The Chicago Blackhawks have had an eventful first half of the 2013 season. It would be easy to revel in their accomplishments.
But let's hope Saturday marked the end of their collective preening in the mirror following Chicago's first regulation loss of the campaign.
That's because the 'Hawks one goal can only be reached in June, not January.
There will be plenty of time to get nostalgic about Chicago's magnificent run. What would make that even sweeter would be reminiscing while watching Jonathan Toews hoist the Stanley Cup above his head.
So...let's live in the now for a moment. Here's where the Blackhawks stand:
- Chicago has an eight-point lead over the Ducks in the Western Conference standings.
- The 'Hawks have a 17-point advantage on St. Louis and Detroit in the Central Division.
- If the playoffs started today, the Blackhawks' first-round foe would be...Phoenix.
Vancouver, the Northwest Division leader, has 28 points, making it likely that the 'Hawks, who have 45 points, are a good bet to claim at least one of the first two playoff seeds. The lockout-shortened schedule can only let us speculate on how Chicago would fare against an Eastern Conference opponent should the Blackhawks advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.
This is why the NHL is probably going to make Chicago play the remaining 23 games on its schedule. You know, rather than just hand Rocky Wirtz his second Stanley Cup.
The future is now, starting with Sunday night's rematch with Edmonton at the United Center. The Oilers held a 2-1 advantage after two periods February 25 before the 'Hawks rallied to win in overtime.
Edmonton, the losers of five straight, has been held without a goal in each of its last two contests. However, like Colorado did Friday night, this squad has shown that they can light up the scoreboard in a hurry against Chicago.
The Oilers are banged up entering their tilt with the Blackhawks. Six players are on injured reserve, including defenseman Mark Fistric and goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, who faced the 'Hawks last month. Ales Hemsky, who also took part in the first meeting, is questionable with a foot injury.
Chicago is looking at life without Patrick Sharp for a few weeks but should be relatively healthy otherwise. After Sunday, the Blackhawks get a three-day reprieve from the schedule before going on what will be their longest remaining road trip.
That trip gets started in Columbus Thursday. It features a game in Dallas Saturday, as well as a rematch with the Avalanche. The trip concludes in Anaheim with what should be quite the showdown with the Ducks.
Let's not take away from the sterling first half enjoyed by Chicago, a remarkable run in which they earned at least one point in their first 24 games, an NHL record. At the same time, let's also recognize what coach Joel Quenneville told reporters following the loss in Colorado:
It's a great feather in our cap, but let's move forward here and try to get better.
Exactly. Post-streak action begins now.
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