high eight goals on 28 shots in an 8-4 win over the Flames. It’s the exact response they were looking for, with all four lines contributing on the scoresheet.
In Game 5 against Winnipeg, the Blackhawks scored the first goal and then fell behind 2-1 before evening things up at 2-2 in the final minute of the second period. The game was up for grabs. But the Jets scored 1:36 into the third period after a shot from the point deflected off Alex DeBrincat’s stick and in; he game-winning goal.
Look, there are no moral victories at this time of year. An ugly win beats the heck out of a pretty loss.
If the power play doesn't go 0-for-14, we might be having a different discussion because it had a chance to change the complexion of almost every game (except the last one because there were no penalties called on either side, which was the first time that's happened in an NHL game this season).
But the Blackhawks have no margin for error and they're learning that the hard way.
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