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Weeks ago we said the Hawks would need to win 10 in a row to return to contention in the Western Conference this season. They've won seven straight. They could still really use three more.
In fact - and I am terribly sorry to be Debbie Downer here but what can you do? - the Blackhawks (23-24-9) are still tied for last in their division. The Avalanche is not going away, people, despite having lost seven in a row. Several of those setbacks were overtime losses and Colorado (22-22-11) actually has a game in-hand. The fact that the home team hasn't been able to get past the 'lanche shows how tough it is to move up in the NHL.
But the Hawks keep getting closer to the wild cards! Slowly. And at least they finally managed a solid win in regulation yesterday (defeating former rival Detroit 5-2 in a delightful matinee)! Even if it was against a team from the East. If the season ended Sunday, the Blues and Wild would qualify as the seventh and eighth playoff seeds from the West with 59 points. And Vancouver has 57.
The main thing is, and perhaps we didn't stress this enough last week, the Hawks are back in contention after going through a stretch of play in the first half of the season that was as bad as I can remember. They weren't just losing, they were being embarrassed night after night as they lost 16 out of 19 games in November into December (three of the losses happened in overtime - big whoop). They fired coach Joel Quenneville and got worse, and then much worse, for a long time.
But that's over now. Heck, the Hawks are almost back to .500, kind of. A victory in its next game gives the team 24 wins and 24 losses. Of course they also have nine overtime losses. But still.
The best thing is, the Hawks have staved off a tank for another season. In fact, they may have staved off a tank period. More on that later.
The first 30 minutes of the Hawks' 5-2 victory over the Red Wings on Sunday went smoothly. The next 30, not so much. But Cam Ward turned in another great game, Dylan Strome, Dominick Kahun and Alex DeBrincat sparked the offense again and the Hawks hung on. Oh, and Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews extended their point-scoring streaks to 14 and seven games, respectively.
The Hawks continue to play better offense than defense. But you can do that when you have a couple hot goalies and a former all-star in reserve for goodness sakes. That last guy is Corey Crawford, who was back practicing hard last week and appears to be recovering faster from this year's concussion than he did from last year's.
The hottest netminder right now is veteran Cam Ward, who saved 43 of Detroit's 45 shots on goal on Sunday and has won four of the seven in the streak. Their goals against has improved the last few weeks but the Hawks are still fundamentally shaky in the back. They continue to give up the second-most shots against in the league.
But oh that offense. And it is especially exiting when Strome, DeBrincat (both only 21!) and Kahun (23) are providing it. For they are the future, grasshopper. But they aren't too near future. The Hawks need guys like that who are still a few years away from big contracts as they potentially settle in to wait out the last few guaranteed years on the contracts of the four pillars (Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Toews and Kane). If they can pull that off they can transition to the team's next era without tanking.
Oh, and the other goalie who has been nice and hot, Collin Delia? All of 24-years-old. Hell, even the coach who has been kicking ass lately, Jeremy Colliton, is all of 34-years-young.
In this era of so many fans in all major sports talking about essentially losing on purpose to try to speed up rebuilds by qualifying for better draft picks, it would be a glorious thing for the Hawks to avoid that grim spectacle. The bottom line is, teams get better that way but they don't have to. Let's see what the St. Louis Cardinals, who have steadfastly refused to do anything even remotely resembling a tank, do this season. Their off-season (trading for slugger Paul Goldschmidt and signing star reliever Andrew Miller) has been far more impressive than the Cubs'.
Next up on the ice is the Bruins on Tuesday night.
Jim "Coach" Coffman welcomes your comments.
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