A week ago, it looked as though the Chicago Blackhawks, barring a choke of epic proportions, were most likely heading towards a match-up against the Vancouver Canucks in the first round of the playoffs.
But as of April 1st, the Hawks are set to meet up with the Calgary Flames, and with one point separating the third seed from the fourth and the fourth from the fifth, uncertainty abounds.
Sure, it's not the NCAA brackets (which is a good thing, because I picked a grand total of zero Final Four teams this year... Stupid Memphis) but usually you get a feel for most teams and where they're headed come playoff time in the NHL.
In the East, the Bruins have won four in a row, even if one of those wins was against that ECHL team down in Tampa Bay. The Rangers and Canadiens, in contrast, while having decent records in their last ten games, havelooked surprisingly vulnerable for the last month or so.
Didn't the entire Blues roster get injured this season? Are Keith Tkachuk and David Perron THAT good?
The strange part about the Hawks is that there is absolutely no feel forhow well this young Hawks squad will perform in their first trip to the playoffs since Zhamnov, Amonte and company accomplished that feat back in 2002.
With wins over the Kings, the Sharks and the Devils last week, Patrick Sharp (fresh off of injury) and the Hawks appeared to be rejuvenated after a few injuries and poor play led to a second half that bordered on disastrous.
Yes, this was the team that on January 1 appeared was only four points back of the first place Red Wings. While that dream died about 16 points ago, the Hawks are still firmly entrenched in the race, but to what end?
Following their small winning streak of a week ago, the Hawks were pummeled by the streaking Canucks and Canadiens to the tune of an eight to one goal deficit.
Didn't the Hawks own Canada earlier this season?
If I had to make my first round predictions right now, they'd probably look something like this:
(Based on current standings)
Boston over Montreal: Four to One
Washington over the Rangers: Four to Zero
Pittsburgh over New Jersey: Four to Three
San Jose over St. Louis: Four to Two (Yes, I'm predicting the Blues make it)
Detroit over Anaheim: Four to Three
Vancouver over Columbus: Four to Two
Calgary over Chicago: Four to One
It pains me to say that the Hawks are on the road to a near sweep at the hands of the Flames, but I think that it would be almost worse if the Hawks faced the Canucks.
The Hawks simply can't seem to get going in the second half of the season. I don't know if Q's boys have run out of gas, but with a week and a half left to play, and the Hawks in their own division for the rest of the season (a place that they've definitely struggled thus far in the season), things are not looking good.
I've been somewhat of a naysayer throughout the second half, and I hate that fact, but the Hawks really need to show me something in the next week or so that says they have life.
Heck, the Hawks need to show the league that they have something left in the tank as the season winds down, or they might be staring down that first round exit that I have unfortunately predicted.
I sincerely hope that they can prove me wrong.