The Chicago Blackhawks have had their playoff spot locked up for a little while now, but the identity of their first round opponent is still as unclear as ever.
With just seven games to go in the regular season, there are still at least four teams that could potentially draw the Blackhawks in the first round of the postseason, and things could get downright chaotic over the season’s closing weeks.
So who would the Blackhawks play in the postseason if the season ended today? What seed would they get?
To answer those questions, here is the latest installment of our Blackhawks Playoff Race Update.
Where Things Stand Now:
Even after their blowout loss to the Florida Panthers on Saturday, the Blackhawks still hold a seven-point lead in the Central Division race with only seven games left to play in the regular season. The Minnesota Wild only gained one point on Chicago Sunday, as they lost in overtime to the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena.
The Blackhawks’ lead over the Wild represents their lead for the best record in the Western Conference, meaning that if they maintain that position, they would secure home-ice advantage throughout the first three rounds of the postseason.
If they were to reach the Stanley Cup Final however, that advantage would go away. Three teams in the Eastern Conference currently have more points than the Blackhawks, with the Washington Capitals narrowly edging out the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins.
Who the Blackhawks Could Play in the First Round:
If the season were to end today, the Blackhawks would play the second wild card team in the West, and that distinction currently belongs to the St. Louis Blues.
With how tight the race is in the conference, that could easily change. The Blues are currently just one point behind the Nashville Predators for the third seed in the Central, which would move them out of a matchup with the Blackhawks. They are also only two points behind the Calgary Flames, who currently hold the top wild card seed in the Western Conference.
There are currently three teams tied with 91 points in the Pacific Division, meaning that all manner of chaos could happen over the season’s closing weeks as Anaheim, San Jose, and Edmonton all jockey for position in the playoff hunt.
What’s Next in the Race?
The Blackhawks only have one of their final seven games against a Central Division opponent, but that doesn’t mean their path to the playoffs will be easy. Two more road games await them this week as they’ll take on the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins, and then they’ll head home to face a strong Columbus squad and a Boston Bruins team that is right in the thick of the playoff mix.
Things won’t be much easier for Minnesota, as they’ll have a home game against Washington on Tuesday and another home tilt against Ottawa Thursday. Then they’ll have a set of back-to-back games next weekend as they face Nashville in a pivotal road contest and then Colorado in a much gentler second half of the consecutive game set.