Chicago Blackhawks: 8 Is Great, but 3 Remains a Tough Number

Drew FContributor IMarch 7, 2011

Patrick Kane combines with Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews to form the NHL's most productive and efficient line since the All-Star Break.
Patrick Kane combines with Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews to form the NHL's most productive and efficient line since the All-Star Break.Abelimages/Getty Images

"Winnin’ Ugly" was the nickname given to the 1983 Chicago White Sox, who amassed a string of gritty wins to finish that season with an American League West title only to run out of gas against the eventual world champion Baltimore Orioles. 

Mike Ditka famously told his 1985 Chicago Bears before the NFC Championship against the Los Angeles Rams that the game was a class battle between the wealthy, glamorous Smiths from Los Angeles and the working-class Grabowskis from the City of Big Shoulders.

Those Bears, with their lunch pails, hard hats and rolled-up sleeves, brought home a Lombardi Trophy.

Since dropping their Feb. 18 tilt to the Columbus Blue Jackets by a score of 4-3, the Chicago Blackhawks have roared back into the playoff picture in a big way, dispatching opponents in eight straight.

It's hard to not get caught up in the displays put on by the Patrick Kane-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Sharp line of late, but beneath Pat Foley's poetic waxings and the chorus of "Chelsea Dagger" lies a dirty little secret, and one that's been there all season long: the third period.

In this eight-game winning streak, the Blackhawks have outscored opponents 23-9 in the first 40 minutes. In the third period, however, the goals are even at 10 apiece. 

Chicago has picked up 16 points in the Western Conference standings to climb to 80, and from the No. 11 seed to fourth in the West.

But, if they are to sustain their success throughout the duration of the season and into the playoffs, they must find a way to finish strongly.

Furthermore, this has been a relatively easy stretch for any playoff-caliber team. To begin this winning streak, on home ice, they beat a depleted Pittsburgh team in a shootout after giving up a lead late in the third.

Pittsburgh had nine regulars not dressed for that game, two of whom—Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin—are among the best players in the league.

The next day in St. Louis, the Blackhawks faced a tough division rival, but one that lacks the depth and experience to be a viable playoff contender. After a dismal first period, the 'Hawks lit up a third-string goaltender for four goals, only to allow a pair in the third.

An empty-net goal in the final seconds made it 5-3—not bad for about 30 minutes of effort.

They were unable to maintain a first-period lead against Phoenix and needed a shootout to win that game as well.

Nashville and Calgary came next. They are the types of teams whose work ethic can match the Hawks’ skill, and historically, both have had success against Chicago for this very reason.

Ugly wins are still wins, but the team effort shown in this stretch has a short shelf life.

On paper, the Blackhawks are one of the most talented teams in the league and have shown that few, if any, teams can skate with them. Their top line of Kane, Toews and Sharp is the hottest line going right now and is arguably the best in the league.

Their puck-moving defensive corps is solid, and between the pipes, Corey Crawford is delivering a Calder Trophy-caliber season.

Paper is a long way from the ice, though. If these Blackhawks want to survive in the top eight at the end of this season and thrive in the playoffs, it's time they show their inner Grabowski.