So, last week, I lamented the Chicago Blackhawks play down the stretch to the playoffs (see "3-7-2"). As my previous article had mentioned, the Blackhawks had gone 3-7-2 in their previous twelve games, picking up only 8 points out of a possible 24. My next post, "'Hello again, Patrick Sharp!'", was mostly a celebration of the Blackhawks finally managing to win a game. However, at that point, I still wasn't convinced we had truly come back to form in order to compete against one of the best--if not the best--team in the league; the San Jose Sharks.
Tonight, I can be a little more certain of their abilities. Since the Blackhawks victory over the Los Angeles Kings, the Blackhawks have triumphed over two of the NHL's giants. The Blackhawks came out on Wednesday like someone had lit a fire under them, scoring three goals against one of the NHL's better goalies, Evgeni Nabokov, to make it 3-1 at the end of the first. Some wondered whether Nabby would be in net when the team came out for the second period. Surprisingly he did; and only allowed two more goals for the rest of regulation. His team showed their gratitude by making up the difference and tying the game 5-5 at the end of regulation. The two teams eventually went to a shootout, where Chicago lit the lamp twice and stoned the Sharks twice for an early end to the shootout. Final score: Chicago 6, San Jose 5.
The Blackhawks next test came on Friday, when they took on the New Jersey Devils, who have been nothing short of electric since Broduer's return (who am I kidding, they were amazing without him too!). Just last week, the Devils put down the Blackhawks in Newark to give Boduer his record-breaking 552nd career win. The Blackhawks came out and got the all-important first goal in the first period when rookie, Kris Versteeg lifted the puck over Broduer's shoulder in a tight space. The Devils would come back with a shot from the incredible Zach Parise; and would take the lead with a rebound shot by Paul Martin. The revitalized Martin Havlat (Blackhawks) would tie the game up once more in period 2. The game remained 2-2 for the rest of regulation. In overtime, the Blackhawks' Brent Seabrook ripped one past Broduer from the blue line to lift the Blackhawks past the Devils.
These wins mean something, for sure. The Blackhawks have--if nothing else--proven that their losing skid is over. I think that they have also proven that they can compete with some of the best in the league. Are they out of the woods? Not yet. The Blackhawks dropped a lot of points in the Western Conference during their skid. The Vancouver Canucks are now within 2 points of fourth place and threaten to take away the Blackhawks' home-ice advantage for the playoffs.
Interestingly enough, the Blackhawks and Canucks faceoff on Sunday. The winner accomplishes two things: they gain two points on their opponent, and they eliminate one more chance for their opponent to get points. The winner also threatens third place Calgary.
So, as you can see, those three playoff spots are in no way solidified. Everyone wants the home-ice advantage in the playoffs; so those third and fourth spots are going to be hard-fought-after. Anything can happen, so long as you make sure that when the dust settles, you're not in the fifth place spot.