It took a while, but the Blackhawks are finally playing their best hockey of the season. And fortunately because of a subpar Western Conference, playoff talks are actually realistic in Chicago.
After a 4-3 overtime victory on Thursday against the Vancouver Canucks, the Blackhawks’ winning streak was extended to six games. They hadn’t won more than three in a row all season before this stretch. And yet they're only two points out of the final ward card spot despite their points percentage (.482) ranking fourth-worst.
The most notable reason why they're having so much success is the power play, which is converting at an astonishing 39.1 percent clip since Dec. 18. But their 5-on-5 success has been strong, too.
The Blackhawks have a plus-6 goal goal differential at 5-on-5 during their six-game winning streak and a PDO — a metric that combines on-ice shooting percentage and save percentage to measure luck factor — of 104.8, which ranks second-best since Jan. 20, according to naturalstattrick.com. In their previous 49 games, they had a minus-21 differential and PDO of 99.4 (the mean is usually 100).
Most importantly, they're finding ways to win when they don't play their best. Like Thursday.
"It's part of why we're winning games right now," Jonathan Toews said following the win. "Whether we're on our A game or not, tonight we had spurts where we were making mistakes and I think collectively we know we could be better in those areas, as far as managing the puck and managing our shifts and playing with a bit more energy if we keep them short. The fact that we can hang in there — it's unfortunate to give up a late goal, but we're finding ways to win right now even if we're not playing our best hockey."
Why is that?
"It just shows that everyone’s raising their game, everyone’s playing better hockey and we’re all committed to doing the right thing and at least being on the same page no matter what the situation is," Toews said. "When, across the board, we’re getting consistent efforts, we’re getting good starts, we’re getting smart changes, four lines rolling, everyone playing with energy, conserving their energy by not extending themselves, things just fall into place.
"Our power play’s confident right now, we know that we’re not taking anything for granted. You gotta go out there and work hard and out-work the PK. Same goes with our 5-on-5 play. When you work hard and you stick to your team game and all five guys know what each other is doing out there, it’s just easier to play the game. You rely on your teammates and it’s much more fun to play out there when you have purpose and you’re getting rewarded for it, too."
Before Thursday's game, Toews said the Blackhawks haven't reached their ceiling yet. Not even close.
So what is the ceiling for this team? The answer, and part of what makes this stretch fun: nobody knows, including their head coach.
"I don't know,” Jeremy Colliton admitted. “But I agree, we're not there yet. There's many things we can do better, but I think that's every team. The teams that get to play when it's the most fun, they continue to improve as the year goes on, and I think we've had a good stretch where we have taken some steps forward. Today was a step back, but in a way it wasn't cause we won. That's what teams who get to move on, they find ways to do that and that's a good sign."Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.