With just 17 games left in the regular season, the Blackhawks have a six point lead over the fifth place and suddenly streaking Vancouver Canucks. The ‘Hawks also have a game at hand over the Canuckleheads. Basically, the math shakes down to this:
The ‘Hawks have 83 points while Vancouver has 77. The magic number for the ‘Hawks to lock up the fourth seed is probably 97 points. They get that, Vancouver would have to end the year with their pants on fire to catch them. So essentially, if the ‘Hawks go 7-7 (or whatever combination gets 14 points) the rest of the way, the Canuckleheads need an 11-5 or 10-5-1 (or whatever combination gets them 21 or 22 points) to pass them up.
Vancouver has a four game homestand coming up against Los Angeles, Colorado, Dallas, and St. Louis. Then they go on a six game road trip against Phoenix, Dallas, St. Louis, Colorado, the ‘Hawks, and Minnesota. They come home for a game against Anaheim, leave for Edmonton, then have a three game homestand against Colorado, Calgary, Los Angeles before closing out the season in Colorado.
As a quick (and probably wrong) analysis, they would have to beat Colorado at least three out of four times(doable). They have to win both against the Kings (eh, possible), split with Dallas and St. Louis (doable), and win four of the five against Phoenix, the ‘Hawks, Anaheim, Edmonton, and Calgary (Why don’t you sit the next few plays out, Champ?). That’s not much room for error or for that matter, an off night. All in all, the odds are in the ‘Hawks favor, assuming of course, they at least play .500 hockey the rest of the way in.
So now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, the real question becomes: Is the home-ice that important?
Well, the obvious answer would be yes. The ‘Hawks would get to usher in their first playoff appearance in seven years backed by a raucous crowd with the series starting at 0-0. Not to mention, with a current 18-6-6 home record, they know how to have a home cooking. Should the series go the full seven, the ‘Hawks would have the advantage in an all important game 7. Looking at it a bit closer, though, the home ice probably doesn’t mean all that much.
Vancouver sports an 18-11-4 home record while the ‘Hawks are a 19-13-3 road mark. On the flip side, the Canucks have a respectable 16-12-5 road mark, so they’re about as good of a team at home as they are on the road. The General Motors Place is hardly a buiding opposing teams wake up in cold sweats when they think about walking in to it. Meanwhile, the ‘Hawks should have no problems playing anywhere considering they are one of only three teams to pull out a regulation win in San Jose this year. That’s not to say Vancouver would have problems winning in Chicago, either. Do you realize they went through the month of February and only lost two games??!!!?? There hasn’t a trail blazed like that in Western Canada since Jyrki Lumme decided to hang up the skates.
Not to mention, only a small percentage of series go the full seven games anyways. The bottom line is, if the ‘Hawks want to get out of the first round, they have to win at least one game on the road. It doesn’t matter if it’s game 1 or game 3.
Would home ice advantage be nice? Absolutely. A packed, frenzied house could supercharge the ‘Hawks right out of the gate and propel them the rest of the series. (Of course, it could also end up like the Cubs where the team ends up blaming the fans for putting too much pressure on them.) Is it the end of the season if Vancouver does end up passing them? Probably not. The ‘Hawks have proved they can play mostly anywhere with mostly anyone and the GM Place isn’t exactly a building where Stanley Cup dreams go to die.
Side note: I did not include Columbus in this discussion for the mere fact that even with a regulation win tomorrow and only being five points back, the ‘Hawks still have three games at hand. The Jackets can only lose a couple more games the rest of the year if they even want to get in the number 4 seed’s area code. Let one of the top three seeds worry about them.