It feels like hockey season just started, but after their 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday afternoon at the United Center, the Chicago Blackhawks have only 25 games remaining in the regular season.
That number is certainly a shock to the system, but there’s another number that should give fans a measure of comfort: 11. That’s the number of points that the Blackhawks have in their lead over the Minnesota Wild, who are currently in third place in the Western Conference wild card race. That number can be overcome, but it would take a herculean effort, and the Blackhawks have made the playoffs six seasons in a row, so they know what it takes to make it to the postseason.
With all of that being said, our duo of hockey experts took to the airwaves Sunday morning and discussed a forward-leaning question: Which team would the Blackhawks be better off avoiding once the Stanley Cup playoffs start in April?
Siafa Lewis weighed in first, going with the Vancouver Canucks, who currently sit in third place in the Pacific Division and who have beaten the Blackhawks twice this season. As for Brent Sopel, the mustachioed former Hawks defenseman went with the Winnipeg Jets, who have beaten the Blackhawks three times in the United Center so far this season and have been a thorn in the side of many a team.
So who would the Blackhawks have a tougher time matching up against? Both of those teams are good options, but the Western Conference has plenty of other choices when it comes to difficult matchups.
First and foremost on that list are the St. Louis Blues, whom the Blackhawks would match up against in the first round of the playoffs if they started today. The Blues have a dynamic offense, a physical and imposing defense, and they would certainly have revenge on their minds after the Blackhawks beat them in the playoffs a season ago.
The Nashville Predators also come to mind, and they are not only in the top spot in the Central Division at the moment, but they are in the driver’s seat in the President’s Trophy race as well. Fillip Forsberg has been a revelation for the team this season, and the rest of their offense has thrived under head coach Peter Laviolette’s systemic changes in the Music City. Add to that their always-stout defense (made even stronger with Sunday’s acquisition of Cody Franson from the Toronto Maple Leafs) and their elite goaltender Pekka Rinne, and Nashville could be an extremely tough out come playoff time.
Lest we forget about them, the Los Angeles Kings are still lurking on the edges of playoff contention, and they seem due for their annual late surge. With guys like Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty on the roster, the Kings are never out of the playoff race until math suggests otherwise, and they are a team that will be tough to contend with if they can sneak into the postseason.
Out of those three teams and out of the two that Sopel and Lewis brought up on “Quest for the Cup,” the team that most concerns us is Nashville. That seems like the easy answer since they are in the top spot in the Western Conference right now, but looking at their roster, it’s pretty clear that they’re going to be an extremely tough opponent for anyone. They’ve always been a great defensive team, but to add in the kind of scoring they’re getting this year from all over their lineup and to get a healthy Rinne in the crease, they are a force to be reckoned with. The Hawks would likely have a really difficult time dealing with that team in the postseason.