Are the Blackhawks complacent? Not this team
March 18, 2013 11:32PM
Updated: March 18, 2013 11:32PM
DENVER — Joel Quenneville took a peek at the standings shortly after Sunday afternoon’s practice at the University of Denver and barely could believe there were only 20 games left in this sprint season. And he was excited and intrigued about what those 20 games would bring.
All 15 teams in the Western Conference have legitimate playoff aspirations at this point — last-place Colorado entered Monday’s game against the Blackhawks just six points out of the eighth and final spot — and the parity is sure to lead to an intense postseason push.
“It’s going to be an amazing finish,” Quenneville said. “In our conference, every team probably feels they’ve got a chance to get in right now. So it’s going to be [a lot of] huge games, watching games you’re not even in participating in — the intensity’s going to be unbelievable.”
But probably not for the Blackhawks, of course. Thanks to their record 24-game point streak to open the season, the Hawks (23-2-3) came to Colorado with a 15-point lead in the division, well ahead of second-place St. Louis (16-10-2). The Anaheim Ducks (20-3-4) — Wednesday’s opponent — are the only team within sniffing distance of the Hawks, trailing them by five points (49 to 44).
So the only drama down the stretch for the Hawks is likely to be whether they’re the No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the Western Conference playoffs. That could lead to something that seemed unthinkable for any contending team when the 48-game schedule was released in mid-January — complacency.
But even with the exhilarating streak behind them, and six weeks of relatively low-pressure games ahead of them, the Hawks aren’t worried about sleepwalking through the rest of the regular season until the playoffs begin in May.
After all, the season just started eight weeks ago after a long lockout.
“I think a lot of us don’t even know how many games are left in the season,” defenseman Duncan Keith said. “We’re just enjoying the season, knowing it’s going to be a short season. When you sit out a lockout that long and you don’t have hockey, you’re excited to play.”
Quenneville praised his team’s “consistent” approach, and said that as long as that continues, so will the wins. And while the difference between the seventh and eighth seed might be negligible in the Western Conference this season, Quenneville said playing for that top seed — and the home-ice advantage it guarantees — is motivation enough.
“Anaheim’s having a great year, and we see them twice in the next couple of weeks, so that can make a difference,” he said. “We’ll see how that all plays out over time, but you’d certainly like to finish as high as you can.”
Jonathan Toews wasn’t concerned about complacency, either. In fact, he said the Hawks can take advantage of their lead to prepare themselves for what he hopes will be a long run through the playoffs.
“The important thing we [need to] keep in mind is we want to be playoff ready — when that time comes, we’ve developed, we’ve improved on everything we need to improve on,” Toews said. “To us, it’s not about points or where we are in the standings, we’ve just got to keep working hard as a team. We’re not satisfied with where we are now, because if we end the season that way and we don’t accomplish anything afterwards, it doesn’t really mean anything to us.”