Suddenly, the Chicago Blackhawks can afford to dream again.
The Blackhawks have won five straight heading into Thursday's home game against the Vancouver Canucks. A playoff spot, once considered remote, is now a realistic possibility.
Chicago captain Jonathan Toews suggested the worst part of the season -- which resulted in the firing of Joel Quenneville, one of the most successful coaches in NHL history -- is over. And things might not have been that bad to begin with.
"We were saying for a long time that we were doing a lot of good things some of those nights, especially when Jeremy (Colliton) took over, but we weren't winning," Toews told reporters. "In some ways, we had to stay positive and stay patient, stay with our process, and we had no other choice. It wasn't easy, but if you kinda give up, then everything falls apart and it gets worse. We're at that point now where we've been saying our expectation is to go into every game and come out of it with two points, and that's the way we feel right now."
But the Blackhawks could still be facing some upheaval. Reports have indicated that defensemen Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith could be on the trading block ahead of this month's deadline. Both currently have no-trade clauses that they would have to waive before deals could go through.
"I haven't been approached by anybody," Seabrook told reporters after a recent practice. "So I don't know where the reports came from. ... I haven't been approached or talked to about anything, so it's news to me."
Seabrook, who is in the third year of an eight-year contract that carries a $6.875 million annual cap hit, does not want to think about what he would say if management asks him to move.
"I haven't thought about it," Seabrook said. "I guess I'll deal with that when that day comes. But my focus right now is to try to help this team get into the playoffs. That's what I'm thinking about."
General manager Stan Bowman and Colliton have declined to discuss potential trades. But winger Patrick Kane hopes that Seabrook stays put.
"It'd be nice to have Seabs as a teammate for a long time," Kane told reporters. "We love him here, and I think he likes it here, too."
Meanwhile, the Canucks are battling injuries as they prepare for their third road game in four nights.
Top defenseman Alex Edler suffered a concussion and facial cuts Monday in Philadelphia after his stick became caught in Jakub Voracek's skate and he twisted and fell face-first on the ice. Edler's defensive partner Chris Tanev was relieved that he did not suffer any facial fractures.
"His face is very messed up, but (the lack of a fracture) is huge, because when he was on the ice, I expected something worse," Tanev told Postmedia. "That was one of the scariest things I've seen, other than Manny (Malhotra) taking a puck in the eye."
Malhotra is now a Canucks assistant coach. His playing career went downhill after he suffered a serious eye injury from a deflected puck.
Edler's absence is a major blow, forcing coach Travis Green to reshuffle his back end. But the bench boss is trying not to dwell on the issue.
"You don't want to lose your top guy, but I don't want to overthink it," Green told reporters. "I'm never one to make excuses. You've got to move on. It's the NHL."
Green has moved on to dealing with other injuries.
The Canucks will also be missing winger Sven Baertschi, who returned to Vancouver because he was feeling poorly following Saturday's game in Denver. The club is investigating whether Baertschi's symptoms are related to a concussion that kept him out of 30 games earlier this season. He took two hard hits in the game against the Avalanche.
Vancouver, which has goaltending health woes throughout its organization, is also making due with an emergency backup goaltender. Mike DiPietro made a rare jump from the junior ranks after Thatcher Demko was sidelined with a knee injury suffered in the warm-up in Philadelphia.
"I don't know how long (DiPietro) is going to be here, but (he has to) get something out of it and enjoy it," Green said of the NHL experience.
Jacob Markstrom is expected to get the start against the Blackhawks. He'll be called upon to backstop a makeshift defense that is grappling with Edler's injury, inconsistent play from Derrick Pouliot -- who has received a directive from the coach "to be better" -- and reshuffled pairings that include rarely used blueliner Alex Biega.
"We're going to need more of a group effort than anything," defenseman Troy Stecher told Postmedia.
--Field Level Media
Blackhawks look to stay hot against Canucks