By Adam Hoge-
UNITED CENTER (CBS) Bonkers.
That was the scene at the United Center Wednesday night when Daniel Carcillo — yes, that Daniel Carcillo — scored the game-winner with 50 seconds left in regulation to beat the Avalanche 3-2 and extend the Blackhawks’ season-long point-streak to 24 games.
Half the season. The team that refuses to lose has gone half the season without a loss in regulation.
“It’s not normal,” Carcillo said.
No, no it’s not.
So is it time to start preparing for the playoffs?
Actually, yes, it might be.
That’s the luxury a team has when it goes half a season without losing a game in regulation.
45 points. 19 more than Detroit in the Central. 12 more than Anaheim in the West. 13 more than Montreal in the East.
So when will head coach Joel Quenneville start seriously thinking about resting his guys to make sure they’re ready for a long playoff run?
“We’ll see. With the shortened season I think we want to make sure everybody is a part of it, but at the same time we’ll recognize when it’s too taxing for them,” he said before the game. “I think we’ve been gauging their rest by staying away from the rink on non-game days.”
Truth be told, the Blackhawks may have already started the process. With Steve Montador healthy enough to be activated for the first time this season, the Hawks elected to send Brandon Bollig to Rockford earlier Wednesday and carry eight defensemen. Much has been made about Duncan Keith’s taxing minutes in recent seasons, but with seven defensemen playing well, the move to carry eight is a clear indication that they want to keep the entire unit as fresh as possible during a packed in season.
As it turned out, Wednesday’s game was a reminder of how important it is to keep the team healthy — and how hard it is. Because saving some players may tax some others.
Despite warming up before the game, Marian Hossa was a late scratch, and with Michael Frolik already ruled out with an illness, the demotion of Bollig left the Blackhawks a forward short. As a result, defenseman Sheldon Brookbank found himself on the wing on the fourth line, although he was limited to 2:31 of ice time. That of course increased the minutes of the rest of the forwards, however, as the Blackhawks played out their fifth game in seven days.
Not exactly ideal.
And the situation became even more complicated when Patrick Sharp left in the third period with a possibly severe undisclosed injury and Andrew Shaw missed the entire period after taking an awkward shot late in the second.
But do you think playing an entire line of forwards short was going to keep the Blackhawks from erasing a 2-1 deficit?
Not for the team that refuses to lose.
Despite being shorthanded, Jonathan Toews weaved his way around two victims and tucked the puck inside the skate of goaltender Semyon Varlamov to tie the game at two with 17:41 left. And while the exhausted Hawks gave up some decent opportunities in their own end, forcing Ray Emery to make some big saves, they continued to be relentless in the offensive zone until Carcillo flipped in his first goal of the season to send the United Center into a frenzy.
“I couldn’t even skate. I had to drop to my knees,” Carcillo said about his reaction to his game-winner.
It was just another night for the Blackhawks, who continue to hurdle every obstacle thrown their way.
“What we’ve been through lately really helps give us that confidence that we can go into the third period down a goal and somehow, someway we’re going to find a way (to win),” captain Jonathan Toews said.
That resolve will continue be tested, however, as the team awaits word on how serious Sharp’s injury is. Quenneville said after the game that Sharp “could miss some time” but didn’t think it was season-ending.
“I won’t go there. No, I don’t think so,” were his exact words.
He also said that Shaw should be fine and is hopeful Hossa will play Friday in Colorado.
But if the Blackhawks can come back on the Avalanche while down an entire line of forwards, then surely they can continue to win if Sharp misses some time.
“I believe we have four lines on this team that can play,” Carcillo, who was bumped up to the top line at the last minute when Hossa was scratched, said. “Any night, no matter what situation you put them in, that’s what it takes to win during the year and that’s especially what it takes to win during the playoffs.
“You need to roll four lines and I believe we have that in this room.”
Now the challenge is to keep it that way.
Adam is the Sports Editor for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, Blackhawks, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.