November 19, 2014

It hasn't taken long for the top seed in the Western Conference to just about become an afterthought for Chicago, and the idea of a wild-card slot has to be creeping in.

The sliding Blackhawks have had a few days to ponder it and are somewhere between those two postseason extremes entering a four-game trip that begins Saturday night in Calgary, but goal-scoring concerns tend to work themselves out against the Flames.

After Tuesday's 6-2 home loss to conference-leading Dallas, the Blackhawks (42-25-7) have fallen six points off the pace thanks to a 1-4-2 span on which they've scored more than two goals once. More relevant is they're two points ahead of Nashville for third place in the Central Division.

"I don't know if it's confidence or whatever," said coach Joel Quenneville, whose team has given up at least five goals three times on the slide. "We've got to find a way to rectify the way we play. We've got to play with more urgency. It's hard to measure confidence to me. If you play hard, you find your way through it."

The club's biggest stars again failed to take it upon themselves to turn things around. NHL points leader Patrick Kane (92) has a goal and two assists in these seven games as his first 100-point season has all of a sudden fallen into question, and 25-goal scorers Artemi Panarin and Jonathan Toews have combined for one in the last six. Two-time Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith had his first minus-3 rating in 71 games.

"At the end of the day, we just have to have that unshakable confidence that good teams go through moments like this when it doesn't matter what you do," Toews said. "Things don't go your way. We'll have to work through it. That's the only way we're going to get better."

But then there's the comfort of Calgary. The Blackhawks haven't dropped a regulation game in the series since Feb. 3, 2012, going 7-0-4 over the past four seasons. Kane has five goals and four assists on a six-game point streak there.

While a road trip might not be the traditional way to halt such a skid, Chicago's is coming against beatable opponents, also taking it to Vancouver, Minnesota and Winnipeg with only the Wild in the playoff picture.

The Flames (31-37-6) aren't in the discussion almost entirely because of a leaky defensive zone with a league-high 234 goals allowed, which continued in Thursday's 6-2 loss in Minnesota.

The Calgary penalty kill, which hadn't been a problem recently, regressed and went 2 for 5. Chicago's power play, however, is 0 for 20 in its last six games.

"A tough start cost us, and then their power play went to work," said coach Bob Hartley, whose team has given up 11 goals in consecutive losses.

It's nothing new for the Flames, who only ever keep themselves balanced by piling more weight on their opponents' scale than vice versa.

They haven't won a game with fewer than three goals since Dec. 15, but they might have to snap that to beat Chicago. Their three points leaders - Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Mark Giordano - have a combined 13 in 40 games against Chicago.

Calgary will at least be firing on a backup goaltender with Chicago starter Corey Crawford missing a fifth straight game due to an upper-body injury. Scott Darling has gone 1-3-1 with a 2.95 goals-against average and .901 save percentage in his last seven games but is 1-0-1 with 1.48 and .952 marks against the Flames.

The Flames figure to go back to Joni Ortio after starting Niklas Backstrom against his former team.

Chicago activated forward Marcus Kruger on Friday after he had surgery to repair a dislocated left wrist Dec. 18.

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