The Chicago Blackhawks will be taking on the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday night, but there will be more on the line for the team than just taking two points from one of their former rivals.
If the Blackhawks get at least one point in the standings on Sunday, they will clinch a playoff spot for the eighth consecutive season. One point would put them at 94 on the season, and although the Colorado Avalanche could match that number this season, they would lose a tiebreaker to the Blackhawks based on regulation and overtime wins, a category the Blackhawks hold an insurmountable 42-34 lead in.
Unfortunately for the Blackhawks, their work will not be done even if they are able to clinch the spot on Sunday. They still only lead the Nashville Predators by two points in the standings for the third seed in the Central Division, and that will be critical as they approach the postseason.
That spot is crucial, because it allows the Hawks to stay within the Central Division for at least the first two rounds of the postseason. If they slip into fourth, then they would play the division winner with the second-best record, bringing teams like the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks into play as potential first round opponents.
Fortunately for the Blackhawks, their final seven games are an easier road than Nashville will have to navigate. The Hawks do have four road games left, but they also only have to play three more games against teams that are still in the playoff hunt (at Wild, vs. Bruins, vs. Blues). The Predators, on the other hand, have two games remaining against Dallas, a road game against the Penguins, and a home date against the Sharks on their schedule.
As it stands right now, the Blackhawks would hit the road in the first round of the playoffs to take on the St. Louis Blues in the first round. The Blues are currently in a first-place tie with the Dallas Stars, with each team registering 99 points so far on the year, and whichever team gets to the top of the divisional standings will likely get the top overall seed in the Western Conference, meaning that they’ll get the second-place wild card team (likely the Minnesota Wild).
The Blackhawks are currently six points back of both the Stars and Blues, and with only seven games remaining in the regular season, it seems unlikely that they will be able to overtake both teams for the top spot. They do have one game remaining against St. Louis during the regular season, but even that may not be enough for them to close the gap.