The Chicago Blackhawks are playing meaningful hockey again for the first time in what feels like a long time. Win or lose, these next three weeks will have a major impact on the direction of this team moving forward.
The Chicago Blackhawks are in an interesting situation. Currently, they are 3 points out of a playoff spot held by the Vancouver Canucks. As fate would have it, the scorching hot Blackhawks face off against the Canucks tonight in a game which could put Chicago only a single point out of a playoff spot.
None of this seemed possible two weeks ago.
It really doesn’t feel possible now.
Yet somehow, this is the reality. This is the mildly-entertaining, wildly-unpredictable 2018-19 Chicago Blackhawks.
Unfortunately, the race isn’t between just Vancouver and Chicago. Five teams currently stand between the Blackhawks and a playoff spot. Four of them have at least one game in hand. It will be a challenge for the ‘Hawks to make that jump, however luck seems to have shifted to their side.
Scott Powers of The Athletic recently broke down the current situation of the surprisingly weak Western Conference. It helps that the Blackhawks have won five straight games, but they will also need to have those teams above them start to lose, too. Somehow, that has begun to happen:
"“The Colorado Avalanche have gone 2-8-0 in their last 10 games,” wrote Powers. “The Vancouver Canucks and Arizona Coyotes are 4-4-2 in that span, the Oilers 3-5-2 and the Anaheim Ducks 2-7-1.”"
Certainly a comforting sight for Blackhawks fans.
As we saw in the ‘Hawks disastrous collapse in the first round to the Nashville Predators a few years ago — where they were swept as a no. 1 seed facing an 8 seed — anything can happen once you’re in the playoffs.
While a top-5 draft pick would be nice for the future, a playoff birth would certainly help to make Chicago a destination this offseason.
If the Blackhawks somehow go on a miraculous run into the playoffs, Chicago becomes a lot more marketable. What player wouldn’t want a join a locker room that overcame a disastrous season prior, a shocking coaching change and lost their franchise goaltender yet somehow made the playoffs?
The fact that this team is even in the hunt at all is a testament to the leadership and character in the Blackhawks locker room.
While a post-season appearance would certainly be incredible, the Blackhawks have to be careful not to land in the uncomfortable position they did last year.
The playoffs would be great.
A top-5 pick would be too.
But under no circumstances can the Chicago Blackhawks play .500 hockey, miss the playoffs and pick 10th or later. It simply cannot happen. Fortunately, all signs seem to point to GM Stan Bowman knowing this. As a result, these next few weeks will be very telling for the direction of our Chicago Blackhawks.
Will Bowman try and acquire a piece to help this team in the present and long-term? Fans seem to turn their nose up at the idea of being buyers at the deadline, but would we really be upset by another Dylan Strome-type deal?
Will Bowman decide this team doesn’t have what it takes this year and sell of assets in hope of being better prepared for next year?
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Who knows. Maybe the best thing to do is roll the dice and let this team control their own fate.
Regardless, one thing seems to be certain: Blackhawks games finally have meaning again. Buckle up, Hawks fans. It’ll be a fun, bumpy ride to the finish.