Reality setting in as Hawks watch playoff chances fade originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
The Blackhawks aren't going to admit defeat until they're mathematically eliminated from postseason contention. But reality has started to set in as they approach the final week of the 2020-21 season.
After falling to the Florida Panthers 5-4 on Saturday, the Blackhawks lost their fourth in a row for the third time this season and have picked up only one point out of a possible eight over that span. They allowed 39 scoring chances during 5-on-5 action in the loss, according to Natural Stat Trick, which was a new season-high.
"We gave up far too much," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "We turned the puck over, fed their transition. They're an excellent transition team and they make you pay when you turn it over."
The Blackhawks are now eight points behind the Nashville Predators for the No. 4 spot in the Central Division with only five games left to play and essentially have to win out just to give themselves a remote shot.
But with three games against the top-seeded Carolina Hurricanes on the docket and the final two games against the Dallas Stars, the Blackhawks aren't focused on the playoffs anymore. They're simply aiming to finish the season strong.
"Just focus on the next one here," said Adam Gaudette, who has one goal and three assists in his first three games with the Blackhawks. "We're still trying to win games and go out on a high note, trying to find our game here and set something up for next season. We've got a lot of young guys on the team and I think we're just trying to click together. We've got some things we need to work on and we're going to work on those things until the end of the season."
Connor Murphy, who's been an alternate captain this season, echoed those sentiments and passionately spoke about the importance of not packing it in for the final five games.
"Focus is to play with pride and to play the right way and realize there's something that we need to continue to build here and realize that it's a process no matter what time of the year you're in — whether you're in it or you're out of it," Murphy said. "Whether it's the first game or the last game, you've got to play the right way and just follow the team game in the right direction because that'll build into good things over time. If you let it slip away it's not as easy to grab back onto things the right way. It means a lot to play with pride every game."
The Blackhawks are trying to establish a winning culture again and believe the process will help get them the desired long-term results. That's why, even though they're on the brink of elimination, the Blackhawks feel it's important to carry some momentum into the offseason.
"We're competitors," Colliton said. "You grew up being a competitor. You wanted to beat your brother, you wanted to beat your dad, at whatever you're doing. We want to play just as hard these last five games as we would if our season was on the line. That's got to be the standard of competitiveness and doing whatever it takes to win.
"Winning one game on its own is worth it. It's worth the attention to detail and it's worth the work ethic and the finding a way to win more 50-50s. We've had a lot of positives here over the season, but it would be disappointing if we let these five games slip away as an opportunity to continue to develop and move forward."