A few weeks ago, many Blackhawk fans likely would have laughed at the thought of their team making the playoffs. This Hawks team has been bitten by the injury bug big time this season. The defense was giving up seemingly record level shots. They looked lost.
However, things are beginning to turn around for the Blackhawks. Chicago has now won four straight games, including sweeping a three-game Canadian road trip that featured games in Ottawa, Montreal, and Toronto. They have also quietly won ten of their last fourteen games.
The Hawks are getting healthy. Drake Caggiula came back from a long absence due to a concussion. Brandon Saadreturned last night in Toronto after being sidelined for a month. Both players have made immediate impacts, as they allow head coach Jeremy Colliton to balance his forward groups better.
Caggiula hasn't missed a beat since returning to the Chicago lineup. He has arguably been better than ever, as he is helping solidify a top line with Jonathan Toews and Dominik Kubalik. Caggiula creates havoc. He plays hard on the boards. He goes to the net. This is something the Blackhawks have missed dearly. Check out the work he puts in.
Good things happen when you put the puck on net.
More hockey players should pressure the goalie when they are handling the puck. Most of them aren't very good at it. Caggiula grabs his hard-hat and lunch pale and goes to work.
Make opposing players uncomfortable on the ice. Good things will happen. Caggiula creates havoc.
Brandon Saad being back in the lineup allows Patrick Kane to have a legitimate winger opposite himself. Saad plays hard along the boards, goes to the net, and has skill, which makes him the perfect complement to Kane. Number 20 didn't wait long to get back on the score sheet during his first game in a month last night in Toronto.
Now, let's talk about the guy who makes the Blackhawks a legitimate playoff contender. It would be fair to say that Dominik Kubalik has taken the league by storm and surprised quite a few people around hockey. At the start of the season, the Blackhawks looked like they were short a top-six forward. Kubalik has risen to the occasion to fill that need.
The winger, who has found a home on Jonathan Toews' line, is a legitimate Calder Trophy contender, which is something approximately nobody predicted. Kubalik ranks fourth on the Blackhawks with 31 points and second in goals with twenty. His twentieth last night was special.
The captain is starting to look like the Jonathan Toews of old lately, which is coming at the perfect time. For the Blackhawks to make a playoff push, Toews needs to be one of the best players on the ice. He has been that lately, with ten goals and 17 assists in his last 21 games.
The Blackhawks' defense is starting to play better as well. In their last seven games, the Hawks have only allowed more than two goals once. That is pretty good for a team whose defense looked unsalvageable earlier in the season.
Slater Koekkoek has surprised many and is starting to look much better on the ice. Most importantly, however, Adam Boqvist is truly coming into his own. He is looking like the perfect partner for Duncan Keith as someone who can move the puck well, fly up and down the ice, and bring offensive prowess to the table. This play against Anaheim shows that the 19-year-old is playing with some serious confidence.
The key takeaway here is that the Blackhawks are playing much better. They look like a team that could go on a run here as the playoff push begins. They are only five points out of the last Wild Card spot in the Western Conference, with two games in hand to the team who currently sits in that spot, the Arizona Coyotes.
Every game from here on out is important. The Blackhawks need points. Tonight's matchup with Winnipeg is a big one, as the Jets currently sit between the Blackhawks and Coyotes. The Jets are two points up on the Hawks coming into Sunday night's game in Chicago.
According to The Athletic's Scott Powers, the Blackhawks playoff chances currently sit at 32 percent. That is up nearly 20 percent from a few weeks back. If the Blackhawks can keep up their recent play, that number will only continue going up, and the Blackhawks may need to start manufacturing those red rally towels for old-times sake.