Most Blackhawks fans are crying into the leftover, half-empty beers from yesterday’s Super Bowl this morning when they see their Hawks sitting in 11th place in the Western Conference with 58 points.
And yet, very easily, these standings could (and should) be cause for hope.
Look at the teams in front of the Hawks this morning. Of the 10 teams above Chicago, eight have played more games than the Hawks; only Minnesota and Central Division-leading Detroit have played 52 games.
So while Blackhawks fans were concerned that the Hawks were two points ahead of teams with two games in-hand back in October and November, the same can now be said about Phoenix, Los Angeles, Minnesota and Calgary. Indeed, Anaheim is only four points in front of the Blackhawks in sixth place with two games in-hand.
What is painfully clear now, though, is that the Blackhawks’ next five games could determine their season’s destiny.
In those next five, the Hawks play three of the teams ahead of them in the playoff race, starting Monday night with Calgary. The Hawks will also play at Phoenix on Saturday before hosting Minnesota next Wednesday; the Hawks also play Dallas during this crucial stretch, but they’re leading their division right now.
The Blackhawks will play Phoenix, Minnesota and Calgary again at the end of February, hosting the Coyotes on the 27th before travelling to play at the Wild the 28th, with the Flames coming to Chicago on March 2.
That gives fans reason for hope, but also puts the pressure squarely on the shoulders of the players over the next four weeks. All you can ask for is a chance to earn a playoff spot, and the Blackhawks will have precisely that in the coming days.