The Chicago Blackhawks are finishing the 2011-12 regular season without two of their best players, Captain Jonathan Toews and top defenseman Duncan Keith. Toews has been fighting back from concussion-like symptoms and Keith was suspended for a hit on Vancouver's Daniel Sedin. Regardless, the 'Hawks have been faced with a tough schedule down the stretch and have answered the call thus far, including last night's 4-3 shootout victory over President's Trophy contending St. Louis.
Since Toews went down, Chicago is 11-5-2 and have all but secured they're spot in the playoffs. He is on the verge of being medically cleared for contact and the Blackhawks are expecting him to be back in time for the postseason. Keith will be eligible to return to the lineup Thursday, April 5th at Minnesota.
With four games remaining, there are a few scenarios that would clinch their spot in the playoffs. If the Los Angeles Kings lose tonight at Edmonton, the Blackhawks will clinch. If LA beats the Oilers, Chicago will need to earn just one point in their game at Nashville on Saturday. If they playoffs started today, the 'Hawks would be slated to face Dallas in the first round.
The 'Hawks have put up impressive numbers against most playoff bound teams. Take a look at these winning records against quality opponents:
St. Louis: 4-2-0. Blues lead NHL with 106 points.
NY Rangers: 2-0-0. Rangers currently lead Eastern Conference with 105 points.
Detroit: 3-0-2. 'Hawks already won season series with one game remaining.
Vancouver: 2-1-1. Blackhawks have taken five out of eight points. Canucks have 103.
This season has been quite tumultuous for the Blackhawks but it appears that they are kicking it into a higher gear and definitely at the right time. The Stanley Cup Playoffs begin Tuesday, April 10.
Steve Peters is a staff writer for NHLfanchat.com. Follow on twitter: @stevepeters_ @nhlfanchat