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Blackhawks Tue Feb 24 2015

Darling Gets Another Shot as Blackhawks Fight Through Slump

Chicago Blackhawks You can forget about catching the Central-leading Nashville Predators at this point. Just go ahead and erase the idea of surpassing the best team in the Western Conference right now, which has amassed 87 points and has gone 7-2-1 in its last 10 games.

The focus for the Blackhawks, with 22 games remaining on their schedule, including the home-at-home stint with the Florida Panthers starting tonight, is to remain above water and catch the St. Louis Blues for second in the division.

The panic button has been pressed (again) after the Hawks lost their last three games -- a 3-2 shootout thriller against the Red Wings; a 4-1 loss to the Avs, which produced three goals in just over three minutes in the third period for Patrick Roy's squad; and a 6-2 laugher against the Bruins in front of a national audience -- all during the longest homestand of the year against a set of struggling teams.

It's a bit of a slump, to say the least, and the Blackhawks are having a hard time scoring goals consistently while taking away shot attempts from its opponents -- a perfect storm for a three-game losing streak. And since the Boston Massacre at Sunday's matinee, the Hawks sent Antti Raanta and Ryan Hartman packing to Rockford, lost Johnny Oduya to an upper-body injury for a few weeks and held a closed-door meeting to iron out any wrinkles in the team's play.

The only good to come from all this is local backstop Scott Darling receiving a two-year extension, which will pay him $575,000 in 2015 and $600,000 in 2016. Not bad for his recent service for the IceHogs, which has him notching two shutouts this season and a 14-8-2 overall record, including a 2.20 GAA, which is 10th in the AHL.

Darling will face the Panthers to spell Crawford, who hasn't been himself as of late. There's no question The Crow has played very well this season. His 23 wins are 14th in the league, while his 2.36 GAA is 11th in the league.

Sure, the Brad Stewart goal on Crawford in the third period of the Avs game brought back horrific memories of when Cristobal Huet was in net. It was completely unnecessary and a microcosm of the entire team's recent play -- lackadaisical and uninspired. So how does the team recover from what appears to be the darkest hour of the season?

For starters, Joel Quenneville and Stan Bowman could send Dan "Car Bomb" Carcillo out with a one-way ticket to anywhere but within a 500-mile radius of the United Center. He's a wasted spot on the roster for an otherwise talent continuing to grow in Rockford. He was a scratch against the Avs and only managed 6 minutes, 29 seconds of ice time against the Bruins, which included two penalties (Fighting and Roughing). It'd be one thing if the guy could fight, but it's safe to say that whatever dance he performed with Adam McQuaid in the second period on Sunday was anything but intimidating.

This eight-game homestand was supposed to launch the Hawks into the top of the division, when instead they're settling for a handful of points and on the wrong end of a streak. There's no question the team will get it all together in time for mid-April, but how they'll get there needs to be decided sooner than later.

Perhaps Darling helps them get back on track with inspired play, providing the team in front of him allows for a smaller CORSI and Fenwick-against. Perhaps Trevor van Riemsdyk's impending return will help a Blue Line ready for answers in its own zone.

Regardless of the situation, the Preds will own the Central come April. In the meantime, the Hawks will need to figure things out in order to prevent them from owning the West come June.

 
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