After last nights shoot-out victory over the St. Louis Blues the Chicago Blackhawks barring the most unforseen set of misfortunate events should be in the NHL playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. If the playoff started right now the matchups in the Western Conference would be as follows.
Teams that have clinched playoff spots- St Louis, Vancouver, Detroit, Nashville.
The only team that can clinch tonight- Chicago Blackhawks. The Hawks clinch with any type of loss by the Kings
The two big races as I see it are for the #3 seed and #4 seed! First off the #4 seed means a home ice series versus another Central Division club. Remarkably there is still an oustide shot of four teams in the Central to have 100 point seasons. Detroit with 97 Nashville with 96, and Chicago with 95 are all in the hunt for #4! Detroit and Nashville both have 5 games left while the Hawks only have 4 games left meaning the Hawks would need everything to align correctly without their two best players to get to #4. The most undesirable position would have to be th #5 seed. Opening the first round on the road versus a division foe will not be an easy task for whomever ends in this slot.
The real interesting race is for the #3 seed. Dallas, San Jose, LA, and Phoenix are all tied or separated by a single point. Whoever wins this division (which will be by the hair on their noses) will get a home series against more than likely the Hawks. 2nd and 3rd in the division get to open on the road against St. Louis or Vancouver. Whomever finishes 4th in this 3 team race gets to play golf early, and it wouldn’t break too many hearts if its the Sharks who miss out on this year’s playoffs. Dallas and LA have the slight advantage as of this moment, because both teams have 5 games left, while the Sharks and Coyotes have 4 remaining.
The playoff haven’t even started and every game for the past week has had a playoff atmosphere, and some sort of playoff implications involved. The Western Conference playoffs will be a very interesting with some very physical teams involved. The only team that truly worries me in a 7 game series is the Predators. The matchup against Nashville is the only series where the Hawks no matter how inconsistant they have been this season would be a heavy underdog. They have proven this season that they can beat the rest of the Western Conference field especially at the United Center, but Nashville grind it out defensive system has had the Hawks number all season.
The Hawks could become a real dangerous team with a “rested” Duncan Keith, and the possible return of their leader Jonathan Toews. As careful as the team has been with Toews, even if he’s cleared for contact I think that the first site of the Captain on the ice should be the playoffs at the earliest epecially if the Hawks clinch in the next day or two. After seeing how fragile a player coming off a concussion is, (Sydney Crosby, Steve Montador after one elbow to the head) the Hawks should take as much time as needed with Toews. It is probably inconceivable that the Hawks can win the Stanley Cup without Toews, so getting him hit in the head before the playoffs would seem misguided for both Toews and any Hawks aspiration for the Cup!
You can almost smell the playoffs!
Let’s go Hawks!!