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Which Teams Pose Toughest Playoff Challenge for Blackhawks?

Things are very much undecided in the West, but there are some teams the Hawks should hope to avoid

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    The Stanley Cup playoffs are set to begin in just three weeks, but despite that condensed timeframe, there is still plenty to be decided when it comes to which teams will be seeded in which slots.

    As it stands right now, the St. Louis Blues sit atop the Central Division after a Tuesday win against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but they’re only a point clear of the Nashville Predators. The Chicago Blackhawks currently sit in the third spot in the division, five points behind the Blues but with two games in hand and two games remaining against their Missouri-based rivals.

    With that in mind, we were pondering a question this morning: which potential Western Conference playoff team should the Blackhawks be hoping to face? Which one would they want to avoid? To find out, we took a look at five of their potential opponents, and we ranked them in order of difficulty.

    5. Winnipeg Jets

    The Jets are still playing some excellent hockey as they try to fend off the Los Angeles Kings for the second wild card spot in the Western Conference, but they’re still dealing with their fair share of injury concerns. Their defense and goaltending have been solid lately, but overall they’re still weak points for the team, and the Hawks could take advantage of it.

    4. Nashville Predators

    The Predators were the class of the Central Division for a big chunk of the season, with an improved offense and a defense that was benefitting from a huge season for goaltender Pekka Rinne. They have cooled considerably in recent weeks, and even though they’ve won two games in a row and may be starting to recover from their skid, the Hawks could still play well against their most likely playoff opponent.

    3. Minnesota Wild

    The Wild represent a complete 180-degree turn for how the Predators’ season has gone. The team started out poorly, struggled for a while, toyed with the idea of firing head coach Mike Yeo, and then all the sudden they caught fire at just the right time and have surged into safe playoff contention and are just three points behind the Blackhawks.

    The difference? Goaltender Devan Dubnyk, who has resurrected the team’s season and made them into a truly scary team to play come playoff time. The Blackhawks have beaten Minnesota in the postseason each of the past two seasons, but a third engagement could be even tougher this time around.

    2. St. Louis Blues

    The Blackhawks won four straight games and dispatched the Blues from the playoffs last season, but the road to doing so again will not be an easy one if they have to face St. Louis in the opening round. The emergence of Vladimir Tarasenko has really sparked the team’s offense, and they are still one of the best defensive teams in the NHL. Combine that with their stellar special teams and solid center depth, and the Blues are a tough team for anyone to tame.

    1. Los Angeles Kings

    They’re not currently in a playoff spot, but the Kings are still a team that the Blackhawks have to be really wary of in the postseason. Jonathan Quick has shown an ability to steal a series for Los Angeles if he needs to, and the team’s depth up the middle is tough for the Blackhawks to deal with even after the addition of Antoine Vermette at the trade deadline. A third straight year of playoff competition would be fun for fans, but it could be dangerous to the Hawks’ Stanley Cup chances.