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The Blackhawks have done it. They have won five in a row.
Their reward? They have pulled within three points of the last playoff spot in the Western Conference. Is that all, you say? Well, it is a lot better than where they were when they started the streak.
Another reward? The Hawks (54 points in 50 games) have put a little space between themselves and Western Conference Central Division bottom-feeders the Predators (51 in 47) and Wild (50 in 48). Emphasis on "little."
The current streak was the bare minimum needed for the team to reassert themselves as at least peripheral contenders for the playoffs this year. The bottom line is they will probably need yet another similar streak to move up to "probable playoff participant" status.
One other quick note on the Blackhawks' record after their latest triumph, a 5-2 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday: With the win, the Hawks improved to 24-20-6 overall.
But just because the first two numbers are "24" and "20" doesn't mean the squad "is now four games over .500." Observers, led by veteran play-by-play man Pat Foley, continue to describe the team's record in that fashion.
That would have been fine when the letter at the top of the third column was "T," standing for ties. But that third column hasn't been ties for a long time now. The letters at the top of that column are now "OTL," which is, of course, short for "overtime losses." It should actually be "overtime and shootout losses" but no biggie.
In other words, the Hawks are actually still two games below .500, with 24 wins and 26 total losses (yes, the overtime losses are worth a point, but they are still losses!). Let's start to make that change.
Or we could just stop referring to winning percentages in this context. After all, hockey (and soccer for that matter) standings have always been about teams' total points, and they continue to be. Oh, and the first tiebreaker is total wins.
The teams that are tied for the final two playoff spots in the Western Conference after Sunday's action are the Pacific Division's Coyotes and Golden Knights, who have both totaled 57 points in 51 games. Remember that in the NHL, divisions still matter in playoff standings (as opposed to the NBA, which should just list their standings by conference at this point).
The Blues (68), Avalanche (60) and Dallas Stars (58), have the top spots in the Hawks' Central Division. and the top three in each division in the NHL make the playoffs no matter how their point totals compare to teams in other divisions.
Still, it isn't just that the Hawks have won five in a row; it is that they have taken their overall performance to a significantly higher level in their last two games.
On Saturday in Toronto, under the bright lights of Hockey Night in Canada, the Hawks dominated the Maple Leafs 6-2 behind great performances from Jonathan Toews (two goals, two assists) and Dominik Kubalik (the same) capped off by one of the goals of the year:
Then on Sunday, the Hawks recorded the win over the Jets. One last note about the standings by the way: Winnipeg is tied with the Hawks at 54 but has played one fewer game.
Sunday's thriller featured Patrick Kane recording his 1,000th career point with the second assist on Brandon Saad's slam dunk third-period goal:
It also featured a great performance by goalie Robin Lehner, especially in the second period, when forward Drake Caggiula essentially went on a crime spree. He went to the penalty box for two minutes (on an interference penalty that was actually called with 15 seconds left in the first period), then four minutes (more interference combined with a crushingly stupid unsportsmanlike conduct infraction), then two more unbelievable minutes (tripping).
The Jets, whose power play ranks among the top 10 in the NHL, never did score with the man advantage.
The bottom line is, the Hawks have come a long way and they have a long way to go. One other column in the expanded standings in goal differential: the top team in the Central Division, the defending Stanley Cup champs St. Louis Blues (wow does it suck to write that), are a plus-24. The Hawks are -5. How about the next modest goal is to get that number at least back to zero?
Jim "Coach" Coffman welcomes your comments.
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