The Chicago Blackhawks have only 10 games remaining on their regular-season schedule.
After clinching a playoff berth by defeating the Nashville Predators Sunday night, the Blackhawks have the choice to coast through the final 10 games and gear up for the postseason. But with home-ice advantage still up in the air, the 'Hawks are unlikely to do that or even consider sitting any of their star players.
They need five more points in order to win the Central Division—which would include home-ice advantage for at least the first two rounds of the playoffs.
All 10 games will be important in determining who the Blackhawks play in the first round—they will even include previews of potential first-round matchups.
This shortened 48-game season is close to being over, but the Blackhawks still have to be aggressive down the stretch. Lazy and inconsistent play is bound to pop up within their games; it's important they overcome that and end the season on a high note.
These are the three most important games left on the Blackhawks' schedule:
When April 12 rolls around and the Blackhawks play the Detroit Red Wings at the United Center for the final time this season, we could be witnessing a potential first-round showdown.
The 'Hawks are 3-0 against the Wings this season—with Chicago winning their last matchup 7-1 at the Joe Louis Arena.
But this game will be a little different.
If all playoff seeding holds for the next 10 games, then the Blackhawks will be on course to play the Wings in the first round. Two rivals that hate each other—probably not to the extent of the Vancouver Canucks—will provide some top-notch entertainment.
It's also been a while since the two teams last met each other in the postseason.
The 'Hawks faced off against the Wings in the 2009 Western Conference Finals. When the Blackhawks were the underdog team and the Red Wings were predicted to win the Stanley Cup. When Chicago had Martin Havlat and Detroit had Marian Hossa.
The 'Hawks would go on to lose the series 4-1 in what would be a dominating effort from the Wings.
Will the Blackhawks complete the regular-season sweep of the Red Wings?
Odds are looking likely—barring any defensive breakdowns or injuries.
The Blackhawks have had the Phoenix Coyotes' number this season.
They are already 2-0 against the Yotes—scoring 12 goals against goaltender Mike Smith.
With the final game against Phoenix set on April 20, the Blackhawks will be looking to make yet another statement—especially if the Coyotes end up being a repeat first-round matchup.
Yes, you read that correctly, the Coyotes could meet up against the Blackhawks in the playoffs for the second-consecutive year. Sitting in the No. 9 seed, three points behind the Red Wings, the Dogs still have a chance to plop into that No. 8 spot.
If that happens, the game on April 20 becomes all the more interesting for the Blackhawks and the NHL.
The third game will be at the United Center, and the 'Hawks are sure to be favorites in a matchup of grit and skill.
Another potential rivalry matchup that could turn out to be a real problem for the 'Hawks if they decide to lay back defensively.
Sitting at the No. 7 seed, the Blues would be a physical affair for the Blackhawks in the first round. That's not to say that the 'Hawks would be underdogs, but if the Blues come into the playoffs hot it could be a real challenge.
More specifically, if St. Louis goaltenders Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott both get hot, then Chicago may have their hands full. After all, a hot goaltender stopped them last postseason.
The game against the Blues on April 27 will be the last of the regular season. Ending on a high note against a Central Division foe is bound to provide a spark heading into the playoffs.
Follow James Maahs on Twitter for all the latest on the Chicago Blackhawks: