Bend over, boys. (Chicago Tribune)

Waiting Game: Blackhawks' playoff fate rests in hands of Minnesota Wild

Here we go. It’s Dallas vs. Minnesota to save an erratic and inconsistent regular season. Dallas wins in regulation, the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks will be watching the playoffs from their couches.

4-3, Detroit. Goddamnit.

In roughly three hours from the time of writing this, the Blackhawks will know whether or not they’ll have a chance to defend their Stanley Cup. It’s absolutely unbelievable, if you ask me, that it’s come down to this.

And since I’m a nobody, how about we ask Jonathan Toews.

“It’s so frustrating it has come down to this. I’m pretty much speechless. When it’s the culmination of an 82-game season and you’re sitting here in this situation, after working so hard for such a long season, and with the group that we have, it’s unreal to be here. The fact that we’re completely at another team’s mercy right now. … I can’t believe it.”

I’ll leave you with my column from The Committed Indian, which was sold outside by Second City Hockey’s Sam Fels before the loss to the Red Wings.

What a difference a year makes, eh?

Sam gave me this space for the last regular season game of 2009-10, though the situations are much different. Last year, I wrote about the Blackhawks overcoming injuries and adversity to have a shot at the No. 1 seed.

I also wrote the ‘Hawks looked like a Stanley Cup contender for years to come. While dynasties are rare and down seasons will happen, this Blackhawks team taking the ice in front of you today has made sure Game 82 means everything – and not for the better.

No matter your thoughts on the moves this past offseason – though they were completely necessary – I don’t believe any of us thought the Blackhawks could miss the playoffs this season. Yet a loss in regulation today against hated Detroit and a Dallas victory of any kind later tonight against Minnesota means the ‘Hawks will be watching the postseason from their couches.

How bad do those two home losses to Edmonton look? Or the loss to New Jersey on Nov. 3 when the Devils entered the game 2-9-1? Losing seven of the first 11 at the United Center? The wet fart that has been the penalty kill?

The aforementioned deficiencies in performance have contributed to making Game 82 matter for a much different reason than last season. We’ve all tossed around the term “must-win” since February, and we’re unfortunately still saying it in April – before the postseason.

Today is the ultimate “must-win” – or at least “must-not-lose-in-regulation” – game. Have we all decided to drop our standards and justification for excitement because the situations have changed since last season? I’m having a hard time deciding whether I’ll be happy the ‘Hawks made the playoffs or be upset they barely qualified.

However, celebrating last season’s Stanley Cup victory was one of the greatest moments of my life. The only way I’ll have a chance of that repeating come June is if the Blackhawks get into the postseason. Philadelphia – and the rest of the Eastern Conference, for that matter – proved in 2010 that getting in is all that matters. Anyone can win it all by getting hot at the right time.

I hope the Blackhawks fit that bill.

Jonathan Toews has almost single-handedly brought the ‘Hawks to the brink of the postseason. Without him, this column would be more of a eulogy. With the Captain on our side, you have to believe the Blackhawks can beat anyone in a seven-game series, simply based off the fact Toews won’t let this team fold up.

Corey Crawford has been a pleasant surprise this season, and has been a huge reason for a good chunk of victories.

It’s the shell of Duncan Keith that worries me. It’s the stupid penalties that get me flustered. And it’s the lack of urgency which resonated for most of the latter part of the season that makes me wonder if the ‘Hawks can compete with a much better Vancouver team than they beat the past two postseasons.

It’s unfortunate Game 82 has become so important. But if the Blackhawks can survive to see Game 83, anything can happen.

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