October 20, 2014

Just two short months ago, the Chicago Blackhawks were on top of the Western Conference and looked like a legitimate contender to successfully defend their Stanley Cup title.

It's a much different picture with 12 games left in the season.

The Blackhawks lost 5-0 to the Los Angeles Kings on Monday night and have dropped four of five, including three in a row against potential playoff opponents, entering Wednesday night's home game against the surging Philadelphia Flyers. After a pair of road losses to St. Louis and Dallas, Chicago yielded a pair of goals in an 18-second span of the first period and never recovered against Los Angeles.

The reigning NHL champions are 9-10-2 since they ripped off a franchise-record 12 straight wins at the end of December and into January.

''We've had a tougher schedule,'' coach Joel Quenneville said. ''We've had some tough games and I think during this stretch here our penalty killing hasn't been great. Some nights they could have won us some games with getting the job done and giving up some timely goals that got their team going.

''But that was a stretch there that we really made a lot of hay and put ourselves in a great spot. Now we're not taking advantage of it, which is disappointing.''

The slide has dropped Chicago (41-23-6) into third place in the tough Central Division, three points behind the Stars and Blues.

Chicago has one home game left against each of the division leaders, so there is plenty of time. But the standings are less important to the Blackhawks than their play heading into the postseason.

''It seems like for whatever reason, the season's been up and down throughout the whole year,'' forward Patrick Kane said. ''You go on stretches where you win 12 in a row, and we've got this little stretch going right now. Obviously we want to shore that up before playoffs, and make sure we're going in there feeling consistent about our game.''

The second line of Kane, Artem Anisimov and rookie Artemi Panarin has been one of the most dangerous groups in the league for most of the year. But it has fallen on hard times of late.

Kane, who leads the NHL with 89 points, has been held to one goal in his last five games. Panarin has been kept off the scoresheet in six of his last nine games. Anisimov has one goal and three assists in his last 14 appearances.

Chicago also has struggled mightily on the penalty kill, owning a league-low 63.6 success rate since Feb. 9.

That issue could again factor against Philadelphia (32-23-12), which has converted 21.1 percent of its power-play chances over a 7-1-1 stretch to vault back into the East's playoff race. Though the Flyers were 0 of 6 Tuesday against Detroit, they received two even-strength goals from Michael Raffl in a 4-3 victory to move within one point of the eighth-place Red Wings.

''We are fighting for our lives here,'' said forward Wayne Simmonds, who added a goal. ''This was a pretty exciting game to get up for. It's pretty easy to get up for.''

Philadelphia, which owns two games in hand on Detroit, amassed 46 shots and has recorded 21 goals in winning four of five. Raffl has four goals and three assists over that span and rookie Shayne Gostisbehere has four goals over his last four after also scoring Tuesday.

The Flyers have lost two straight in Chicago but have won 18 of the last 22 regular-season meetings. They earned a 3-0 home victory on Oct. 14 behind Michael Neuvirth's 30 saves.

You May Like