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.