The Chicago Blackhawks’ previously elite defense is struggling, and it could cost them playoff seeding.
Correcting their issues figures to be difficult Sunday night on the road against the surging Winnipeg Jets.
The Blackhawks (44-24-6) held a seven-point advantage for third place in the Central Division over Minnesota prior to losing three of four, and that edge was down to one point entering the weekend. They allowed 13 goals in the three defeats after surrendering a total of four during a four-game winning streak. Prior to the last four games, they were giving up 2.21 goals per game to rank second in the NHL.
Chicago has lost 12 in a row when allowing three goals or more.
"We just have to put our heads up and these things, we have to shake it off," right wing Marian Hossa told the league’s official website. "There’s still lots of hockey in front of us. Stay positive and turn the page and just learn from our mistakes, because it’s getting (to be) too many of those mistakes. We just have to learn from it and get better, especially tighter defensively."
The Blackhawks lost 5-2 at home to Columbus on Friday with defenseman Duncan Keith committing two turnovers that led directly to goals. Corey Crawford was pulled in the first period for Scott Darling after surrendering four goals on 13 shots.
"We just gave away way too many grade-A scoring chances and it hurt us," captain Jonathan Toews said. "We’ve been doing that to our goaltenders way too often lately and it finally caught up to us."
Defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson left late with an apparent arm injury, but coach Joel Quenneville said he didn’t think it was serious.
The Jets (39-24-12) own the Western Conference’s second wild-card spot with a three-point edge over Calgary and are four points back of the Blackhawks. They’re seeking the second postseason appearance in franchise history and first since reaching the playoffs in 2007 as the Atlanta Thrashers.
Winnipeg has won six of seven while limiting opponents to one power-play goal on 20 chances. Drew Stafford has keyed the hot stretch with four goals and six assists during a career-high eight-game point streak.
Former Blackhawk Dustin Byfuglien scored his 16th goal in a 5-2 win over Montreal on Thursday after missing nine games with an upper-body injury. The Jets improved to 9-1-1 in their last 11 at home.
Ondrej Pavelec has been stellar in goal, posting a 1.15 GAA while winning six straight starts. He had been 3-5-3 with a 3.34 GAA in his previous 11 starts.
"I’m happy I can help the team to get the win and that’s all that matters right now," he said. "So, really, I don’t want to talk about myself. It’s a team sport and we find a way."
The Blackhawks are one of two teams he hasn’t defeated, along with Columbus. Pavelec is 0-3-2 in five matchups with a 4.61 GAA but hasn’t faced them this season.
Chicago was outscored 10-3 while dropping the first three meetings, all at home, before winning 2-1 at Winnipeg on Feb. 6 on Brandon Saad’s overtime goal.
The Blackhawks have won six straight on the road in this series.
Stafford has four goals and three assists in his last six games against them.