By Chris Emma–
CHICAGO (CBS) — With the look of disgust on his face, Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews swiftly marched to his locker stall and stood tall.
Representing a 6-2 loss, one that saw your teammates simply not show up to face the first-place Stars, isn’t easy to do. Frankly, it’s not all that fair, but someone has to do it. The Captain will always do it.
“We got to find ways to work and earn the (fortunate) bounces,” Toews said, removing his trepidation for a calm, collected tone.
The Blackhawks have lost six of their last seven games after Tuesday’s home setback to the Stars and have just seven points in the month of March, that following an impressive 3-2 victory over hockey’s best team, the Capitals, on Feb. 28.
Seemingly overnight, the Blackhawks went from best in the West to fading fast, as illustrated by another blowout loss. Tuesday marked the 18th time this season that Chicago allowed four or more goals.
“It was hard to watch,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said.
Understandably so, Quenneville didn’t have much to say about this game.
The Blackhawks took to home ice just four points shy of the Stars and four points ahead of the red-hot Predators and ducking to the wild card — something that seemed inconceivable just weeks ago. It was a big opportunity for Chicago to further grasp a more comfortable place in the standings.
From start to finish, the Blackhawks were sloppy, and it got worse as the game went on and the deficit grew larger. Scott Darling let in a pair of “puck luck” goals, then two more before the first horn. There seemed to be countless errant passes and consistently poor puck-handling — in those rare times Chicago even possessed the puck.
If ever a flashback to the dark days of a previous era, Michael Leighton — he of franchise fame in surrendering Patrick Kane’s Cup-winning goal in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final — returned to a Blackhawks net that he first took on Jan. 8, 2003 in a 0-0 tie with the Coyotes. That was a long time ago for this organization.
The Blackhawks were just no good back in 2003, and their frustrated fans booed quite often. In moments Tuesday, it felt like 2003 all over again, with the boos even louder coming from a sellout crowd. Alexei Zhamnov was Chicago’s captain then. Now, it’s Toews, who doesn’t put up with poor efforts.
“We know what we’re capable of this year once we get to the postseason,” Toews said.
Chicago went 1-4 against its division rivals from Dallas, with those losses coming by a combined score of 19-6. Their effort in each was troubling.
Of course, the Blackhawks have seen this movie before. It tends to play itself out each February into March. The Blackhawks go listless to the ice, look lost for 60 minutes and external panic ensues. Inside the home dressing room, the team knows what it’s capable of — hoisting the Stanley Cup for the fourth time in seven seasons.
“It’s a group that’s kind of been down that road before,” Kane said. “We’ve seen everything. Hopefully, we can look back on this and say it’s better that it happened now rather than in a month.”
Added Toews: “At the end of the day, we just have to have that unshakable confidence that good teams go through moments like this, where it doesn’t matter what you do, things don’t go our way.”
One month from now, the Blackhawks could be laughing off this skid, or so history has proved. By that point, they may have finished off a first-round victory and will be looking ahead to finding 12 more victories to reclaim the Cup. That’s the standard set by Chicago’s core.
The Blackhawks have made this much a regularity each season: going through miserable late-season slumps, then moving past them like nothing and positioning themselves for another shot at the Stanley Cup.
Don’t panic about this skid, because the Blackhawks sure won’t. This team still has the makeup to win another title, from Toews and Kane to Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Corey Crawford and more. Chicago has the NHL’s likely Hart winner in Kane and presumptive Calder winner in Artemi Panarin, as well as a candidate for the Vezina in Crawford. Most importantly, the Blackhawks have their championship core and experience no team can top.
Horrid showings and lethargic efforts happen during the course of a long season, and the Blackhawks have somehow made it a regularity. But this also happens to be the NHL’s gold standard for success, a team that was once atop the Western Conference and certainly is better than this slump shows.
“At the end of the day,” said Toews, “we’ll retain that confidence deep down that we’re a good team.”
Don’t be mistaken — the Blackhawks are a very good team, as worn by Toews’ confidence. Embarrassing losses like these will likely soon be forgotten.
The Captain won’t stand for anything less than lifting the Cup once again.