Earning a Western Conference playoff spot remains a mathematical possibility for the Chicago Blackhawks.
Still, the reality entering Wednesday’s visit from the slumping San Jose Sharks may be that the Blackhawks’ current two-game skid has seriously stunted their flickering odds for the postseason.
Chicago (31-30-8, 70 points) has to make up substantial ground to secure a wild-card spot in the Western Conference with just 13 games remaining. Weekend losses at Detroit and at home to St. Louis ended a resurgent, four-game winning streak while leaving the Blackhawks to ponder what might have been.
“It (stinks),” Chicago defenseman Connor Murphy said. “Losing (stinks), especially having lost a couple in a row. When they seem to get more heated and obviously the games matter more, it’s frustrating, for sure.”
A Western Conference finalist last season, San Jose (29-35-5, 63 points) is one point clear of the conference basement and enters play on a three-game losing streak.
If it’s any consolation, the Blackhawks have proved to be quite the salve for the Sharks, whose two previous victories against Chicago this season snapped skids of four and five games, respectively.
San Jose might be shorthanded for its latest slump-busting attempt. Sharks captain Logan Couture left during the first period of Sunday’s 4-3 home loss to the Colorado Avalanche after a puck off the stick of teammate Timo Meier struck him in the face. Couture did not return, forcing Sharks interim coach Bob Boughner to retool his lineup on the fly.
San Jose struggled to contain Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog and fellow forward Nathan MacKinnon, who each recorded a goal and two assists.
“For four games in six nights, I thought we played hard,” Boughner said. “We had guys playing out of spots, up higher in the lineup, more minutes than they’re used to, young guys in situations that we had no choice (but) to play them in. I thought that the guys competed really hard.”
Veteran forward Joe Thornton scored for the Sharks to reach the 30-point plateau for the 21st time in his 22-season career. Only Gordie Howe (25), Mark Messier (24), Ron Francis (23), Jaromir Jagr (23) and Ray Bourque (22) have accomplished that feat on more occasions.
The Blackhawks have battled injuries down the stretch, as well.
Lucas Carlsson missed his second straight game Sunday after being struck in the head by a puck on Thursday.
Fellow defenseman Adam Boqvist took a hard hit in the head from St. Louis’ Oskar Sundqvist on a play along the boards and is under concussion protocol. The play sparked a fight between Drake Caggiula and Vince Dunn of the Blues, during which the Chicago forward injured his right hand.
San Jose seeks a sweep of the season series against Chicago. The Sharks defeated the Blackhawks 5-4 at United Center on Oct. 10 for their first victory of the season before posting a 4-2 home victory over Chicago on Nov. 5.
“We’re here to win,” Chicago coach Jeremy Colliton said. “We’ve been developing guys all year, we’ve been playing guys in big situations all year, young players, and that won’t change, either. But part of what we’re doing is we want to have winning habits, and we’re going to fight to the end.”
–Field Level Media