Chicago Blackhawks Prepare for Grand Finale with Red Wings
Of all the "must-win" games of the season for the Chicago Blackhawks (which seems to have been every game since December) Wednesday night's game against St. Louis was the most crucial. A loss and the Blackhawks could pretty much kiss their season good-bye.
But after 60 minutes, the surprising appearance of Patrick Sharp, a very controversial Hossa goal and a thrilling overtime winner by captain Jonathan Toews, the Blackhawks came out of the United Center with the most valuable two points of the season.
Now they prepare for their final two regular-season games with their ultimate rival: the Detroit Red Wings.
First let's do some review of the standings. The win over the Blues on Wednesday knocked the Calgary Flames out of playoff contention, because the maximum amount of points they can get is 95, which is what the 'Hawks currently have thanks to the win.
Even if the Blackhawks lose the remaining two games to the Red Wings, they have the tie-breaker, automatically putting them ahead. Sorry Flames fans. Your team had a good run.
This gives the Dallas Stars 93 points with two games remaining and 36 non-shootout wins. This means the maximum they can finish with is 97 points and 38 non-shootout wins.
The Blackhawks have 95 points and 37 non-shootout wins, meaning the maximum they can finish with is 99 points and 39 non-shootout wins.
Bad news first. The Blackhawks need a minimum of two points in the next two games to keep the pressure on Dallas, preferably in the form of a non-shootout win, meaning that the 'Hawks would have the advantage in the event of a tie.
Anything less and the door is wide open for Dallas, who has another game against Colorado on Friday night and then their final game against Minnesota on Sunday.
Worst case scenario: they win both and finish with 97 points and 37 non-shootout wins. The Blackhawks can make sure this isn't a problem with one non-shootout win in their next two games. Just one win.
That's it folks. That pretty much clinches a playoff spot. That's the somewhat good news.
The problem is that both the Blackhawks' remaining games are against the Red Wings, making a single win much easier said than done.
Don't expect the Red Wings to be very kind in either game. They would love the opportunity to be the foot that squashes the 'Hawks' playoff hopes.
Some more good news for 'Hawks fans. The Red Wings have been struggling lately. They're 4-42 in their last 10, which includes some bad performances against St. Louis and recently against Carolina.
Also Henrik Zetterberg is day-to-day with a lower body injury and there is no indication that he will return in time for either game against the Blackhawks.
The Blackhawks need to take both of these games very seriously. Four points is best case scenario, three points is ideal, two points is the bare minimum. One point or less and we're praying.
Even more good news: If the Blackhawks can get at least three points, they could potentially sneak into the fifth, sixth or seventh seed and avoid a first-round series with the abominable Vancouver Canucks, which I personally would like to avoid until later rounds if possible.
With Sharp back the Blackhawks' offense is nearly at full force. Troy Brouwer most likely won't return for either game and Dave Bolland's condition hasn't changed at all. Still, the return of Patrick Sharp is a huge boost for the 'Hawks.
Corey Crawford continues to amaze and his case for the Calder Trophy gets stronger and stronger with each start. Expect him in net both games.
Special teams will be crucial in these two games. Their powerplay is an area that has struggled lately and that needs to change, starting when the first Red Wing is sent to the box.
The key to the game for the 'Hawks will be intensity. Other than during their eight game streak they've inconsistent all season when it comes to maintaining intensity. They need to use their speed to dictate the pace of the game and wear the Wings down.
They've proven that they can beat the Red Wings. They need to do it at least one more time.
These last two games will ultimately determine if the Blackhawks are in or out. As I said earlier: one win and they pretty much clinch eighth place. Their fate is in their hands. They need to play with the same character and resilience that won the game against St. Louis.
Its been a rough season for the Blackhawks that's for certain. They've put themselves in a difficult position, so it only seems right that in order to battle their way out and secure a playoff spot they will have to defeat a tough and competitive rival.
These two games will be a good measuring stick of determining whether or not the Blackhawks should make the playoffs. Very little in their season has indicated that they're a playoff-ready team. The outcome of these two games will help answer that question for fans.
Whether they lose both and don't make the playoffs, or win both and climb all the way to fifth, it will seem like the right outcome. They either earn a spot or don't. No one will hand one to them, especially not the Red Wings.
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