9:29 AM CDT, March 19, 2012
Don’t look now, but some strange and wonderful things are happening with the Blackhawks.
After beating the Capitals in the United Center on Sunday night, the Hawks won their third straight and ran their recent record to 7-1-1 in their last nine. While still only sixth in the Western Conference, the Hawks have moved within four points of Detroit and Nashville.
I never saw that coming in February because I never expected the way they’ve done it: like a playoff team. Fast starts, smothering transition defense, remarkable discipline.
I’m not saying, “This is it, here they go, watch out, St. Louis and Vancouver.’’ I’m just saying that for now, the Hawks are playing their puck-possession best at both ends of the ice with nine games remaining in the regular season.
The Hawks scored early against the Capitals the way they did against Dallas on Friday. That’s not just a surprising lead, that’s a sign they’re prepared.
More specifically, that’s a sign the players prepared themselves mentally. Day-of-game preparation always has been the responsibility of the players, not the coach, and these Hawks players appear to have accepted it like big boys.
That might be the one good thing that has come out of Jonathan Toews’ likely concussion. Earlier in the season, too many Hawks seemed to wait around for the captain to make things all better, even when Toews actually was making things all better.
Then he got hurt. Then he went bad. Then he got hurt again. Then the Hawks seemed to wonder where their mommies were.
And then they all took responsilibity, starting with Patrick Kane. Yes, THAT Patrick Kane.
After finishing off a brilliant tic-tac-toe passing play with Marian Hossa and Andrew Brunette for the goal that would beat Washington, Kane suddenly had his sixth in 10 games. Kane suddenly had assumed responsibility.
Scoring goals is the way Kane asserts his authority. It’s the only way he can lead. He can’t run people through the glass. He can’t kill penalties. He can score. He has to score. That’s his version of leadership. And look at that, Kane has done it, even if a lot of people, such as the one writing this blog, never thought he was motivated or capable of that particular aspect of team play.
Kane isn’t alone, but he is the most important example of the Hawks’ change from self-pity to self-determination.
The core of that change, however, is not Kane and Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa making the flashy plays. Nor is it Andrew Shaw scoring the greasy goals. Nope, it’s the discipline. The Hawks are taking hits to make plays. This is the kind of thing you hear and say in April and May, but this is still only March. No matter. It fits.
The Hawks have been shorthanded only twice in the last three games. They have killed 12 of 13 penalties in their eight games this month. You don’t get much more playoff-ready than that.
Against the Stars, a conference opponent who might be a first-round playoff matchup, the Hawks took a lot of abuse. See Brent Seabrook for details.
The Stars play like the Blues in a lot of ways. They are not as fast, but they are all about finishing their checks and making an opponent weary and gunshy by the third period. They tried that with the Hawks. The Hawks absorbed the pain and dished out goals. Take that.
Take that, indeed. It was playoff quality when nothing less will do for a team that hasn’t clinched a playoff spot yet.
This doesn’t mean the Hawks are winning the Stanley Cup. This doesn’t mean they even make the playoffs. It only means that in a season of extremes, the Hawks are skillfully and selflessly executing the perfect game plan at the perfect time.
But still, if I were you, I’d check back Wednesday.
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