CHICAGO | Increased confidence, team camaraderie and the pure joy of winning have sprouted out of the Blackhawks’ record-breaking 24-3-3 start.
Those emotional lifts should help in the regular season’s final five weeks. In contrast to the past two years when the Hawks often struggled to secure a postseason berth, the upcoming home stretch will focus on nailing down wire-to-wire home-ice advantage in the playoffs.
The Hawks were so confident from their first-half dominance they were loose on the bench when they fell behind 4-0 in the first period against Edmonton on March 10.
“Going into games, we know we have a chance to win every single night,” defenseman Brent Seabrook said Sunday as the Hawks enjoyed the final of four straight days without a game.
“Guys in here were in good spirits,” Seabrook said of the Oilers contest. “We knew we had a chance to come back. There were two periods left. We started joking around a little bit, laughing a little bit. How much worse can it get?
“We responded well and came back. We didn’t get the win, but we made it a game (6-5 loss) late. For our team to go through things like that, it’s a big confidence-booster for our group.”
That boost has perhaps shown up best in the performance of goalies Corey Crawford and Ray Emery.
Crawford’s spirits might have flagged at times through an inconsistent season in 2011-12. Emery was considered a veteran backup.
Now coach Joel Quenneville considers both, enjoying their best seasons, for starts going into every game. He said he won’t change the “ratio” of near-platooned playing time for Crawford and Emery even as the playoffs draw closer.
“It seems like everyone is willing to show up every night,” said Crawford. “We were confident before. It’s just a matter of getting it done.
“I guess it’s nice when the other teams show a little respect for you. But it doesn’t change what we have to do just because other teams say we’re great. IT doesn’t mean things are going to be easier. We only expect things to get harder from here on in.”
Those tests start tonight with the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings visiting in the first of back-to-back games at the United Center. The Anaheim Ducks, three points behind the Hawks’ NHL-best 51, play here Friday.
“To be honest, I don’t know if it really matters to be No. 1 or No. 2 (playoff seed),” winger Viktor Stalberg said. “A lot of things can happen. We’re looking to keep playing well. If we do, that takes care of itself.”
The Hawks have played well even without big guns Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp. Both are reportedly suffering from shoulder injuries. Hossa likely won’t play tonight. Out three weeks, Sharp has shown “progress” in his recovery, Quenneville said.