Playoffs Watch Day 3: “The stakes are higher now”

“The stakes are higher now.”

That’s what head coach Joel Quenneville said in his post game interview Thursday night, as he and the team that he has coached to three Stanley Cup championships suffer yet another setback in their quest to right the good ship S.S. Blackhawk.  Propelled by two goals from some fourth liner named Brendan Gaunce, the Vancouver Canucks took yet another two points from the Hawks, winning 4-2.

Gaunce’s second goal, along with the ones scored by Bo Horvat and Henrik Sedin, were all redirects.  Horvat’s was especially gruesome, since he scored it just as the Hawks finished the first of what would be four futile power play opportunities.  They got caught with four forwards on the ice, and coverage just broke down in front of Anton Forsberg.

Despite scoring two goals of their own, courtesy of Nick Schmaltz and Alex DeBrincat, the story of the night was still how inexplicably bad the power play is for Chicago.  The Canucks entered the game Thursday a dismal 25th in the league with on the penalty kill.  They also gave up one power play goal in their last three games.

The Blackhawks’ record falls to 24-20-7.  The 55 points that they have is good for last in the Central Division.  Three teams that were ahead of the Hawks before Thursday night’s games all gained points.  The Colorado Avalanche gained two points in their overtime win over the Edmonton Oilers.  The 60 points that they have now is good for the second wildcard spot in the West, dislodging the Minnesota Wild.  The Wild, who have 59 points, play Friday, hosting the Vegas Golden Knights.  The Anaheim Ducks, who started the night out of the playoffs ,are now in 3rd place in the Pacific.  The Ducks gained a point in their overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators.  They leaped over the Los Angeles Kings, who were shellacked by the Nashville Predators.

One good thing that did happen Thursday night, which can prove to be helpful to the Blackhawks’ woes.  The Calgary Flames lost 7-4 to the Tampa Bay Lightning.  They are currently three points ahead of the Blackhawks, and will play them in back-to-back, home-and-away games this Saturday and next Tuesday.  Winning those two games, followed by a game on Feb. 8th against the Dallas Stars, will be big three and four point swing games.  By Patrick Kane’s own estimation, the Hawks can only afford to drop just nine games now, if they are to have a chance of sneaking in to the big dance.

Another silver lining that can be ascertained from last night’s loss is the fact that the last 10 goals that the Blackhawks have scored since Jan. 24th have all been scored by players under the age of 23.  This, of course, will have major implications on what kind of moves, if any, Stan Bowman will make at the trade deadline.  Coupled with the fact that this team’s identity is suspect at best, Bowman could be hard-pressed to make the case for trading some of the young talent to make a push for the playoffs.

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