Blackhawks officially clinch playoff berth for ninth straight season

Blackhawks officially clinch playoff berth for ninth straight season

For the ninth consecutive season, the Blackhawks have clinched a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs and will have a chance to win their fourth title in eight years.

It's the third-longest active postseason streak in the NHL, behind only Pittsburgh (10) and Detroit (25). While they're still mathematically alive, the Red Wings' historic streak is likely to end while the reigning champion Penguins should extend theirs to 11 any day now.

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After rallying to beat the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday night, the Blackhawks increased their Central Division lead over the Minnesota Wild to seven points, and are also in great position to own home-ice advantage in the Western Conference.

The Blackhawks are 17-3-0 in their last 20 games, and have won five straight. They have 10 games remaining in the regular season, which wraps up April 8. The playoffs begin Wednesday, April 12.

Quick Hits from Blackhawks-Stars: Another slow start but better finish

Quick Hits from Blackhawks-Stars: Another slow start but better finish

It wasn't pretty, but the Blackhawks found a way to pick up another two points and improved to 6-0-1 over their last seven games, and 18-3-1 over their last 22.

With Minnesota's loss to Philadelphia, the Blackhawks have taken an eight-point lead for first in the Central Division and are only two points away from the Washington Capitals for home-ice advantage throughout the entire Stanley Cup playoffs.

Let's take a look at Quick Hits from the 3-2 shootout victory over the Dallas Stars on Thursday night:

What Worked: The finish and shootout. While the Blackhawks scored the game's first goal, it was another slow start by a team that has had a few of those over the last several outings and has preached working on turning in more of a complete effort. They recorded only 14 shots on goal in the first two periods, and it took more than six minutes after Patrick Kane's goal to record their next one.

But they finished on a positive note yet again, and went 2-for-3 in the shootout thanks to Kane and Artemi Panarin, who potted the game winner. Kane said after the game that he tried his move on Scott Darling during morning skate and it worked. So he went with it tonight in an effort to snap a mini shootout drought and he did.

What Didn't Work: Controlling the puck. The Blackhawks seemingly have the puck more than their opponent does almost every game, but it doesn't reflect in the shot department because they often look for the perfect pass or shot and fail to record one at all. They had 50 shot attempts with 26 of them on goal compared to the Stars' 64 attempts with 44 on goal. They know they must get better at that.

Star of the game: Corey Crawford. After allowing four goals on only 10 shots in Tuesday's overtime loss to Vancouver, the Blackhawks netminder bounced back in a huge way. He matched a season-high with 42 saves, and recorded his 30th win of the season.

He Said It: "He played amazing tonight. Reason we won the game. Hats off to him, he's done that a lot this year. For a goalie it's probably tough to show up every night, even the goals he let in last game you can't put all the blame on him, but he was outstanding tonight." — Kane on Crawford's performance

By the Numbers:

167 — Niklas Hjalmarsson blocked one shot in the win, and it was enough to set a new career high in that department, previously established during the 2010-11 campaign (166).

15 — Trevor van Riemsyk assisted on Marian Hossa's goal in the third period, giving him a career-high 15 points on the season in 50 games. He had 14 points in 82 games last year. He also extended his point streak to three games.

6 — With the victory, Crawford has earned at least 30 wins in six of his seven NHL seasons as a full-time starter. The only time he didn't reach that mark was during the lockout-shortened year in 2012-13 when he went 19-5-5.

Corey Crawford bounces back with 42 saves in Blackhawks’ shootout win over Stars

Corey Crawford bounces back with 42 saves in Blackhawks’ shootout win over Stars

Coach Joel Quenneville had a short list of things he liked out of the Blackhawks' shootout victory over the Dallas Stars: the score, the shootout and Corey Crawford.

Especially Corey Crawford.

Crawford stopped 42 of 44 shots in regulation and overtime and Artemi Panarin had the shootout winner as the Blackhawks edged the Stars 3-2 on Thursday night. The Blackhawks are now eight points up on the Minnesota Wild, who lost 3-1 to the Philadelphia Flyers. 

The Blackhawks will take the victories but the way they're playing lately has been not at the standard they'd like. Crawford, who had a forgettable outing against Vancouver on Tuesday – he was pulled after allowing four goals on 10 shots – was outstanding in this one on a night the Blackhawks needed him to be.

Crawford did not talk to reporters after the game, a rarity following a victory. Asked if Crawford was alright, Quenneville said, "I think he's fine."

Patrick Kane scored his 33rd goal of the season and had a shootout goal to offset Tyler Seguin's. As for the lines, once again revamped some in Artem Anisimov's absence, Quenneville wasn't too happy with those, either.

Marian Hossa, who scored his 24th of the season to give the Blackhawks a 2-1 edge eight minutes into the third period, said the team lacked a complete game again.

"We played three teams most likely not going to the playoffs. But if we want to get ourselves ready for the playoffs we have to play a full 60 because it's not going to be enough just to play 20, 40 or 50 minutes," he said.

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The Stars, who are nearing the end of a very disappointing season, fired chance after chance at Crawford. Those opportunities got better as the game wore on. Only Ales Hemsky solved him, scoring both of the Stars’ goals. But the damage was limited as Crawford stopped many odd-man rushes and breakaways.

"He played amazing tonight. The reason we won the game. He's done that a lot this year," Kane said. "For a goalie, it's tough to show up every night. Even the goals he gave up the last game, you can't put all the blame on him. He was outstanding tonight."

Points-wise, the Blackhawks are in a great situation. They're pulling away from the Wild, who have struggled most of March. They're within reach of the Presidents' Trophy. The Blackhawks are fine with both of those but their overall game is their main concern, which lately has been lacking.

"Over the last six or seven games we've leveled off from the 10-15 before that. We have another level to give and get back to," Kane said. "We're still finding ways to get points. It's a tough schedule, we're playing a lot of games. You're not going to have your best every night. Even if you're not at your best or [have] the most energy, nice to come out of it with points."