Blackhawks can learn from mistakes before playoff run

At the turn of the year, the Chicago Blackhawks were neck and neck with intraconference rival Vancouver. One night, the Blackhawks would have the edge in points, and the next night the Canucks would have an answer of their own, temporarily reclaiming the conference lead.

Fans were on the edge of their seats in anticipation that the strong start could lead to a deep playoff run in the spring — maybe even into the summer. But recently, goaltending woes, in addition to scoring droughts for some key players, have hindered the Blackhawks’ chances of making it to the playoffs, frustrating die-hard fans in the process.

While recent events don’t paint a bright immediate future for this team, it’s not over. This season was supposed to be a banner year for the Blackhawks, who are littered with fresh faces. But that dream is not over.

After the start of 2012, the Blackhawks have struggled to find any consistency in their play. And that’s being kind. Chicago opened the year with four consecutive losses, three of them by just a single goal. After that, the team regained its feel momentarily by putting together five wins in six games. To their credit, the stretch included quality wins against playoff contenders Minnesota and San Jose.

But the most recent turn has included a string of six straight losses, which featured the low point of the season: a manhandling from one of the worst teams in the league, Edmonton. This loss came as one of Edmonton’s players scored a total of eight points, including a hat trick and another goal for good measure. Since then, Chicago hasn’t seemed motivated, easily falling to both Calgary on Friday and then Colorado on Tuesday.

Their disappointment has all but shattered Stanley Cup Final expectations from experts, as of right now. It would also be safe to say that fans are feeling lost at this point after a pile of embarrassing losses. Even with the dejected feeling, remember that this is hockey, where it all boils down to who is playing the best at the end of the season heading into the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Take No. 7 Philadelphia from the 2010 season, when the Flyers advanced to the final before falling to the Blackhawks. The Flyers were fighting for their playoff lives through the very last day, with their goaltender making a save in the shootout in a win or go home matchup.

And when they finally snuck into the playoffs, the Flyers went on a run that included the downing of the No. 2 seed in the opening round. That year, Philadelphia beat No. 8 Montreal, another team that made its own run, to advance to the conference final.

Philadelphia had a turbulent start to its 2010 season, to say the very least. Flyers coach John Stevens was relieved of his duties in December. Peter Laviolette was brought in to right the ship, but even he faced stormy waters at first. The Flyers suffered a 2-7-1 period after his hire, and injuries to key contributors — Daniel Briere, Jeff Carter, Simon Gagne and Kimmo Timonen — took a toll on team morale. The position that was the most hit by injury woes was goaltender, where the team had five different players suit up during the season.

This team didn’t make any excuses … so what are Chicago’s?

Not that head coach Joel Quinnville’s job is on the line, or even that the Blackhawks have suffered nearly as many injuries the Flyers did in 2010. But the potential of this team is frankly better than the Flyers — at least on paper. Therefore, the team should be expected to at least compete when the time comes around.

The Blackhawks have been affected more by the inconsistent play from their defense and subsequently their goaltenders, Corey Crawford and Ray Emery, than injuries. Crawford ranks 40th in the league in save percentage, coming in at .900. And Emery is not much better (38th in the league) as of Wednesday night. These relatively low save percentages are partially due to inexcusable defensive mistakes that have haunted the team this year.

But luckily, these errors are solvable, and when they do correct the wrongs, the Blackhawks could be dangerous heading into the playoffs. But first thing’s first. They have to take baby steps now for them to have a fighting chance come the playoffs.

_Darshan is a sophomore in Media. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @drshnpatel._