CHICAGO – The Blackhawks slipped tremendously in the race for a Western Conference Wild Card spot after losing four of their last five games, and with 16 games remaining, they trail both the Stars and Wild by eight points for the final two playoff spots.
It’s a two-week change in fortune for the team, who briefly held the second Wild Card spot after an overtime win over the Red Wings on February 20.
Despite a veteran core, there is still an element of team building with the current Blackhawks squad, including a newcomer as a coach and a number of young players in critical positions.
So Jeremy Colliton wasn’t terribly upset when the Blackhawks lost 5-2 to a strong Sharks team in the second half of a back-to-back trip to the west coast on Sunday night. It came after a bad performance against the struggling Los Angeles Kings, where the Blackhawks lost 6-3 in a very uneven game.
“Over 60 minutes I can’t really fault the effort, the compete level, and the attention to detail was much better. Made a lot of team decisions,” Colliton said of the loss in San Jose Sunday. “If we had played tonight like we did last night (vs Kings), we wouldn’t have gotten embarrassed.”
That’s great in regards to building a good team culture, and could provide a useful lesson as he moves forward in shaping his own era with the franchise. But effort won’t be enough for the Blackhawks if they hope to snag a spot in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The schedule will give the Blackhawks two shots at one of the current teams leading the Wild Card standings: Saturday at Dallas, and April 5 against the Stars. That’s apart of seven games featuring teams in direct competition with the Blackhawks, including two games with the Avalanche and Coyotes, along with contests against the Canucks
Three teams (Arizona, Colorado, and Edmonton) currently sit between the Blackhawks and the current Wild Card teams. They are tied with Vancouver with 63 points, with the Oilers at 65, the Avalanche at 68 and the Coyotes at 69.
In order to make the playoffs, Jonathan Toews and the Blackhawks will likely need to win the majority of their games at the least. It leaves little room for error for the team, who plays their 67th contest on Thursday against the Sabres.
“The effort has to be at a playoff level,” said Toews of the final stretch. “It has to be consistent, every shift, and every period.”
If not, the chances to do so in the middle of April will start to fade.