Fast forward one year, and alot has happened. Many players have come and gone, one new coach has come aboard, and that whole Stanley Cup “thing” happened.
The Blackhawks dominance of last season has come back in flashes this year. The five, six game winning streaks have been downgraded to two or three game spurts.
But, despite the inability to play at the top level of last season; the Blackhawks have risen from the ashes of the Western Conference basement, and are now in the hunt.
Only three teams currently are ahead of them in the conference standings. But, despite being at the 4th seed; which would give home-ice advantage in the 1st round, the Blackhawks are only two points away from the other side of the fence in being out of the playoffs.
Corey Crawford’s play has been one of the key reasons that the Blackhawks have not faded into hockey oblivion, and should get some award consideration if he can lead the Blackhawks to the playoffs.
The four teams on the Blackhawks tails are each capable of making runs.
The Stars and Flames both have mixtures of experienced talent with young up-and-comers that have them on fire (no puns intended). And, the Coyotes are showing they are not a “flash in the pan” after a strong showing last year.
Dallas is already thinking playoffs as seen on their website’s home page changing “March to the Playoffs” to “March is the Playoffs” (http://stars.nhl.com/). Despite this clever marketing; I can’t see Dallas holding onto a spot.
The Kings are the team that could make the most noise come playoff time with scorers like Anze Kopitar and newly acquired Dustin Penner along with Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty on the back end.
Teams on the “outs” right now in Minnesota and Anaheim have the talent, but are not on the level as the Hawks in my opinion. But, with top goalies these two teams should be able to make the playoffs; as I think they sneak in over teams like Phoenix and Dallas in the end.
The Blackhawks will be put to the test down the strech as they play the Stars, Coyotes and Ducks before the end of the season in games that will have enormous implications on the standings.
Though those games will be key, and possible more important; the three remaining matchups with the Red Wings will be the games everyone will have their eyes on.
Some may fear that the Blackhawks will be backed into a corner, and be stuck with the 8th seed. But, as good as the Canucks have been this season; the Blackhawks might be just the team to knock them off once again.
But, in the end we will have to see how the final weeks of the season will play out. If I were to guess how it would go i’d say it will finish:
2. San Jose
4. Los Angeles
Take that as you will.