Currently sitting in 11th in the Western Conference and with only 30 games left, the Chicago Blackhawks must play every game with a must-win attitude.
Despite their improved play over the past month or so, the Blackhawks have dropped three of the last four and currently sit outside of the top eight in the West.
The fact of the matter is the Blackhawks need wins. Not regulation losses, not overtime losses. They need to start coming out of games with two points. The time for excuses is long gone.
The fortunate part is that, although they're in 11th place, they're only four points out of sixth and five points away from fifth. With 20 of their remaining 30 games being played against Western Conference opponents, the Blackhawks cannot afford to be anything short of spectacular.
They can change the picture of the Western Conference tonight with a win against the red hot Calgary Flames who are 7-1-2 in their last 10 games and have climbed their way from the basement of the conference back into playoff contention.
This is perhaps the most important game of the Blackhawks six-game road trip. The Flames sit one point ahead of the Blackhawks but have played two more games. A win tonight would help create a buffer between themselves and the Flames in the playoff race and may steal some confidence from the Flames team, hindering their ability to remain in contention.
A loss, however, would be disastrous. It would put the Flames three points ahead of the Blackhawks and put the Blackhawks record on their current road trip at 1-2-0, meaning they would need to go at least 2-0-1 to have a moderately successful road trip and come back home on Feb. 16 still in playoff contention.
Every game is crucial now. Upcoming games against serious playoff contenders like Calgary, Minnesota and San Jose are essentially four-point games and are critical if the Blackhawks hope to make it to the postseason.
The Blackhawks play each of these teams two more times before the end of the season. Simply put, they must win every one of those games.
However, that doesn't mean they can slack off in games against Eastern Conference opponents either. These games they must come away with at least one point. Blowing third period leads will not get you into the playoffs. Every game requires a must-win state of mind to come out of these games with two points.
How do they achieve this mindset? Well they need to remember what made them successful through much of January and build off of their recent game against Vancouver, which they lost but played reasonably well. They need to turn strong play into results.
Do the Blackhawks have what it takes? Absolutely. We have seen what they're capable of, they just need to do a little more of it. They must keep the mentality of must-win in their minds before and during every game. This should give them the drive they need to emerge from these last 30 games with a playoff spot.