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Blackhawks Tue Mar 11 2014
With the regular season winding down, the Hawks are looking to earn a top-three seed in the Western Conference playoff picture, which begins in about a month from now. After a much-needed 2-1 win in Buffalo the other night, the Hawks were able to keep pace with the division-leading St. Louis Blues, who have won five in a row and are 7-2-1 in their last ten games.
Right behind the Hawks in the Central are the Colorado Avalanche, who the Hawks face Wednesday night in the Pepsi Center. This game is huge for the Hawks, as a win in regulation would increase their point lead to three over the Avs with as many games played.
The Hawks are 1-2-1 against Patrick Roy's squad this season, which includes a 4-2 loss last Tuesday night at the United Center. It's the last time these two teams will meet in the regular season this year, but more than likely not the last time these two will face off before June.
As of right now, the Hawks are in second place in the Central with 90 points (38-13-14), just four points behind the Blues (44-14-6), who have a game in hand. Waiting in the wings in third are the Avs with 89 points (42-18-5). And as it stands right now, if the playoffs were to start today, the Hawks would have home ice against the Avs in a seven-game series.
Overall in the conference, the Blues currently hold the one seed, the Ducks hold the two seed, while the Hawks own the three seed. It's tight at the top, but certainly ground the Hawks could gain if they are able to play consistently with their remaining nine home and eight away games.
As of today, the Blues would face the Dallas Stars in the opening round. The Hawks have two games remaining against the Blues, which are going to be huge considering they are 0-1-2 against St. Louis this season.
This season in the NHL the first two rounds of the playoffs will be divisional as a way to better create the rivalry component that seemingly has been lacking the past handful of years. It's a good idea in an otherwise questionable Gary Bettman era and should produce a lot of drama and tension once the snow finally begins to melt.
What's troublesome for the Hawks coming into this year's playoffs was produced from being so successful these past handful of seasons: they have a huge target on their backs and have become the model franchise to which all others have scrambled to catch up. Avs coach Patrick Roy has been quoted as saying they have no pressure as they are "surprised to be playing as well as they have," and "if you would have told me earlier in the season that they'd be keeping pace with the Hawks this late in the year, I'd have called you crazy."
It's an age-old tactic coming from a coach looking to take away some of the pressure from his team, but one that certainly comes from truth. There's no question the Hawks have more talent than the Avs and most of the teams in the West, but all it takes is a team like the Blues and Avs, who have been looking skyward at the Hawks and booking early tee times for nearly the past decade, to come in with a "nothing to lose" attitude and create problems and a disturbance in the force.
The Hawks have shown in the past that come playoff time they are able to pick up the pace, even if just a little bit, in order to overcome any trouble in the postseason. Jonathan Toews has been playing lights out and Patrick Kane broke his goalless funk back in his hometown the other night. Now is the time where Joel Quenneville can shuffle some lines around and see what works best, especially with an injured Marian Hossa.
A number-one seed would be great, but ultimately the Hawks are going to have to face the Avs and Blues in April and May. Home ice is going to be key, and earning that right begins Wednesday night in the mile-high city and continues for the next 16 games after.