CHICAGO -- After a 4-3 loss in Game 58, the Chicago Blackhawks have the exact same record as the Columbus Blue Jackets, 29-23-6.
Let that sink in.
This is a Jackets team which has made the playoffs exactly once in its existence and has one legitimate star on its roster in Rick Nash. The Hawks are ranked ahead of them in the conference standings only by virtue of a shootout tiebreaker. That’s what it’s come to.
“It’s a huge loss,” said Patrick Sharp, who netted his 29th and 30th goals of the season, after Friday's game at the United Center. “It’s disappointing. We know we have to win games, especially against a team like that. They’re right there in the standings with us. They’re in the same boat so give them credit. They played hard.”
Not to hammer home a point, but being in the “same boat” as Columbus isn’t a place the Hawks want to be this late in the season. This battle for a playoff spot, sitting just outside the top 8, reminds one of the Hawks of old.
“I thought they started outworking us,” interim coach Mike Haviland said about the Jackets' three-goal second period. “It’s unacceptable at this time of the year. We got away from [our system] and they had some odd-man breaks and changed the momentum for sure.”
So the season-long run everyone has been waiting for hits the brakes again. The Hawks had earned points in four straight games before Friday’s loss, but it’s not enough.
“We still have to hold our heads up in this room,” Sharp said. “We know what we can do in this room and it’s about time we start proving it.”
With 24 games remaining, there's enough time to do so, but with the likes of Columbus and Minnesota to climb over, let alone the teams currently in playoff spots, the odds are starting to get slimmer for the Stanley Cup champions.
No one can say for sure the Hawks will be the fifth team in 42 years not to make the postseason after winning the Cup, but would you bet on it right now?
If so, the Blue Jackets would seem to be just as good a bet.
Though the Hawks won 57 percent of their faceoffs, Haviland pointed out two losses in the circle which led to power-play goals for Columbus.
“We didn’t win one draw on the kill and both of them ended up in the back of our net.”
Jake Dowell and Dave Bolland were the centermen on those faceoffs.
"[Bolland] has to bear down on it,” Haviland said.
Patrick Sharp reached the 30-goal plateau with a two-goal performance. He has seven goals in five games against the Blue Jackets. Only Steven Stamkos has more against one team, nine, against the Atlanta Thrashers.