Kris Versteeg, Andrew Ladd, Ben Eager, Antti Niemi , John Madden, Brent Sopel and Dustin Byfuglien were either dealt or let go after the ‘Hawks won the Stanley Cup last season, mostly for salary cap reasons. Still, Chicago rallied midseason and were all the way up to fourth place in the Western Conference as recently as March 14.
The Blackhawks have played .500 hockey in the four games since -- including a 2-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday -- and enter tonight’s game against the Detroit Red Wings in the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.
The slip coincides with recent injuries to Patrick Sharp (knee) and Dave Bolland (concussion).
Minus the depth of a season ago, the Blackhawks could very well join the 2007 Carolina Hurricanes as the only teams in the last 72 years to miss the playoffs a season after hoisting the Stanley Cup.
The Blackhawks, however, are hardly focusing on who they don’t have in the lineup and are looking toward what they have to do to make it into the postseason, Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune reports:
“Maybe we go .500 and maybe that's not good enough," winger Patrick Kane said. "That puts us at 96 and we don't get in. Hopefully, we'll be better than .500."
So somewhere between four and eight victories would appear to get the Hawks a postseason berth. They have three games remaining against the Wings, and one each against the Bruins, Blue Jackets, Lightning, Canadiens and Blues.
"It would be nice to win a lot of them," Kane said. "You don't want to put a number on it because you don't want to set any expectations for yourself that are too low. We have to worry about Detroit right now and try to get two points there. It's a tough schedule remaining. You can't look past anyone."
The Blackhawks have 88 points, a point ahead of the Calgary Flames and two points up on the Dallas Stars. Chicago has the second-toughest strength of schedule (.597) -- calculated by points percentage of future opponents -- for the remainder of the season, according to the NHL.
Chicago coach Joel Quennville appears to be shuffling around the players he has at his disposal, Jess Rogers of ESPN Chicago reports.
Kane and Jonathan Toews were put with Troy Brouwer at practice on Sunday. Marcus Kruger centered a line with Bryan Bicklel and Marian Hossa. Michael Frolik centered the third line with Jack Dowell and Thomas Kopecky at the wings. Viktor Stalberg, who had been playing with the first line in place of Sharp, moved to the fourth line with Ryan Johnson and Fernando Pisani.
The changes come a day after the forward Corey Perry – part of the Ducks’ top line -- scored twice with Blackhawks’ No. 1 line on the ice.
The ‘Hawks could get Sharp, injured March 20 against the Phoenix Coyotes, fairly soon. Quennville said this weekend that Sharp was making “rapid progress.” But the same can’t said for Bolland, who took a hit to the head March 9 that led to a two-game suspension for Tampa’s Pavel Kubina, is apparently still suffering concussion-like symptoms and Quennville said there was no change in his status.
Pittsburgh 2, Florida 1 (SO)
Atlanta 5, Ottawa 4 (SO)
Vancouver 4, Columbus 1
Boston 2, Philadelphia 1
-- A.J. Perez