With temperatures reaching the low 60s, Monday's game between the Blackhawks and Penguins felt like a late-season affair.
If only that were the case.
Instead, both clubs have more than 40 games left to sort through a four-team march to the finish to see who will get the first pick in the draft. The Hawks took another step toward the first pick with a 1-0 loss.
A night after beating Detroit 3-0, being shut out by Pittsburgh might be viewed as a step backward. But the Hawks apparently believe they should be judged by a different standard.
"This wasn't a low," coach Brian Sutter said. "You don't rate how a team is doing by winning and losing."
For those who do keep track of things such as wins and losses, the Hawks now have three wins in their last 24 games and have lost 12 in a row on the road.
Pittsburgh swept the season series, winning both games 1-0the only shutouts for the NHL's worst defensive team.
The victory also snapped the Penguins' five-game winless streak and pulled them even with the Hawks and Columbus for the fewest victories in the NHL at nine. Columbus sits in 30th place, one point behind Washington and Pittsburgh and three behind the Hawks.
Sebastien Caron had been winless in his last four games, with a goals-against average of 3.73 and a saves percentage of .888, numbers that usually get goaltenders sent to the minors. But he made 31 saves to earn his third career shutout.
"It all starts with our goaltender," Penguins coach Ed Olczyk said. "Sebastien played extremely well. He gave us an opportunity."
The Hawks had the better scoring chances, and the work ethic was there.
"It's sickening to keep hearing that, that we have tons of chances and don't bury them," Mark Bell said. "We are working hard. With any luck, some of those go in for us."
The lone goal came in the second period. The Hawks failed to clear their zone, and Brian Holzinger stripped the puck from Mikhail Yakubov. Holzinger then slipped a pass between his legs to Tom Kostopoulos. He found Tomas Surovy, who sent a quick shot through defenseman Deron Quint's legs and past goalie Steve Passmore.
It's the second time in his three games since being recalled from Norfolk that Passmore has lost 1-0.
The Hawks will close 2003 Wednesday against Vancouver. Judging by the last 12 months, they can't turn the page fast enough.
"You try to take the positives out of this," Bell said. "At the same time, [Pittsburgh's] not very good. We have to win these games."