Pressing Playoff Question: Can the Blackhawks flip the switch?
Chicago is headed to the postseason, but it hasn’t played like a Stanley Cup favorite in a while. After a 25-10-2 start to the regular season, the Blackhawks went just 23-18-4 in their final 45 contests. If you expanded that point-per-game pace over an 82-game stretch, then you would be left with a team that finished between the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche. In other words, out of the playoffs.
A big reason for that has been Chicago’s dreadful offense. The Blackhawks ranked 26th in the league with just 2.23 goals per game since the All-Star break and scored just five goals in their final four games -- all losses.
Is that cause for concern given what this team is capable of? Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews doesn’t seem to think so.
“We wanted to win the last couple of games; we just didn’t quite get the job done,” Toews said, per ESPN.com. “We’re not going to panic or overreact by any means. I think we’re doing a lot of good things, and the energy and motivation is going to be there at the right time.”
The Blackhawks haven’t absolutely needed that “energy and motivation” Toews is referring to for a while now, but perhaps that will cost them. While Chicago had the luxury of just meandering into the dance, other teams have had to dig and claw their way in. Clubs like Minnesota, Winnipeg, and Calgary have been in playoff mode for a while now, while others like the Ducks and Blues finished the regular season on high notes that they can carry into the playoffs. (Unlike last year for the Blues, when they lost their final six of the regular season then were eliminated in the first round.)
At least it’s starting to look like Patrick Kane might be ready for Game 1. Getting him back will obviously help with their recent offensive woes, although it is worth noting that he last played on Feb. 24 and their struggles date back further than that. He may also not be the Kane of old right away.
Perhaps the best counter-argument to the notion that Chicago has a momentum problem is its opponent: Nashville. If Chicago had to play against the likes of Minnesota, then there would be a direct contrast between a club that limped towards the finish line and one that excelled in the second half of the campaign. The Predators finished the season with a 6-12-3 run though and are on a six-game losing streak. The lifeblood of their team, goalie Pekka Rinne, has posted a pedestrian 2.48 GAA and .911 save percentage since the All-Star break, while none of the Predators’ forwards recorded 25 or more points in their final 37 games.
In that sense, perhaps Nashville is the ideal opponent for Chicago as it aims to switch into playoff mode.