VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Their top goaltender is still out, and a playoff berth remains elusive.
But the Chicago Blackhawks are starting to show signs of life in an otherwise disappointing season.
The Blackhawks (24-19-7) head into Thursday’s game at Vancouver (20-24-6) with two straight wins and four consecutive road victories. In fact, the Blackhawks have won five of their past six away from the United Center.
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That bodes well for coach Joel Quenneville’s crew as the Blackhawks partake in their third of seven road contests in a nine-game span. But Quenneville knows that the road to the postseason still has plenty of potholes.
Corey Crawford’s return from an upper-body injury, suffered in late December, remains uncertain after his return to the ice was delayed for unspecified reasons this week. Meanwhile, the Hawks are four points out of a Western Conference wild-card spot and miles away from a top-three spot, which would guarantee a postseason berth, in the Central Division.
“Everybody’s aware of the urgency that’s needed and the fact we’re in the position we’re in and how we’ve got to get to a certain number,” Quenneville told reporters recently. “We keep saying we need to put a run together. That’s going to be a great test. … We control our destiny here and we haven’t put a great run together. That’s what we’re looking to find.”
The Blackhawks improved their playoff hopes slightly with a 2-1 victory over the Predators in Nashville on Tuesday.
“That was a huge win for us,” Quenneville told reporters.
He will be looking for a much better effort than the one the Blackhawks delivered in Vancouver on Dec. 28, when they bowed 5-2 to the Canucks.
Goaltender Anton Forsberg may get a chance to redeem himself Thursday for an admittedly poor effort that night. Forsberg made 42 saves in the win over Nashville and has stopped 65 of the last 67 shots that he has faced.
He has been sharing the net with 32-year-old journeyman Jeff Glass, a former Canadian junior team star who bounced around the minors and Europe before finally making his NHL debut with Chicago this season as a result of Crawford’s injury.
Glass, a Calgary native, could get the start, considering that he starred with the Cranbrook, B.C.-based Kootenay Ice during his junior days, and Quenneville likes to give goalies a chance to play in their home areas.
But Forsberg is eager to play following his strong effort against Nashville.
“I always want to play — simple as that,” Forsberg told The Chicago Tribune. “(Glass) has been playing well, and I have to play well to get the net. It’s a competition, and that’s good.”
Meanwhile, the highly inconsistent Canucks are looking to build on their 4-3 overtime victory over Colorado on Tuesday night. The showing was much better than the one the Canucks provided in a 4-0 loss to Buffalo in their previous game.
“There (are) not a lot of nights this year that I’ve said that I didn’t like our effort,” Vancouver coach Travis Green told reporters. “But there are the nights where you’re not really happy with your group, and Buffalo was one of those games.
“I liked how our group came out (against Colorado.)”
He will have no complaints if the Canucks compete as hard against Chicago as they did in late December. That night, the trio of Thomas Vanek, Sam Gagner and Brock Boeser accounted for Vancouver’s goals.
Vanek scored two goals and added three assists, while Gagner also scored two goals and provided a helper. Boeser notched a goal and three assists.
However, the Canucks have not built on that win as they had hoped. Vancouver has only six wins in its last 22 games, and a lack of team toughness remains a concern — especially after Boeser was cross-checked face-first into the boards last week by Los Angeles defenseman Trevor Lewis.
General manager Jim Benning is taking steps to address the issue, confirming Wednesday that he will attempt to re-sign hulking defenseman Erik Gudbranson, who is slated to become a restricted free agent this summer, rather than trade him before the deadline.
“He’s a physical, stay-at-home defenseman who helps us,” Benning told Sportsnet. “We have other defensemen who are more puck-moving guys, but we don’t have anyone else with Gudbranson’s style of play.”
Benning wants players who can protect prospects such as Sweden’s Elias Petterson, Vancouver’s top draft choice this year, when they join the club in the next few seasons.
“We need to have guys on our team who will stand up for them,” Benning told Sportsnet.
Gudbranson, out recently with back spasms, is not expected to play Thursday.