They did it again, didn’t they?
Back in late November, on the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, while facing a Tampa Bay Lightning team that was playing better than anyone in the NHL, the Chicago Blackhawks turned in one of those performances.
The type of performance that reminds you of this team’s ceiling, which towers as high as any in the league — as high as Stanley Cup contenders. But that glimpse only lasted for the first 20 minutes against the Lightning. By the end of the game, the Hawks had regressed enough to allow Tampa to tie the game at two and ultimately win in overtime.
It was largely a 60-minute effort this time.
Save for brief spurts from Winnipeg in the second and third periods, there was never any doubt that two points were heading home with the Blackhawks after Thursday night’s game. Chicago blitzed Winnipeg for three goals in the first and used some Nick Schmaltz sorcery to make it a 4-0 lead in the second. Winnipeg got one tally in the final period and had some temporary momentum, then Michal Kempny ended that nonsense by scoring on a slapper that would’ve cost Connor Helleybuck a limb if he’d tried to stop it.
Now, pointing out that the Jets do not have the same pedigree of the Lightning is a fair counter to this argument. Tampa is a legitimate Stanley Cup contender again, while Winnipeg is looking for its first postseason appearance in four seasons. But Winnipeg hadn’t lost at home in nearly two months before Thursday night, and had won five of its seven games against divisional opponents. This was a team that few opponents had been able to solve, especially in Winnipeg. And the Hawks didn’t just win the game — they owned every aspect of it.
Maybe, come June, we’ll be talking about a random Thursday night in December being the game that finally confirmed the Hawks were the team we all hoped they were, and it was the turning point in a season that desperately needed one for the first 30 games. Or perhaps they’ll return home to host the Minnesota Wild on Sunday night and get throttled 5-1. Uncertainty still reigns supreme.
But there’s one tweet that comes to mind whenever the Blackhawks play like they did on Thursday night, and it’s a tweet that was sent out the night Chicago completed a four-game sweep of the Wild during the 2014-15 Stanley Cup Playoffs, en route to its third title this decade. And given a certain movie release that happened today, it feels perfect:
The Blackhawks Death Star is fully operational— Tristan Roche (@tristanroche) May 8, 2015
The 2017-18 version isn’t fully operational yet. But Thursday night gives you hope it’ll be up and running by April. And that they’ll cover the exhaust ports.