A listless start. An anemic middle frame. A too-little, too-late surge in the third.
All too familiar for Blackhawks fans this season.
And yet, for all their pronouncements that their slow starts are “unacceptable”, it seems that it is all that this team can muster at this point. For all their assertions that they can somehow mount a miracle run that can eke them into the playoffs, all they can do is sit back and watch as that window slowly slams shut.
This was all too evident in last night’s 3-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings.
It used to be that a Blackhawks-Kings matchup was marquee viewing. It was electric. It was Ali and Frazier. The sheer talent on both benches, not to mention the collective hunger to best each other on the ice. I would argue that Chicago and LA had the premiere rivalry of the decade, culminating in alternating Stanley Cup wins between both franchises from 2012-2015.
But now, the memories of those years are becoming cloudy. Since their last Cup win in 2014, the Kings have won one playoff game. The Blackhawks have lost two first round series in a row since they raised the Cup in 2015. Both teams were on the outside of playoff contention when the puck dropped. The only difference: the Kings are still in the mix. Their win last night makes them two points shy of either the second wildcard spot in the West or third place in the Pacific Division.
The Blackhawks? Well, last night’s loss, their ninth in ten games, coupled with the Minnesota Wild’s 5-3 win over the New York Islanders yesterday, puts them 13 points out of the playoffs.
In his post game interview, Patrick Sharp said that “there was not a whole to get excited” about how the first two periods of the game went down. He wasn’t wrong, considering that they were down 2-0 quick, courtesy of Torrey Mitchell and Andy Andreoff. Dion Phaneuf, fresh from his trade from the Ottawa Senators, quickly made it 3-0 four minutes and four seconds into the second. The Kings outshot the Blackhawks 29-14 after two periods. An early goal by Sharp in the third, coupled by a 13-3 edge in shots on goal by the Hawks, was not nearly enough.
With 22 games left in the season, the Blackhawks currently only have a 0.4% chance of making it to the playoffs. Even if they do somehow mount a miracle 22-0-0 run, that would give them 102 points, which may be enough, depending on how the other bubble teams perform in that span of time.