It’s official: The Chicago Blackhawks have been locked into the third spot in the Central Division. That was assured last night when St. Louis’ Vladimir Tarasenko tallied with less than two minutes to play in regulation against the Blackhawks and the game wound up in overtime. Paired with Dallas’ win over Colorado, both the Stars and Blues assured they couldn’t be caught by the Blackhawks.
Of course, there’s still a couple very interesting dynamics in play with just one regular-season game remaining for the Central’s top three teams. For the Blackhawks, their tilt Saturday against Columbus means nothing in the standings, but it will feature the return of Corey Crawford. Marian Hossa and Artem Anisimov could also play after missing time with injuries, while it sounds like Andrew Shaw will be out until the playoffs start next week. So while a game against the lowly Blue Jackets will have no impact on where the ’Hawks finish in the standings, it could be important for getting some guys back into the swing of things on the ice.
Writer’s note: Disregard most of this last paragraph, as CSN Chicago’s Tracey Myers reports Anisimov, Hossa and Shaw will not travel to Columbus on Saturday. However, Crow will, so this game is pretty much important for him and little else. It could be important from a standpoint of Artemi Panarin reaching or not reaching certain stats that could give him bonuses next year, but that’s another story entirely.
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The other dynamic worth watching is one the Blackhawks can’t control, but one they have a vested interest in. The Stars and Blues are tied atop the division with 107 points apiece, and with one game left for both. Dallas draws Nashville at home, while St. Louis somehow gets a home game against President’s Trophy-winning Washington as its regular-season finale. You’d have to say the edge right now goes to the Stars to take the division crown, but hockey can often be unpredictable.
What does this mean for the Blackhawks? Well, if one team wins and the other loses, or one team loses in extra time and the other loses in regulation time, Chicago will head to the losing/regulation losing team’s city for the playoffs’ first round. If both teams win or both teams lose the same way (i.e. both losing in regulation or extra time), the Blues would hold the tiebreaker (regulation/overtime wins) and take the division, meaning the Blackhawks would draw Dallas. Safe to say the Blackhawks will be interested in those two games, which take place tomorrow.
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This, of course, brings up the question of which opponent the Blackhawks and their fans would rather see. The Blackhawks would never truly let on about their feelings, but fans obviously will. For a strong portion of the fan base, it seems pretty simple. Those fans would rather play St. Louis because 1) The Stars have blown out the Blackhawks multiple times this season and 2) the Blues have a history of playoff choking.
But is it really that simple? Let’s break down both of these potential first-round opponents and see which club might be a better draw for the Blackhawks.
Next: Dallas Versus St. Louis