Photo: The Province

It All Comes Down To This: Wings/Hawks, Part I

This was what we were all dreading. Scrambling for a playoff spot against the hated Detroit (*spitting noise*) Red Wings in the last two games of the season. Shame on the Blackhawks for letting it go this far. Shame on the players, the coaches, management, and everybody else for putting themselves, and their fans, in this position. That game you all took the night off back in November? It matters now. That night in January when you couldn’t hit the net with a grenade launcher and 10 minutes to aim? It matters now. That third-period breakdown in March? It matters now.

I’m saying this so maybe you’ll remember in November of this coming season, in January of 2012, in March next year when you think back on how big of a pinch you put yourselves in back in 2011. Because two points is two points no matter when you earn them, and now you REALLY have to earn them. If you don’t, you’ll be the laughing stock of the league — winning the Stanley Cup one year and playing golf in April the next, justifying every sore-loser idiot whiner who accused the club of “buying” the championship last summer.

So gentlemen, suit the fuck up, and by God if I see one smile on that bench I’m going to wipe it off your face permanently. It’s time to go to work. Tonight. Sunday. Detroit. Four points — and by God, we will need every one of them. Get your shit together, and make it happen.

The Blackhawks have a number of things in their favor going into these games. First, the only reason Detroit gives a crap about these last two games is because they’re against Chicago. They have a playoff spot, and the Division title, locked up; they are missing both Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall, out with (shocker) undisclosed injuries; forwards Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen, Todd Bertuzzi and Jiri Hudler were all out with injuries as recently as three weeks ago, and it’s safe to say that none are back to their “old selves” quite yet; and the Wings have been “calling it in” of late, with a 4-4-2 record over their last 10 games including an OTL to the ‘Hawks and a 10-3 bludgeoning at the hands of lowly St. Louis.

But the good news stops there. Even without those two players, Detroit (*spitting noise*) is still armed to the teeth with powerful offensive weapons. The afore-mentioned Datsyuk, Franzen, and Bertuzzi as well as Dan Cleary and Valtteri Filppula up front, just to name the top five; on the blue line it’s Niklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski, both north of 40 assists. Goaltender Jimmy Howard, despite middling statistics, has been good enough to coast to a 36-16-5 record.

Our ranks are depleted, as we well know: Dave Bolland is still out, and I think it’s safe to say he’s gone for the season even if we do make the playoffs; Patrick Sharp is back, but only because we’re in danger of missing the playoffs — he’s playing on a bum knee, and he is not at full capacity; and now Troy Brouwer is out with a shoulder injury, and word on the Twitterscape is that it will require surgery.

We are getting contributions from the blue line, but that’s not where we need them from. Our bottom-six forwards are not pulling their weight, pure and simple. We need a goal a game from those guys, and we’ve seen less than a third of that. Unacceptable. The defense has allowed 34 or more shots on net in 4 out of the last 6 games. Completely unacceptable.

One of the few bright spots is between the pipes, where Corey Crawford (starting his 26th straight game tonight, by the way) has stopped 91% or more of the shots against him in 9 of the last 10 contests. The only one in which he was below that mark was the last game against St. Louis, when he only faced 24 shots and we won anyhow. He’s giving this team a chance to win every night. Now the Blackhawks need to take advantage of the chances they are being given.

As we’ve been doing, here is a playoff picture as of the end of the action last night (the ‘ROW’ column is non-shootout wins):

Courtesy: NHL.com

LA is in, so are the three Division leaders. Edmonton, Colorado, Minnesota, St. Louis and Calgary are all out. Dallas is the only team that can catch us, and they play Colorado and Minnesota this weekend — games they should win easily. If they do, we have to take 3 out of 4 points from Detroit (*spitting noise*). Shootout, OT, or regulation, doesn’t matter: 3 points, we got it. Less than that, we’re out — Dallas owns our ass in the tie-breakers if we only get 2.

So, this is a glass-half-full situation, in that the Blackhawks are not (entirely) dependent on other teams to make the playoffs. But make no mistake: if the ‘Hawks put up the effort — or lack thereof — they did against Montreal, or Tampa, or Boston, this glass will be broken and milk spilled everywhere by Sunday afternoon.

First thing I want to see is the butt-end of a stick shoved through Todd Bertuzzi’s lower intestine and out the back between the #9 and #10 ribs. That should get us off to a flying start, and set the tone for the weekend.

We’re at the Joe tonight, 6:30 puck drop Chicago time. Versus has the game nationally, Comcast SportsNet locally; broadcast radio is WGN AM-720, 81st time in a row; and XM subscribers will hear the game on channel 205.

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