Ever so slowly, the Hawks are starting to move through the gears.
The Predators managed 31 shots Thursday, but few of them were prime chances, and hardly any came off a rebound. The Hawks were masterful in closing down shooting lanes and passing lanes, and when they didn't do that, they collapsed on Corey Crawford to clear any spare trash lying around. The alley of their crease was Chicago, not the streets of New York (tough metaphor, but I think you'll get it).
On top of that, the Hawks capitalized on what chances they had, and that's how you win games late in the year.
The three-game win streak happened over a half-AHL team (Penguins), a team that's finished for the year (Blues) and a team that has the offensive punch of a comatose koala (Predators), but it's six points out of six and that's all you can ask for, right?
More encouragingly, while the other two wins were spotty, last night the Hawks stuck to the plan for a full 60 and throttled a playoff competitor. There's room to grow, but at least they're headed to the ceiling instead of staring at it wistfully.
- Duncan Keith had his best game by far last night. That's the kind of performance, when repeated over a whole year, nets you a Norris Trophy. He was aggressive everywhere, getting out to shooters and tying up sticks. When Keith gets lazy, those shots get through or deflect somewhere dangerous. When he's not, they head over the glass. When he's lazy, those crease passes find their targets and the opponent is tapping one home. When he's not, those passes slide harmlessly to the corner. It's no coincidence that the Hawks' most assured defensive performance coincided with their best d-man putting on his game. And he was chipping in at the other end too, but for right now we'll just take the stalwart defensive play.
- The Hawks' run here has also combined with the ability to roll four lines. Now that they've finally done away with the ridiculous John Scott Experiment to kill us all, the staff can run out Tomas Kopecky, Ryan Johnson and Viktor Stalberg for close to 10 minutes a night, which saves everyone else's energy. Stalberg especially has been strong of late, using his speed to just chip a puck behind an opposing defenseman and utilizing his blinding speed to get to it first.
- They wouldn't have caught Marian Hossa on that breakaway if the rink were 400 feet long.
- They have to keep this going, as these next three games are all against teams that inhabit the "Kennedy on a Friday traffic jam" that is the Western race right now. Phoenix is competing for a Pacific Division crown ahead of the Hawks, but they're also in a fight for home ice that the Hawks are still in, while Minnesota and Calgary are among the objects that are closer than they appear behind them. Three wins in regulation, and the sun will be bright.