They don’t have their top goal scorer. They don’t have their number two center. And they haven’t shown the ability to skate 60 minutes on a consistent basis in 10 months.
Yet the Blackhawks now have, again, the opportunity to make a significant impact on the Western Conference postseason between Monday and Tuesday.
There are only two NHL games on Monday night.
In the late game, the streaking Anaheim Ducks, who embarassed the Hawks in Chicago on Saturday night with an effortless two-goal third period and win, host the hopeless Avalanche. There is a good chance that the Ducks seed in the playoffs will match the Avs position in the 2011 Draft.
In the early game, the Blackhawks visit a Detroit team that has lost three of their last four and will be without Pavel Datsyuk and Jimmy Howard. Joey McDonald will start in goal for Detroit; he hasn’t allowed a goal in 104 minutes and 54 shots.
Odds are heavily against the Ducks losing at home against the Avs, but Monday night’s game is crucial for the Blackhawks. They already have three games in-hand against ninth place Calgary, and could extend the gap between their position in eighth place in the West and the Flames to three points.
Obviously a win over Detroit would also cut into the Red Wings lead in the Central Division.
On Tuesday night, the schedule becomes even more complicated.
The Blackhawks visit Boston, who clinched a playoff berth on Sunday night in a wild game. The Bruins are a big, physical team that has won only four of their last ten games. This game must produce points for the Hawks.
While the Hawks and Bruins are doing battle in Boston, other games will also impact the Western Conference races. Vancouver, the only team in the West to clinch a playoff spot so far, travels to Nashville.
The Preds are, as of Sunday night, four points ahead of Chicago, and the Hawks have a game in-hand. A Canucks win in Nashville coupled with wins for the Hawks on Moonday and Tuesday would put Chicago into a tie with Nashville for second place in the Central Division.
That isn’t the only game of note on Tuesday night for scoreboard-watching Blackhawks fans, though.
Two hours after the puck drops in Boston, the Los Angeles Kings take the ice in Edmonton. While this would, on paper, appear to be a push-over game, the Kings will be playing their first game without Anze Kopitar; the Kings lost their leader to a broken fibula on Saturday evening and won’t get him back until the 2011-12 season. How they play without him is still a big question.
The Kings, like the Preds, are four points ahead of the Blackhawks through Sunday night.
The latest puck drop on Tuesday night will come in Phoenix, where the Coyotes will host the crumbling Dallas Stars. A win by the Coyotes wouldn’t help the Blackhawks climb in the West, but could effectively push Dallas far enough out of the picture that the Stars would need to begin thinking about the fall.
Obviously the Blackhawks need to handle their business on the ice in Detroit and Boston. But while they’re doing their thing on the ice, fans can keep an eye on the scoreboard to see if anyone’s helping the Hawks’ cause.