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Game of the Week preview: Blackhawks could finish anywhere from fifth to ninth place

Apr 10, 2011, 3:56 AM EDT

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Marian Hossa AP

Considering the fact that the final regular season NBC Game of the Week (at 12:30 pm ET) also comes on the final day of the 2010-11 campaign, there was a serious risk that this could have been a meaningless game. Instead, the Chicago Blackhawks host the Detroit Red Wings in a contest that could rearrange the lower half of the Western Conference’s playoff tree.

To put it in the simplest terms, the Blackhawks could finish as high as fifth place in the West with a regulation or overtime win against Detroit. That’s a pretty high ceiling for a team fighting for their playoff lives, but there’s also the very low floor. If Chicago loses in regulation and the Dallas Stars earn a regulation or overtime win, the Blackhawks won’t even make the playoffs.

There are, however, some in-betweens among those two extremes. The most important thing to remember is that a single point will clinch them a playoff spot (and the seventh seed), but if you want the full rundown of the scenarios, check the bottom of this post.

Beyond the minute details of how/where they can end up in the playoffs, the most important question is: how are they approaching this game? CSN Chicago’s Tracey Myers caught up with coach Joel Quenneville and the team, who realize that weeks of discussing must-win games boil down to a contest that really is the biggest of their turbulent 2010-11 season.

“Everything’s at stake for tomorrow’s game,” Joel Quenneville said after Saturday’s practice. “I don’t know how many times we’ve said that statement all year, but tomorrow it really is.”

If the Blackhawks want to get that one point – or two, which would actually be more to their liking – they’re going to have to bring the same dominant game they had in their 4-2 victory in Detroit on Friday night. The Blackhawks were stellar; as Brian Campbell said, they recognized the situation at hand.

Rinse and repeat.

“It’s the biggest game. (Friday) was the biggest before that, and the one before that. It’s been that way for a while,” Campbell said. “We’re still in the same situation. It’s probably going to be a playoff atmosphere so we’ll be ready to go.”

The defending Stanley Cup champions must wait until the absolute last day of the season to find out if they’ll even make the playoffs again. While their focus must have been centered on their own conference foes more than anything else on Saturday, there’s a good chance that the Blackhawks are also aware of the sorry fate of another former championship team: the Carolina Hurricanes.

Much like the Hurricanes, Chicago’s fate is in their own hands. Will they win that staring contest, or will they blink, allowing another team to decide their future? We’ll find out in the NBC Game of the Week.

Chicago’s possibilities beyond a regulation/overtime win or the worst case scenario:

A single point would earn the Blackhawks the seventh seed since the 98-point Los Angeles Kings don’t have as many non-shootout wins as Chicago.

There’s also a nail-biting scenario in which Chicago could stay in eighth place. They would “accomplish” this task by losing in regulation to Detroit while the Stars fail to win in regulation or overtime.

The final situation involves a shootout win for the Blackhawks. Chicago would end the season with the same amount of non-shootout wins as Phoenix and Nashville, but they hold tiebreaker advantages over both teams.* Ultimately, then, a shootout win would be just as valuable as a regulation or overtime win. The Blackhawks would earn the fifth seed in that situation.

(How did I get at that last point? Let’s just say it’s a complicated scenario, but Buddy Oakes at Preds On the Glass came up with the same conclusions.)

***

So, in the grand scheme of things, the Blackhawks can earn the fifth spot with a win and a playoff spot with an overtime or shootout loss. If they fail to earn a point, they are at the mercy of the Stars.

If you’re hoping for a playoff atmosphere in the last day of the season, look no further than Sunday’s game between the Red Wings and the Blackhawks.

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