The Final Countdown

It’s hard to believe we’re into the final week of the NHL regular season.  Actually, when I sit here and think about it, this season has felt just about right.  At least in terms of length. 

With so many side stories involving the Hawks from the pre-season (who remembers how they couldn’t get out of a game without somebody sustaining a serious injury), to the goaltending, Olympics, and various other shenanigans, it hasn’t exactly been a stroll through Millenium Park.

Now we’re into the final four games, we can finally start to seriously examine where the Hawks will end up at the conclusion of this week.  I’ll spare you all a rundown of their final four opponents and instead run through some different scenarios involving the Hawks and their potential first-round match-up.

The Hawks currently sit two points behind the Western Conference-leading San Jose Sharks.  The Sharks have played 79 games to the Hawks 78.  In terms of tie-breakers, the Hawks have 49 wins to the Sharks 48.  That gives the Hawks a signifcant edge.  With the tie-breaker and the game at hand, the Hawks and Sharks are basically tied right now for the top spot.

Waiting for whoever wins the 1st seed will most likely be the upstart Colorado Avalanche.  Colorado has cooled off since their hot start to the season but they’re still a dangerous group.  Think the Hawks from two years ago except Craig Anderson>>>Nikolai Khabibulin, which is good because their defensive corps is nothing to write home about.  With their top-6 forwards headlined by Paul Stastny, Matt Duschene, and Peter Mueller (assuming his recent concussion doesn’t sideline him for the rest of the season), they aren’t exactly the Little Brothers of the Homeless. 

As for the West’s 2nd seed, the Hawks can lock up that spot with a win in Dallas.  Vancouver currently sits behind the Hawks with 100 points and only three games remaining.  Simple mathematics should tell us the Hawks are in the driver’s seat for that. 

The picture for the 7th seed is a little murkier.  The Predators, Red Wings, and Kings are all within three points of each other.  Nashville has played 80 games so far, notching 98 points in 46 wins.  The Wings have 96 points in 79 games with 41 wins.  The Kings have 95 points in 78 games and 44 wins. 

Where Detroit has the distinct advantage is their final three opponents.  They have a home-and-away with the Blue Jackets during the week and close out the season with the Hawks on Sunday.  That’s three opponents with nothing to play for and a clear path to, at least, 101 points. 

Nashville closes out their season with a game at Phoenix and they play the Blues at the Sommett Center on Saturday.  Of course, with their 46 wins, it basically adds another point to their total as Detroit can’t catch them in that department and Los Angeles likely won’t.

The Kings play at Anaheim, then have two games at the Staples Center against Phoenix and Edmonton, and close out the season in Colorado.  To pass the Predators and Wings, they basically need to win out to hit 103 points. 

I said in January that Detroit was going to end up in the 4/5 match-up and I stand by that.  Unless they hit their peak and it’s all downhill from here, it will be awfully tough for them not to grab the 5th seed. 

So that leaves the Predators and Kings as potenial match-ups.  When the picture becomes clearer, we’ll give a more in-depth analysis.  Until then, feel free to pontificate about potential suitors.

*On the Farm*

The IceHogs clinched a playoff spot on Friday night with a 2-1 win over the Lake Erie Monsters.  Bryan Bickell and Evan Brophey both notched goals for Rockford.  Only a Monsters goal late in the third spoiled the shutout for Corey Crawford.  Crawford was the 1st star of the game making 32 saves.  Shawn Lalonde assisted on Bickell’s goal for his first AHL assist.   None of the newly signed IceHogs (Beach, Bollig, Stanton) dressed for this game.

On Saturday, the Milwaukee Admirals came into town and shutout the IceHogs, 4-0.  Hannu Toivonen got the start in net and stopped 16 of 20 shots.  Kyle Beach dressed in the game but was a non-factor.  Shawn Lalonde had no points, but was a -2 with a penalty.  His defensive partner, Jassen Cullimore, was a -3.  Again, Bollig and Stanton did not dress.

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7 Responses to The Final Countdown

  1. Mars says:

    I agree with your assessment. In my view, the best possible scenario is for the standings to remain just as they are now, i.e., the Hawks as the #2 seed and Detroit as the #6 seed, because the #2 seed cannot play the #6 seed (Detroit) in the second round. That would mean that the Hawks could not play San Jose or Detroit until the third round. So the Hawks’ path could be L.A. in the first round, Nashville/Phoenix in the second round, and then Detroit/San Jose in the third round. If Vancouver were to beat Detroit in the first round, then we would play Vancouver in the second round (assuming San Jose wins their series), which would be fine since we beat them in the second round last year. While I would love for the Hawks to take the #1 seed, I like avoiding Detroit until the third round. Some have argued (I’m not sure I agree) that the Hawks would play better without the pressure of the #1 seed.

  2. JM says:

    Remember when I was freaking out last week? I was just kidding about that.

  3. Dave Morris says:

    Heck, go for the top spot…a Western Conference Championship would be a good way to top off the season.

    In any event, if and when the Blackhawks meet Detroit, so be it.

    If they can’t beat the Wings, may it simply be said, they don’t deserve the Cup.

    PS Watched the ‘Best of’ Pens-Hawks Final ’92 on NHL Network the other day…the shots of CT in the crowd, squirting the Pens bench with his baby bottle and hitting Pierre McGuire, are classic.

  4. Patrick says:

    Okay – question for you experts. What are the odds that Buff stays at D going into the playoffs? I’d say he’s playing well with Keith, and Seabrook seems to have picked it up with the separation, playing with Hjammer. Even when Campbell and Johnsson come back, I’d pair them up and then keep Buff with Dunc as I think he’s got more life right now than Sopel and more experience than Hendry (and Boynton is depth only). Besides, the Hawks are loaded at forward right now (go TK! – never should have doubted you) and I’d hate to sit anyone from what appear to be good lines.

  5. dominator says:

    Well considering Campbell won’t be back until after the first round at best I’d say Buff stays on D until at least then, at which point you probably don’t want to mess with pushing him back up to forward. I’m guessing if Johnsson comes back they won’t put him in the top 4 so he probably pushes Hendry out.

  6. Dave Morris says:

    @Patrick> Buf being able to play both D and forward gives Q, as he likes to say “options and different looks”.

    Perhaps not coincidentally, Scotty Bowman used to use his d-men, specifically Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe, as ‘big’ forwards, crashing the net in power play situations. And rather successfully.

    What I have observed is that opponents don’t seem to know quite how to defend against The Bufster when he starts out on one of his rushes.

    This is a good thing, yes?

  7. Patrick says:

    Dave, this is a good thing, yes. I hope that Q sticks with it and I hope it stays successful. If Buff is a more-than-viable D-man (as he has been) going into the playoffs, the Hawks are better team, especially with Campbell and Johnsson coming back.

    Speaking of which, any update on either of their injuries?

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