Blackhawks officially eliminated from playoff contention

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Colorado Avalanche right wing Mikko Rantanen (96) scores a goal on Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Anton Forsberg (31) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, March 20, 2018, in Chicago. (AP Photo/David Banks)

by Scott King

The nail was unmercifully hammered into the coffin of the Blackhawks’ playoff chances by Nathan MacKinnon and the Colorado Avalanche, who beat the Hawks 5-1 on Tuesday night.

After 74 games of highly disappointing and unusually below-average hockey from the former gold standard of the NHL, the 2017-2018 Hawks were essentially put out of their misery.

Things started out all right for Chicago, as they usually do, when Brent Seabrook opened the scoring at 15:45 into the game with a power-play goal. They later surrendered five straight goals, as they also usually do…

Alexander Kerfoot netted two goals and Nathan MacKinnon grabbed two assists, giving him 91 points on the season.

“It sucks,” defenseman Connor Murphy said following the loss. “It’s kind of embarrassing. It’s hard, you play to make the playoffs, so not making it is definitely a failure, but there’s still games to be played, it’s the NHL. You have to earn your spots and your wins.”

The team that struggled with defensive breakdowns all season long, missed their starting goaltender for most of it, and at times even had trouble finding the back of the net with a more-than-capable group of forwards, could move on.

If things didn’t take a turn for the worse this season, it would have been the 10th consecutive time Chicago made it to the playoffs.

“Obviously, it’s one of those runs you want to keep going,” Patrick Kane said. “We had a disappointing second half to the season to say the least. It seemed like a lot of the games throughout the year kind of went the way they did tonight, where we score first and give up one, lose the momentum and just can’t regain it. Disappointing season, yep.”

The winger was right about the formula that doomed his team the second half of their season. The Blackhawks scored the first goal of the game in 27 of 36 games going back to January 1. They are just 12-12-3 in those games. He also thinks this season’s failure could yield success for next.

“If anything, I think it’s kind of humbled a lot of us in here and could be a good thing. Come back with a little bit more of an edge next season.”

Core players like Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith can use the remaining eight games to work on regaining their poise and confidence for next season. Youngsters like Alex DeBrincat, John Hayden and Vinnie Hinostroza can continue to soak up every minute Joel Quenneville gives them on the ice to advance their game.

DeBrincat may not seem like he needs to develop much, being the only rookie in Hawks’ history to record three hat tricks his first year in the league. His latest three-goal night came on Sunday during the team’s 5-4 overtime loss to the St. Louis Blues. For a player with his already elite skillset, the sky is the limit.


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