There comes a time in every season when things get sluggish. You get that with the NHL schedule: games 30-50 can be a bit of a drudgery in this marathon of a season.
That part of the schedule, however, is going away. Now there are about 30 games (28 for the Blackhawks) remaining. Now, it’s getting closer to the postseason. Now, it’s time to pick up the pace.
“You start to really make a push here,” Brian Campbell said. “Obviously people are jockeying for positions. It’s always working to get points down the stretch and teams are trying to move around in positions. It’s not easy to do. It’s going to be a dogfight here.”
So the dog days of the schedule are giving way to the dog-fight days of the schedule. It’s mad-dash time and the Blackhawks, while in good shape in the standings, want to keep pace and possibly even improve their situation.
But they won’t be alone in that goal. Their final three opponents on the second half of the Ice Show trip have their own agendas. The Minnesota Wild, Wednesday’s opponent, will try to put more space between them and the Blackhawks. The Winnipeg Jets are on the playoff bubble. The Edmonton Oilers are third, but well within striking distance of first, in the Pacific.
Let the über-meaningful games begin.
“Coming toward the playoffs, you see the standings and you, you cannot calculate but you can see who can face who,” Marian Hossa said. “Obviously the last couple of years it’s so much tougher because everyone’s waiting for the last game but it’s nice to see and have that race and the intensity higher. Everybody will play tighter and the pace will pick up more. There’ll be less room on the ice, too.”
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As much as the Blackhawks would like to improve their place in the standings in this stretch run, they ultimately want to improve their game. As Campbell said, “I don’t think we’ve played our best hockey yet, so we’re trying to get to that level.”
The Blackhawks’ inconsistent outings have been more prevalent lately. Marcus Kruger talked of that, citing Thursday’s 4-3 victory over the Arizona Coyotes as an example. The Blackhawks got off to a 3-0 lead thanks to a tremendous first period but their mistakes in the second turned a lopsided game into one that was too close for their liking.
“It’s attention to details,” he said. “We know how important momentum is in games. When you get it you don’t want to give it up and maybe this year we’ve been doing that a few times. You could see that [vs. Arizona]. We had all the momentum going into the second period and then they had a 5-on-3 and scored and it’s a different game. It’s attention to details.”
The NHL’s dog days are over, the marathon of a schedule giving way to the sprint to the finish. For the Blackhawks, placement in the standings is important but playing better, playing the consistent game that’s eluded them most of this season, is more critical.
“Obviously we had really good stretches and others not. Coming the last  games, we have to understand and try to play tighter and be more on the same page. We’re more successful when we’re on the same page, when we play tighter as a group of five instead of being too spread out with good teams going through so easily,” Hossa said. “Little things like that make such a huge difference.”