Chicago Blackhawks' Andrew Shaw, left, celebrates as Blackhawks' Patrick Kane scores on Winnipeg Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec (31) and Dustin Byfuglien (33) during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Winnipeg, Manitoba on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, John Woods)
Updated: November 23, 2013 11:56PM
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Ideally, the Blackhawks wouldn’t need all this character and leadership and resilience stuff. They’d play at a high level every night, regardless of the opponent or the rink, regardless of what happened the night before or what lay ahead, regardless of injuries or lineup changes.
But it just doesn’t work that way. There are always off nights, poor efforts, mailed-in games. What separates the elite from the ordinary is the ability to bounce back from such performances and prevent a loss from becoming a trend.
And the Hawks haven’t gone two straight regular-season games without at least a point since March.
“I think it’s experience and character, and just the thought process and mentality in our locker room,” Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “Everyone — it’s not just one or two guys talking, it’s everybody getting in on the chatter, and getting that energy up when we know we need a response and we need to play better. To have that character in our room is always a good thing, knowing that, hey, we’re bound to have a couple tough periods here and there where we give up a few chances. But we know we can always bounce back from it.”
The last week has been frustrating yet validating for the Hawks, who have twice rebounded from clunkers with strong, 60-minute efforts. After a 7-2 debacle in Nashville last Saturday, the Hawks returned to the United Center the next day and whipped fellow contender San Jose 5-1.
Then, after starting the circus trip with a defensively sloppy 5-1 loss at Colorado, the Hawks turned around and beat Winnipeg 6-3 on Thursday. So they headed into Saturday night’s rivalry game with the Vancouver Canucks feeling good about the confidence and mental toughness in the room.
“Obviously, we talked about the last couple of road games we had, they weren’t where we know we can be,” defenseman Duncan Keith said after the win over the Jets. “We wanted come out and have a good solid game, and I thought we did that.”
Even within the Winnipeg game, the Hawks had to show a little resilience. Marian Hossa said before the game that the start was key, particularly after stumbling at the outset at Nashville and Colorado. But after a strong first period against the Jets, the Hawks gave up three goals — including two in 29 seconds — in the second, limping into the third period tied 3-3.
But Hossa scored early in the third, Ben Smith followed up with a goal of his own, and the Hawks pulled away for a comfortable 6-3 win.
“We started better, then maybe kind of had a second period that resembled a little the games in Colorado and Nashville,” Toews said. “[But] we responded with a good third, too, especially protecting that one- and two-goal lead late in the third.”
Of course, the Hawks are focused on avoiding the bad games and bad periods all together — hoping for fast starts and early leads, sound defense and strong goaltending. But in an 82-game season, with nearly every opponent bringing its “A” game in an attempt to knock off and measure themselves against the defending Stanley Cup champions, that won’t always happen.
But at least they know what it takes to, in Brent Seabrook’s words, “nip it” before one loss snowballs into several.
“Leadership, character,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “Our guys are a competitive group, and they want to be successful, and they want to make it work and that’s why they win. They find a way to get it done.”