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Blackhawks Wed Apr 01 2015

Playoff Scenario for Blackhawks Shifting Everyday

Chicago Blackhawks It's been an interesting week in the NHL's Central Division for nine teams -- some of those looking to get in and some of those looking to host home ice. Just when the Blackhawks' playoff scenario looked bleak late last week (in regards to positioning), they win two games in a row and are now back in the hunt for the division lead.

Just as March went out like a lamb, so too did the Hawks' play, prior to their last two. They went from being a wild-card team last week after losing 4-1 in Philly and then dropping 5-2 at home to the Blue Jackets, to currently sitting one point behind St. Louis for second and five points behind Nashville for the division lead.

And with six regular-season games remaining on the schedule -- two of which are against the Blues -- the Hawks are hoping to make life a little easier on their travel schedule by hosting, at minimum, the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

It's been said many times that home ice doesn't matter in hockey, especially come playoff time. While that might be the case (the Hawks did win their last two Stanley Cups on the road in Philadelphia and Boston), every player would tell you they'd like to have the advantage, even if slight, if anything, to win more times in front of the home crowd.

This season, the Blackhawks are 23-10-5 at home while mirroring a 23-14-1 record on the road. Yes, the regular season is much different in terms of intensity compared to the post season -- just as the Hawks going 9-3 in shootouts this year means bupkis -- it is, however, interesting to look over how a team's home-versus-away record has played out.

As time winds down for those on the outside looking in (currently the defending champion Los Angeles Kings and the Dallas Stars are two and six points out, respectively, in the West), every game has been intensified for teams to earn just one or two more points along the way. With the second year of divisional play in sight, teams likely will face opponents in the first round they tried to leapfrog during the final week or so of the season. He might not be the most popular person in the room, but give Gary Bettman credit for bringing this format back to the league.

With that said, the NHL recently put out a cheat sheet of sorts for those to follow along in how seeding will work this season. Below is a copy of how things look in the Western Conference with games played through Monday, March 30. (Eastern Conference chart can be seen here.)

NHLPlayoffScenario.jpg

A couple days out of date, but interesting to see who is left on each team's schedule and its difficulty. For a more up-to-date look via the league's site, there's this breakdown without strength of schedule.

Of the top-three teams in the West, the Blackhawks have the easier strength of schedule at .568 percent, facing Vancouver at home Thursday night then at ever-tanking Buffalo Friday evening. From there, it's games every other night, starting with two at home against the Blues and Wild and then two on the road at St. Louis and Colorado. Of those top-three teams, St. Louis has the toughest remaining schedule with a .607 percentage.

Of overall playoff teams currently in position, the Wild have the toughest strength of schedule at .640 percent. That has Kings fans smiling ear to ear, as the defending champs hope to sneak in the last week of the season with a very low .511 percent strength of schedule.

The post season is a few weeks away, and the Hawks are hoping the recent two-game streak is a sign of things to come. At least until Patrick Kane can return, early or on time.

BLACKHAWKS NEWS AND NOTES

For those keeping tabs on any Hawks' prospects, the "Frozen Four" starts next week and it features four youngsters looking to win the NCAA championship. According to Brandon M. Cain (@BrandonMCain) at Second City Hockey with SB Nation, future Hawks Luc Snuggerud, freshman defenseman from University of Omaha (2014 fifth-round pick); Nick Schmaltz, freshman forward from University of North Dakota (2014 first-round pick); Luke Johnson, sophomore forward from University of North Dakota (2013 fifth-round pick); and Nick Mattson, senior defenseman from University of North Dakota (2010 sixth-round pick), will be on display to win it all in front of a national audience.

The two semifinal games will air on ESPN2 with Providence taking on Omaha in the first game on Thursday, April 9, at 4pm. The second game pits Boston University against North Dakota that evening at 7:30pm. The championship game will air Saturday, April 11, on ESPN at 6:30pm.

 
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