There are mainly two ways to look at what the Chicago Blackhawks did over the past weekend. The first would be to focus on the fact that they won back-to-back games to end a losing streak and get their season back on track. The second would be to point out those were narrow wins over two of the worst teams in the NHL.
Both of those things are true, and your perspective will likely determine which one you want to hone in on. The optimist will surely find some relief in a pair of wins that keep the Hawks firmly in the wild card race. They needed four points over the weekend, and they got them. Mission accomplished.
But as I said in our preview Sunday, I was hoping this weekend would lead to more than four points against terrible opponents. I was admittedly hoping that, after sputtering but showing signs in five straight losses to playoff-caliber teams, the Hawks would regain their mojo by smacking around Buffalo and Arizona.
Instead, the win over the Sabres required a shorthanded goal in the final minutes of regulation, a stopped Jack Eichel penalty shot in overtime, and a last-second game-winner from Gustav Forsling to avoid a shootout. Two days later, the Hawks needed to come alive in the third period to put away a Coyotes team with two regulation wins this season.
Yes, four points is four points, and the Blackhawks badly needed those to keep up in the Central Division. But this is still a team squeaking by bad opponents over two months into the season.
The upside here seems simple, at least from this perspective: The Blackhawks need to keep winning enough now that they’re not buried down the road if things start clicking. The team can’t afford to be 10 points out of a playoff spot when it finds a groove in early March. But if it’s hung around in the mix until then, optimism will reign as the Hawks maintain hope a talented group will become something greater than it’s been.
And the reality is, if you don’t have weekends like this one, where you beat bad opponents even when you’re not at your best, then you might not get a chance to figure out down the road. You can be like the Oilers, who are on the brink of digging a hole so deep it hardly matters what happens in the second half of the season.
The Blackhawks are nowhere near that point with 33 points in 30 games, which puts them a stone’s throw from a playoff spot. And as Stan Bowman hinted at last month, there’s reason to believe that, as long as the Hawks make the postseason, anything can happen.
So there’s no doubt that winning those games over the weekend was good and important for the Hawks’ season. Their margin for error isn’t as large as it has been in the past when the team was deeper. But this team still doesn’t look quite like a contender yet, so for now, we’re mainly left with a dose of relief and some persisting optimism.