As we begin to sift through the ashes of the five-alarm fire that was the Chicago Blackhawks 2017-18 season, it feels like a proverbial line has been crossed by this organization.
Since 2010, whenever this Blackhawks team has needed a Herculean effort to get out of a massive hole, it’s delivered.
You know all the greatest hits and deepest cuts of this album by now: forcing a Game 7 against the top-seeded Vancouver Canucks, a pair of overtime victories against the then-Phoenix Coyotes, rallying from a 3-1 deficit against the Detroit Red Wings, overcoming a 2-1 deficit to the Boston Bruins, pushing the Los Angeles Kings into overtime of Game 7 before a horrific bounce ended it all, erasing a 3-2 deficit to the Anaheim Ducks and countless regular season comebacks that are on the B-side.
Every time the Blackhawks got down, they told us not to worry. And then they’d come back. It was like clockwork. It’s one of the biggest parts of what’s made this last decade so enjoyable.
But in the last three seasons, that hasn’t happened. Chicago’s fallen behind in some manner, told everyone it was OK, but then failed to overcome that particular hurdle.
And after missing the playoffs this season, it’s hard to carry that same faith into the upcoming NHL seasons.
A season without the playoffs has cost the Blackhawks the benefit of the doubt.
Look at what’s transpired in the last three seasons:
In the 2015-16 season, the players told us that they weren’t worried when they fell behind 3-1 to the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Although the Hawks ultimately forced a Game 7 and came within inches of a tying goal in the final minutes, the Blackhawks lost that series.
In the 2016-17 season, the players told us that they were going to find that extra gear they needed after each of the first three games in the first-round series with the Nashville Predators. But Chicago never seemed to recover from a 5-0 beatdown in Game 2 and were swept out of that postseason after winning the Central Division in the regular season.
This season? The Blackhawks hung around the outskirts of the playoff picture before a disastrous February ended aspirations of a Stanley Cup Playoff appearance. Of course, Corey Crawford’s injury was a massive part of the story. But that didn’t stop the Blackhawks from telling us that everything would be OK when he was put on injured reserve back in December, when Chicago was still alive in the playoff chase.
“We view him as the best goalie in the league,” Patrick Kane said a day after Crawford was put on injured reserve. “When you’re missing that piece it’s going to hurt a little bit, but that shouldn’t change how we want to play.”
There are still plenty of reasons to be optimistic about Chicago’s 2018-19 season. There are a slew of young players who fared well. Patrick Kane is still one of the league’s best offensive weapons. And with six months before the regular season begins, Crawford has plenty of time to recover from whatever it is that’s ailed him since Christmas.
But if we get to the holiday season in 2018 and this team is again on the outside of the playoff picture, it won’t be easy to believe that everything is going to be fine, no matter how many times the players say it.