They've been down this road before, and each time it hasn't led the Chicago Blackhawks
to where they thought it would go this season.
The Hawks beat the Colorado Avalanche 4-0 on Wednesday night at the United Center for their third win in a row. It's the second streak of that length in a turbulent season that's put the defending Stanley Cup champs in a tight playoff race in the Western Conference.
They've also had two four-game winning streaks, but none longer. So is this when they go on that elusive long run they've been seeking?
"We keep going along here, where it looks like we're trending in that direction and ready to take off," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "Let's hope this was the start of something that's more consistent than it's been in the past."
By all indications it appeared that way - starting with the second straight shutout performance by rookie goalie Corey Crawford, who made 24 saves and upped his record to 15-8-1. Brent Seabrook (2 assists), Dave Bolland (1 goal, 1 assist) and Fernando Pisani (1 goal, 1 assist) each had multi-point games to lead the way offensively, while Troy Brouwer and Jack Skille also added goals.
Seabrook and Duncan Keith logged plus-4 ratings and played extremely well, which was personal retribution after each struggled late in a stinging 7-5 loss on Dec. 13 at Colorado.
It was also the second game in a row the Hawks dominated a game -- they were coming off a 5-0 blitzing of the New York Islanders on Sunday. The way they've played the last two, the Hawks are looking more like a team that's starting to realize how good it can become.
"I don't know if 'doubt,' was the word, but proving it was something we had to do," Quenneville said. "A couple of times we may have teased ourselves, looking like we're on our way -- and we still had some constant lineup changes. I think having some more stability with our lines and combination of lines has been helpful, but it's nice proving that we can be a good team. Now let's prove that we can be a better team."
If Crawford and the defense in front of him keep playing like this, they've got a good chance. Crawford made several impressive saves, including one against T.J. Galiardi with 6:33 left in the third to preserve the shutout. Galiardi stole the puck from Jonathan Toews, skated in alone in the slot and fired a hard wrist shot - but Crawford was up to the task. He closed it out for his third career shutout and now hasn't been scored upon in the last 126:23.
Not that he's keeping track.
"I'm more worried about the win," Crawford said, when asked about back-to-back shutouts. "That's nice, but wins are all that counts."
Especially a win against the Avs (22-16-6), who'd beaten the Hawks (24-18-3) in their first three meetings this season. Chicago won't face Colorado again unless it's in the playoffs - but they'll probably see each other in the conference standings the rest of the way.
The Avs were just one point ahead of the Hawks before the game and came into the Windy City struggling with a 3-5-2 record in their previous 10 games. They didn't improve on that mark and continued to frustrate coach Joe Sacco.
"We didn't match their intensity tonight at all, right from the start and all the way through the game," Sacco said. "We've had three good games against these guys. We've played well against them three times. Tonight wasn't the night, though. I think our entire team needs to be better."
The Hawks struck at 7:08 of the first on Brouwer's rebound putback of a blast from the point by Keith. It was Brouwer's 11th goal and fourth against the Avs this season.
Bolland pushed it to 2-0 just 40 seconds later with another putback that he scooped and potted from just below the left circle after a wrister by Pisani from the opposite side.
Bolland and Pisani reconnected to make it 3-0 midway through the second, when Bolland threaded a pass through the slot to Pisani streaking toward the net on the left side. Pisani got a stick on the puck and redirected it past Avs goalie Peter Budaj - who made 27 saves.
The second period was then stopped prematurely with 2:07 left because of a broken glass partition - and the players headed to the locker room for the second intermission. When they came out, they played that final 2:07 before the horn sounded and there was a short break before the final 20:00 were played.
The game remained 3-0 until Skille knocked in yet another rebound given up by Budaj with 11:24 left in the third to put the Hawks up 4-0 -- his seventh goal and first point in the past six games. It also gave Chicago its ninth goal in the past two games against none allowed.
Is that a possible sign of a team getting ready for an extended hot streak?
"We've got to keep it going," Bolland said. "We can't lay back now and just think it's going to come easy for us. It's going to get tougher and tougher every game that goes by. We've got to keep rolling."