One thing that struck me during the first period of last night's Hawks-Sharks tilt, is that whether or not Al Cimaglia, myself or anyone else thinks the Hawks are a playoff team, the Hawks themselves think they are a playoff team. That matters. And that is a credit to the youthful exuberance of the players, along with Denis Savard and his staff.
The Hawks came out flying and pressured the Sharks all through the period. But like the the thousands of Confederate soldiers cut down in Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg, in the end, the Hawks were outmanned by a superior foe and tumbled to near .500 again.
Pickett's Charge is actually a fitting reference, in that it was called the "The High Water Mark" of the Confederacy. That point where the South got as close to winning the War as they ever would.
In some ways, last night's game can be viewed the same way. The Hawks were coming off their latest winning streak, four in a row, albeit against a series of questionable foes.
But the Sharks are a serious playoff team, solid from end to end. And this loss again exposed some of the Hawks' consistent weaknesses: poor defensive decision-making, a lack of a power play QB, not enough size/physicality in the top 6 forwards.
One can point to the injuries. But in truth, last night's lineup was basically intact, except missing Jonathan Toews and Jason Williams. All teams have injuries, and good teams win in spite of them.
My feeling is the huge uptick of goodwill and positive developments with the Hawks has gotten a lot of fans a bit intoxicated and out ahead of reality. It's understandable. There has been next to nothing to feel good about with this team for the last 10 years.
There is an exciting core of young players on this team: Kane, Toews, Havlat, Ruutu, Seabrook, Keith, Sharp, Wiz, Byfuglien.
But there are also some of vestiges of the past still around: Khabibulin and Lapointe. Along with some spare parts and quick fixes like Perreault, Lang and a bit too many rookies and AHL call-ups playing regular roles.
The truth is, while the talent level has improved dramatically, it is probably not playoff caliber yet in the best conference in hockey. There are flashes of greatness in the immense physical skills of Keith, Kane and Byfuglien, and there are missed assignments, turnovers, etc.
The Never Say Die fans on cbh.com (God Love 'Em) point to the fact that the Hawks are "five points out" of a playoff spot. I point to the fact that there are very likely at least 8 teams ahead of the Hawks who are simply better this season. Period.
As I said previously, the Hawks themselves still believe they can be a playoff team, and that, along with the eventual return of Toews, could propel them past Nashville, Columbus, etc. for the last spot.
It's an 82-game season, and it all comes out in the wash. In the end, the Hawks will probably finish where they deserve to this season. And if it's out of a playoff spot, that's no reason to be down.
This season should have always been viewed as a step along the journey, not the destination itself.