The Chicago Blackhawks are closing in on the Central Division crown despite uniquely miserable losses to the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning in their last two outings.
Chicago hasn’t played nearly as well entering April as they have throughout February and most of March, but they’re still in the driver’s seat for the top seed in the Western Conference.
Now it’s time to look ahead to the postseason. There are a few teams jousting for position in the wild-card race and the Blackhawks will face the second wild-card team should they hold onto their lead in the division.
Which team possesses the most dangerous threat to unseating the Blackhawks in the quarterfinals? Let’s take a look at each potential opponent:
St. Louis Blues
Record: 41-28-6 (88 points, 2nd wild-card team)
2016-17 season series vs. Chicago: Hawks won, 3-2
It’s been a bizarre season for Chicago’s most-hated division rival. The Blues got off to a slow start to the season and parted ways with coach Ken Hitchcock on Feb. 1 with a 24-21-5 record. They won seven of their next eight games after familiar foe Mike Yeo took the helm before dropping four in a row to close out the month.
St. Louis has been just as hot as Chicago in the month of March, however. They’ve gone 10-2-1 this month and have played their way into a playoff spot.
The Blues are led by the usual suspects of Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz and Alexander Steen, but they’re no longer without defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who was traded to Washington at the deadline.
The Hawks would certainly have revenge on their minds from last year’s thrilling quarterfinal series that was lost in seven games. The Blues would surely give Chicago everything it could handle in the opening round.
Fear meter: 6/10. The Blues aren’t as good as they were last season, but their big horses could give the Hawks trouble.
Record: 43-29-4 (90 points, first wild-card)
2016-17 season series vs. Chicago: Hawks won, 2-1
Things are getting wacky in the Pacific Division, as the fourth-place Flames are just three points behind the Anaheim Ducks for first and only one point behind San Jose and Edmonton.
The Flames have capable scorers across all four lines. They have 12 players who have scored at least 10 goals this season, which is the most in the league.
Chicago would possibly see old nemesis Brian Elliott should the teams meet in the first round. The former Blues netminder has a 2.47 goals against average and a .911 save percentage in his debut season in Calgary. He’s been outstanding lately, going 15-2-1 since the All-Star break.
The Flames don’t do anything particularly great, but they don’t have an obvious weakness. Chicago also could have a hard time containing phenomenal scorer Johnny Gaudreau, who has only 17 goals this season but will be a handful in a potential series.
Also worth noting, the Hawks would go against three members of past championship teams: Michael Frolik, Kris Versteeg and Troy Brouwer.
Fear meter: 5.5/10. Calgary’s a good team with a mix of steady veterans and aspiring youngsters. However, they shouldn’t offer the Hawks too much to handle even though Elliott had their number at times last postseason.
Record: 39-25-11 (89 points, third in Central Division)
2016-17 season series vs. Chicago: Hawks won, 4-1.
The Predators were viewed as a sexy Stanley Cup pick after acquiring defenseman P.K. Subban during the offseason. The season hasn’t gone as planned, but the Predators might be playing their best hockey right now. Nashville has won seven of eight after it was 32-24-11 on March 9.
The Blackhawks have dominated the Predators ever since their first meeting, which was Nashville’s lone victory this season. Chicago has outscored the Preds, 18-10, in their ensuing four meetings and have put up at least five goals in three of those contests.
The Predators have plenty of lethal scoring threats that could give Chicago’s defense trouble. They have three 20-goal scorers in Viktor Arvidsson, Filip Forsberg and James Neal.
Nashville’s greatest weakness is in the blue paint They allow an average of 2.69 goals per game and Pekka Rinne has been inconsistent in net.
Fear meter: 5/10. No division rival should be taken lightly and Nashville’s frantic pace gave Chicago trouble the last time these teams met in the first round of the playoffs in 2015. But the Predators are awfully susceptible in net while Corey Crawford is usually rock-solid when the play in front of him isn’t horrible.
Record: 41-25-9 (91 points, third in Pacific Division)
2016-17 series vs. Chicago: Oilers won, 2-1.
Edmonton’s resurgence after so many years buried in the basement has been one of the best stories of the season. Much of that is due to sensational star Connor McDavid, who is poised to win the Art Ross Trophy and Hart Memorial Trophy.
McDavid has 88 points on the season and doesn’t even lead his team in goals. That honor is currently held by Leon Draisaitl, who has 27 goals and 70 points. Outside of those two, the Oilers possess decent depth but no other player with more than 45 points.
The Oilers have also been competent (gasp) in net thanks to Cam Talbot, who has a 2.40 goals against average and a .920 save percentage.
Fear meter: 5/10. The Oilers have given the Hawks problems even when they were cellar dwellers, but this team starts and ends with McDavid. It might take a couple of games, but Joel Quenneville would likely find a way to neutralize Edmonton’s engine.
So which team do you want the Hawks to face in the opening round? Vote on our poll and follow Sports Mockery on Twitter!
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— ✶ Sports Mockery ✶ (@sportsmockery) March 28, 2017