DENVER — With nothing to play for over this final road trip of the season, it would be easy and reasonable for the Blackhawks to mail it in. But with the playoffs opening next week — likely Thursday for the Hawks — they’re trying to stay sharp and keep their mental edge. When you’re just trying to get through the last three games healthy, and when you’re shuffling guys in and out of the lineup, it’s a fine line to walk.
“We want to win these games,” Ryan Hartman said. “You want to go into the playoffs on a winning note. You don’t want to be going into the playoffs doubting yourself.”
Tuesday’s 4-3 overtime loss to the lowly Colorado Avalanche wasn’t what the Hawks had in mind. Aside from the first 10 minutes of the second period, the Hawks looked every bit like a team with nothing to play for, as they squandered a 3-0 lead, with Scott Darling making 47 saves as the Avalanche peppered him with a season-high 51 shots.
They looked disinterested at best as Darling bailed them out in a first period in which they were outshot 16-3. Things picked up considerably in the second period, however. Artemi Panarin got one step closer to his bonus with a power-play goal 28 seconds into the period. Hartman backhanded a shot through Colorado goaltender Calvin Pickard less than four minutes later. And Marcus Kruger, sprung on a breakaway by a terrific Michal Rozsival stretch pass, put a nifty move on Pickard to make it 3-0 at 10:57 of the second.
But Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog each scored shorthanded goals late in the period to make a game of it. Duchene then fed Mikhail Grigorenko for the equalizer at 5:46 of the third period. Erik Johnson scored the game-winner at 1:57 of overtime.
It was a meaningless game in the standings. So are the final two at Anaheim and Los Angeles. But the Hawks want to finish strong, for their own sake.
“It’s not really an excuse,” defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk said. “We didn’t play well, and we got into some bad habits. That’s something you really want to avoid. You want to head into the playoffs feeling good about yourself, and feeling positive about the things you’ve been doing. We’ve got to learn from what we did here. Obviously, this was far from good enough.”