Hawks won't relax with playoff spot nearly clinched

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Hawks won't relax with playoff spot nearly clinched

Last April, the Blackhawks walked out of the United Center after their regular-season finale loss to Detroit, figuring their playoff hopes were dashed.

A few hours later, a spoiler-playing Minnesota Wild squad rekindled those hopes. But for those few anxious hours and the days leading up to that final regular-season game the Blackhawks were sweating things.

Fast forward to the present. Its a much different season for the Blackhawks and, conversely, a different playoff situation. Thanks to the Blackhawks recent surge, theres not much doubt theyll make the postseason. Its just a matter of when. If the Edmonton Oilers had managed to beat the Los Angeles Kings on Friday night, the Blackhawks would be in. But the wait goes on at least one more day courtesy of LA's 4-1 victory.

But considering there are still points to be gathered and playoff placement to be decided, the Blackhawks are treating these final few regular-season games like they are fighting to make it.

The Blackhawks play the Nashville Predators on Saturday, as they look to assure themselves a fourth playoff berth for the fourth consecutive season. With the points race as tight as it is, the Blackhawks arent just planning on an easy-breezy finish to this regular season, even if theyre qualified for the playoffs.

I dont think it matters. We still want to be playing good hockey, not to coast through the end here, goaltender Corey Crawford said. We want to finish strong and go into the playoffs playing well.

The Blackhawks are making that push right now, finding ways to get points and victories despite missing starters Jonathan Toews (concussion), Steve Montador (suspected concussion) and Duncan Keith (suspension). Sans Toews, theyve now gone 11-5-2. But there are many Blackhawks who remember last season, last years angst, all too well. So taking it easy is not acceptable.

I think I was out eating; you dont want to watch the game but you do to see what happened, said Dave Bolland, referring to that Minnesota victory over Dallas that got the Blackhawks in last season. Wait and see; its never fun to see if youre in or out. We have to be ready for Nashville (tomorrow) and we have to be ready for any (playoff) matchup.

If the Blackhawks end up in sixth theyll face the winner of the Pacific Division, whose race may not be decided until this seasons final day. If they move up to fifth, it could be Detroit or Nashville. And so on. Thats how the Blackhawks are looking at their top-eight position right now: theyre happy to be in, but theyre vying for the best spot in it.

We want to keep moving ahead, keep pushing forward, coach Joel Quenneville said. Were still not comfortable with where were at.

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The Blackhawks’ starts have been all over the map this season but their finishes have usually been strong. That was the case again on Sunday night as the Blackhawks took a lead, lost a lead and regained a lead for good in their 4-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks.

This one featured a little bit of everything. So let’s just get to the Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ victory over Vancouver.

1. Jonathan Toews breaks through. If the Blackhawks captain’s confidence was a little shaken with his lack of scoring this season, it should’ve gotten a boost with his Sunday outing. Toews’ goal and three assists were as big for him as they were the Blackhawks, who needed every bit of it late against the Canucks. In his last 12 games Toews has three goals and eight assists. He’s getting there. Said coach Joel Quenneville, “it seems like he was around the puck way more and when he does that, usually good things happen.”

2. Great start. This hasn’t been written very often but it was more than evident on Sunday night. If this wasn’t the Blackhawks’ best opening period of the season it was pretty close, as they broke out to a 2-0 lead against the Canucks. The Blackhawks, outside of a 3 ½-minute sequence without a shot on goal, were tenacious and ready to shoot, taking an 18-9 shots-on-goal edge in that first.

3. Corey Crawford rebounds. Quenneville considered Scott Darling for this game, an understandable thought with Darling coming off a 30-stop shutout. But he wanted Crawford to get back to where he was prior to his appendectomy, and Crawford took a step in that direction on Sunday night. In stopping 26 of 28 shots Crawford got his 18th victory of the season and 200th of his career. Quenneville said Crawford “looked like he was in control.”

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4. Michal Kempny’s tough stretch. When Kempny has been good this season he’s been very good. When he’s been bad... The defenseman was in the penalty box when the Canucks scored their first goal and he was beaten by Bo Horvat on the Canucks’ second goal. Kempny didn’t play the final 14 minutes of the game. Quenneville, who liked what Kempny brought on the team’s road trip, said Kempny just has to work through some things. “Coverage with awareness and knowing sometimes it’s man coverage, sometimes it’s playing the puck and clearing the loose stuff,” Quenneville said. “Defenseman is a tough position as you’re growing and learning it, but the more you play the better you play and I still think he’s making progress.”

5. Brian Campbell gets to keep No. 500 this time. Campbell thought he had his 500th point against the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday night but it was taken away. Well he got it back on Sunday night, setting up Richard Panik’s 11th goal of the season in the first period.