Mar 28, 2011, 7:05 PM EDT
In 2009, the Detroit Red Wings punted the young but talented Chicago Blackhawks out of the playoffs in an exciting playoff series. This time around, they might not need to wait until the postseason to spoil the fun for their historic rivals.
As Tracey Myers points out, the Blackhawks begin a must-win stretch run against their hated division foes tonight (at 7:30 pm ET on Versus). If that wasn’t enough, Chicago faces Detroit in a home-and-home series during their last two games of the 2010-11 season, a duo of contests that might end up determining their playoff fate.
That isn’t the only thing that’s challenging about Chicago’s final eight games. Let’s take a look at their final eight games, with some commentary.
Tonight: @ Detroit
Thoughts: The bright side is that they’ll face a lesser goalie in Joey MacDonald. The negative end, though, is that Johan Franzen will be back in action.
Tomorrow (March 29th): @ Boston
Thoughts: In the span of two days, Chicago will travel to two division leaders. That’s a tough combo, especially since the Bruins will beat up on them after the Red Wings will likely wear them down a bit with their puck possession style.
Friday, April 1st: @ Columbus
Thoughts: There’s good news and bad news with this one. On the bright side, they get a breather after Tuesday’s game against Boston and face a beatable team in the Blue Jackets. The negative is that it’s yet another road game.
Sunday, April 3rd: Home vs. Tampa Bay
Thoughts: The Lightning have been struggling lately and the Blackhawks get to play this game at home. This isn’t a cakewalk, but Chicago has a solid chance of winning this game.
Tuesday, April 5th: @ Montreal
Thoughts: With four of their next five games on the road – and four games against playoff teams in that period – it’s going to be a tough run for the Hawks. The Habs have been a bit shaky lately too, but getting two points from a game in Montreal is never a sure thing.
Wednesday, April 6th: Home vs. St. Louis
Thoughts: Another back-to-back at least partially damages the perks of getting this game at home, but perhaps the Blues will acknowledge tank mode in this one.
Friday, April 8th: @ Detroit
Thoughts: This is the first half of a home-and-home with the Red Wings …
Sunday, April 10th: Home vs. Detroit
Thoughts: … Which the Blackhawks hope won’t mean much for Detroit. An ideal scenario would be that the Red Wings already are firmly in their second or third seed, so maybe they decide to rest their veterans a bit. That might not be likely, though, since the team would surely prefer it if Chicago wasn’t a nuisance for them in the postseason.
Ultimately, the Blackhawks’ fate is in their own hands. With the Calgary Flames hurting from a games remaining standpoint, it’s probably going to be a three-horse race between Chicago, the Anaheim Ducks and Dallas Stars for the final two playoff spots. (I’m not saying the Flames are finished, just their odds are the slimmest.)
The Ducks and Stars play against each once and square off against Pacific Division opponents for the rest of the run, which might or might not be a good thing for the Blackhawks (depending on how many three-point games take place). The bottom line is that Chicago’s best course of action is to take the bull by the horns rather than hope that Anaheim or Dallas stumbles.
It won’t be easy, though, and it looks like Chicago’s road to the playoffs will go through Detroit. Part I of what could be a suspenseful, horror-tinged trilogy begins in about 30 minutes.
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