The Chicago Blackhawks haven't had much luck on their side during the second half of the season, and their bad fortunes were on display again Wednesday night at United Center.
The Blackhawks manhandled the St. Louis Blues, 4-0, to move within six points of first place in the Central Division, but it came at a steep price—a freak injury to leading scorer Patrick Kane will likely keep him out of the lineup for the remainder of the regular season.
Coach Joel Quenneville broke the bad news to reporters following the game, as relayed by Tracey Myers of CSN Chicago:
It was a freak play; it can happen. And we’ve been fortunate most of the year so we’ll deal with it. Certainly he’s a special player. We’ll have to work our way through it with what he brings to our team.
It's worth noting that the injury occurred when Blackhawks defenseman Sheldon Brookbank checked Blues forward Brenden Morrow, who fell into Kane's left leg. Quenneville is correct that Blackhawks have been fortunate with injuries this season, but their on-ice five-on-five shooting percentage has ranked in the bottom five of the league since January.
That's where the true problem lies with the loss of Kane; he has been struggling to put pucks into the net for almost two months, but he was showing signs of figuring things out in recent games. A three-week absence could be the final nail in the coffin of the Blackhawks' chances of catching the Blues and may hamper them in terms of holding off the Colorado Avalanche for second place in the division.
Kane had four goals in 22 games from Dec. 30 to Mar. 6, which doesn't include his six games without a goal at the Sochi Olympics for Team USA. He was a plus-39 in Corsi events over that time in NHL games, which isn't a great number for a player of Kane's caliber. But in his last six games, he was plus-23 in Corsi events and had two goals and three assists.
If there's one team in the NHL that can absorb a three-week loss to someone like Kane, it's the Blackhawks. Kane has 69 points (29 goals) in 69 games, but Patrick Sharp has 68 points (29 goals), Jonathan Toews has 65 points (27 goals) and Marian Hossa has 54 points (25 goals) despite missing 10 games with an injury. The Blackhawks are as deep as any team in the NHL and can still be effective over the rest of the season.
Where will the Chicago Blackhawks finish in the Central Division?
It's not impossible to make up six points on the Blues, although they have played one fewer game than the Blackhawks, but this injury likely means Chicago must set its sights on second place and home-ice advantage against the Avalanche in the first round of the playoffs. The Blues will play the Blackhawks one final time on Apr. 6 in Chicago. It's a game the Blackhawks must win in order to have a chance at winning the Central.
The remaining schedule for the Avalanche is something out of a teen vampire novel—it's scary, but you won't need to keep the book in the freezer to feel safe. The Avalanche face the Bruins, Blues, Sharks and Ducks, and of their final 12 games, seven are on the road. It's not the bumpiest path, but it should be enough to keep them from passing the Blackhawks.
The Blackhawks will be fine. As long as Kane is back for the start of the playoffs, there's nothing to worry about in Chicago.
Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @DaveLozo.