The calendar has shifted from February to March, but the Chicago Blackhawks might be sad to see the shortest month of the year end.
The Blackhawks went 9-1 during the month, with the lone blemish being a 3-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers in their first game back from the ludicrous bye week.
But the Blackhawks face a stiff test as the calendar flips to the final full month of the regular season. They’ll host the Pittsburgh Penguins Wednesday night at the United Center for what truly is a pivotal showdown and that has nothing to do with it being promoted by NBC as a “Wednesday Night Rivalry,” (it’s not).
Obviously, this team values games in April, May and June over matchups in the beginning of March. But hear me out, because this one’s really important. And yes, it could be a preview of a potential Stanley Cup final.
We now know what the Hawks will look like for the duration of the season. After acquiring forward Tomas Jurco and bringing back Johnny Oduya, Chicago’s roster is set in stone for the stretch run. While Oduya won’t play Wednesday, he’ll likely be in the lineup Friday against the Islanders.
Once Niklas Hjalmarsson comes off injured reserve (upper-body injury) and Corey Crawford gets back in the crease after being sick this week, what you’ll see is what you’ll get the rest of the way.
The February frenzy was extremely impressive and might’ve been enough to dissuade general manager Stan Bowman from making a more aggressive move before the NHL’s trade deadline passed on Wednesday.
Just think about all the Hawks accomplished last month: They scored at least four goals in each of their nine victories. That production was spread out across all four lines. Jonathan Toews found his stride and was named the NHL’s First Star of the Month with seven goals and 18 points in those 10 games. Youngsters Nick Schmaltz, Ryan Hartman and Tanner Kero have found their own after experience growing pains throughout the first half of the season.
There’s a lot going well for Chicago, no doubt. But keep in mind that of Chicago’s nine wins, only four came against teams currently in the playoffs. Two of them came against Minnesota and one of them came against a Blues team hanging on for dear life.
That’s not to detract from what Chicago has done. The Hawks don’t control how the schedule plays out. However, Wednesday’s game could be viewed as a barometer gauging just how good the Blackhawks really are. After Pittsburgh, Chicago will play a desperate Islanders team, the improving Predators and Anaheim before hosting Minnesota March 12.
After that, the Hawks will travel to Canada for three games in five nights against Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. Each of those teams are jousting for playoff position in the Atlantic Division.
March will be a more important month for the Blackhawks than it has been in years past. They can start to prove that it’s February surge wasn’t a fluke by beating the defending champs on home ice.