Now that Vancouver has become the first team in the NHL to clinch a division title, the finality of the time of year becomes more real. When the Blackhawks play the Stars in Dallas on Thursday night, the winner will make a big move – and statement – in the Western Conference playoff picture.
The Blackhawks need a regulation win for a number of obvious reasons, two of which are the Los Angeles Kings and Phoenix Coyotes. With a win in Dallas, the Blackhawks would jump both teams back into fourth place in the West.
More importantly, the Blackhawks need a regulation victory over Dallas to improve their tie-breaker position with all of the teams they’re fighting for position. As the postseason picture continues to remain cloudy, points aren’t the only factor. Regulation victories are now crucial because of their impact on tie-breakers if/when teams end the regular season with identical point totals.
The final factor to keep in mind is the outside hopes the Blackhawks have of catching the Red Wings and winning their second consecutive Central Division championship. Detroit defeated the Caps on Wednesday night, extending their lead on the Hawks by two points. With three head-to-head games against the Red Wings down the stretch, Chicago needs a win to close the gap.