Not since the Twins-White Sox play-in game for the AL Central title a couple years ago has Chicago had such a meaningful regular season game come along for one of its sports teams.
The Blackhawks/Red Wings game on Sunday morning will see a capacity crowd at the United Center cheer on the defending champions in a game that could make or break their playoff chances.
When broken down, the particulars and what-ifs are fairly simple.
The Blackhawks need a win or have to take the game into overtime against the veteran Red Wings. It will be a playoff atmosphere that will test the resolve of Corey Crawford. The young goalie has been brilliant as of late, when the team has needed him most.
The Red Wings do not have that much to play for in terms of dire need for a win. But, they will no doubt like to knock out their chief rival and make them the first team in five years to not make the playoffs after raising the Cup the previous year.
The Red Wings have been outstanding on the road this season, and it has been a big reason that they won the division and are already looking at a first-round matchup with the Los Angeles Kings.
While the Blackhawks have been decent at home, they have not defended the "Madhouse" as well as they did last season when it was nearly impossible for visitors to walk out victorious.
Of course, the Blackhawks wouldn't mind some help from the Minnesota Wild, who will be taking on the Dallas Stars. Dallas is the only team that can rip the eighth seed out of the Blackhawks' hands. Though the Stars have had the Wilds' number this season, it could be much more interesting then some predict.
Minnesota—which is known as a hotbed of hockey—lost their team (North Stars) all those years ago to Dallas, which was thought of as an oblivious city in terms of hockey.
The Wild fans surely would like nothing less then to eliminate the Stars from playoff contention. Even taking the Stars to overtime would get the job done for the Blackhawks. Look for this game to have a playoff feel—and for one day all Blackhawks fans to be Wild fans.
If the Blackhawks do not perform as needed against Detroit on Sunday, many people will be watching the Wild/Stars in the evening with great interest in the league's final game before the playoffs.
Considering the way Minnesota has played in the last part of the season, however, the Blackhawks cannot count on them for anything. Consequently, the Hawks' will need to play like they did in the 4-1 victory in Detroit on Friday, and they will write their ticket to play in Vancouver sometime next week. I feel that playing the Canucks in the 1st round would be the best case scenario for this Blackhawks team.
The other options are not around anymore for Coach Quenneville and his team. Moving up to a possible sixth or seventh seed in the West is no longer available as the Kings and the Phoenix Coyotes did not falter down the stretch, winning six and seven respectively in their last 10 games.
With a win, the Blackhawks will in fact bring about one of the great No. 1 versus No. 8 playoff matchups in recent memory. The different story lines for that series would be extremely interesting with the heated affairs of recent years in both regular season and Blackhawk playoff wins.
A game has not meant this much since the 2009 Western Conference Finals series that pitted the Blackhawks and Red Wings against each other. Look for leaders like Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Lidstrom (they wont rest them will they?), Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith to be playing at a top level.
So, with it all on the line on Sunday, and the hopes of a city lying on the outcome, let us all hope that the Blackhawks show up.
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