One Minute Remaining: The Pivotal Month
|As a rash of key injuries have hit the Blackhawks, the question is can the team recover while getting through this month and still make the playoffs?
The last two times Chicago made the playoffs (2002,1997), they were at .500 or above going into December, but with the way parity is around the league, there's no guarantee.
In 2001-02, the Hawks went 12-8-7 after the first two months and wound up third in the division, but were beaten by St. Louis in the conference quarterfinals.
Back in the 1996-97 campaign, the Hawks finished November with a mark of 12-12-3 and lost to Colorado in the playoffs.
The Hawks were 10-10-3 in 2002-03, but failed to make post-season action.
In 1991-92, the Hawks went into late November and early December with a five-game road losing streak to post a 10-12-5 record. Chicago recovered to finish 2nd in the division and reached the Stanley Cup finals by knocking off St. Louis in six games and then sweeping Detroit and Edmonton, setting a Stanley Cup record of 11 straight victories in a playoff year.
However, in the Cup final, Pittsburgh, led by Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr, ended the streak with a sweep as the Penguins won three of the games by a single goal.
Going back to 1988-89, the Hawks staged one of the most dramatic November turnarounds in history. They finished November at 6-16-4 in the midst of a nine game losing streak which stretched from November 19 to December 10.
Despite a losing record for the season and finishing fourth in their division, Troy Murray (now the Hawks radio color commentator), scored a dramatic overtime goal in the season finale at the Chicago Stadium against Toronto.
The victory put the team into the playoffs while knocking the Maple Leafs out.
The Hawks then preceeded to upset St. Louis and Detroit before bowing to the eventual Stanley Cup champs, Calgary, in the conference finals.
Another interesting number for November is 13. Before the injury deluge last month, which hit Martin Havlat, Michal Handzus and Nikolai Khabibulin as well as Tuomo Ruutu in the preseason, the Hawks were 4-2. Without those key players, their record after 13 games was 4-9, the same as last year.
Compared to the last two playoff appearances, Chicago was 7-3-3 in 2001-02 and 6-5-2 in 1996-97. Being ahead or even after 13 didn't prove to be lucky in 2002-03 (7-5-1) or 2003-04 (5-5-3).
But 13 did prove to be lucky as far as making post-season play in 1992-93 (4-6-3) as the Hawks finished atop the division. Pointing to 1988-89 again, the squad was only 3-9-1.
With the damaging injuries to Chicago's scoring forwards, the latest being Rene Bourque, there has been added pressure on the the goal tenders, defense and penalty killers. Before these injuries, the Hawks were among the NHL leaders in goal scoring after the 1st 3 weeks of the season.
In games that can be decided by inches on any given night, I hope the Hawks can overcome the adversity of their key injuries. I'm confident that a little bit of luck can go a long way and that the team will give the needed effort to reward Hawk fans!