Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
WASHINGTON — Before the Blackhawks opened their two-game trip in Florida against the Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning, coach Joel Quenneville was asked whether he thought his team had a realistic chance of catching the Detroit Red Wings in the Central Division.
“At the beginning of the season that was our objective — to try to win the division,” Quenneville said. “For the majority of the season that hasn’t been really realistic. It looks more realistic now than it probably has been at any point.
“But at the same time, we’d love to have home-ice advantage in the playoffs. It’s something we’re looking at. Either one of those should be our objective, but it’s not going to be easy.”
Quenneville was right. It’s not going to be easy when erratic efforts lead to just a one-point trip in Florida. It’s not going to be easy when you have key players — center Dave Bolland (head) and defenseman Brian Campbell (lower body) — out with injuries.
It’s not going to be easy when teams are nipping at your heels despite your confidence-building eight-game winning streak. And it’s not going to be easy against the red-hot Washington Capitals on Sunday or San Jose Sharks on Monday.
A lot of pressure will be on the Hawks after a light workload this week and next week (when they have just three games starting Sunday). Other teams surpass them in games played and possibly points.
The Red Wings had a five-point lead over the Hawks with a game in hand as of Thursday, but that margin could expand by the time the Hawks play the Capitals. There’s also a chance the Hawks won’t be in fourth place when they wake up today.
In other words, the Hawks, despite their winning streak, are very much in a dogfight in the West. Four points separated them and the 10th-place Anaheim Ducks on Thursday as three-point games continue to affect the standings.
“We’ll take anything we can get,” captain Jonathan Toews said of rallying for a point against the Lightning. “Every single night we’ve got to find a way.”
Another positive to look at, as the Hawks sit and watch other teams possibly surpass them, is that they have time to heal their injuries.
Campbell missed his first game in months Wednesday after deciding not to play after warmups. It’s not believed to be serious and is not related to the sprained knee he suffered in the preseason.
Bolland left the game Wednesday after getting elbowed in the back of the head by Lightning defenseman Pavel Kubina in the first period. Kubina was suspended three games for it Thursday, but wasn’t assessed a penalty for the hit in the game.
Others, including defensemen Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson, could use the time to mend ailments. It’s not hard to figure out that the Hawks are going to need everybody for a good stretch run.
“We like the depth of our team and our depth has been more useful as we’ve gone along,” Quenneville said. “You know your health is very important. Especially down the stretch here, we’re going to need not just a healthy group but everybody competing as well.”