Blackhawks Faceoff with Wild For Central Division Title

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Stephanie Racker It’s never looked brighter for the Chicago Blackhawks this season. Coming off of their eighth win in nine games as of Feb. 23, the Hawks are now neck-and-neck with the Minnesota Wild. Only a three point difference separates the Hawks from the Wild in the race for the top spot in the Central Division. Many NHL analysts—and even Blackhawks’ fans themselves— didn’t expect such a quick turnaround in performance since the start of the season. The salary cap and its constant pressure had yet again placed Chicago Blackhawks’ General Manager Stan Bowman in a tough position last summer, forcing him to trade powerhouse Andrew Shaw and promising forward Teuvo Teravainen. However, armed with re-acquired veteran defensemen Brian Campbell, along with a group of talented rookies, the Blackhawks have managed to find their niche and turn around what looked to be disappointing season. The 2016-2017 NHL season started off a bit rocky for the Chicago Blackhawks. They lost the season opener at home against rival team the St. Louis Blues 5-2. By the end of October, the starting month of the NHL season, Chicago had only won five of their nine games. Although upfront five wins might not seem that bad, by the Hawks’ and most other competitive teams’ standards, five wins in nine games falls short of ideal. Not only were the Chicago Blackhawks underperforming in wins compared to past seasons, but the team also somehow managed to accumulate a total of 72 penalty minutes in these nine games. This run-up in penalty minutes is uncharacteristic of the Blackhawks, a team that usually relies on their skills as opposed to their grit. The Hawks were not looking too good out of the gates— to say the least. At the halfway point of the season near the end of January, the Hawks appeared to have finally hit their stride. Despite Jonathan Toews’ struggles during the first half of the season, he finally turned it around. With a total of 15 goals this season, eight of which have come since Jan. 22, including a hat-trick during the Hawks’ last visit with the Minnesota Wild, Toews has boosted his production. Part of his improved offensive output can be attributed to his line mates Richard Panik and Nick Schmaltz. While Panik had been performing well offensively, rookie Nick Schmaltz only recently began to excel on the team, now boasting six goals. Besides the Toews line, fellow rookie Ryan Hartman can also be credited for the Hawks’ ability to score goals and put up some wins. Now with 15 goals this season, he’s found his footing in the league. Part of the Hawks’ struggles during the start of the NHL season came from the fact that only one line on the team was able to offer consistent offensive contribution: the Kane, Anisimov, and Panarin line. Now that other lines are starting to up their offensive game, the Hawks are finally beginning to find their groove. With about 20 games left this season, the Wild is the only team standing in the Hawks’ way. It unfortunately still remains a bit of an uphill battle for the Hawks— despite their recent turnaround. Minnesota has two extra games to play, meaning Chicago will be forced to play catch up unless Minnesota takes a turn for the worse, which isn’t likely to happen. That being said, each game matters. If the Hawks can continue their current trend of consistently winning, there’s still a chance to take over first place in the Central Division and ultimately first place in the Western Conference. ]]>