Hawks now in tight numbers game

2011-03-20T18:08:00Z 2011-03-20T21:31:08Z Hawks now in tight numbers gameBy George Castle On the Blackhawks nwitimes.com
March 20, 2011 6:08 pm  • 

They pay the Blackhawks to skate. But these days, the red-sweater gang also better summon up whatever shreds of knowledge they recall from long-ago math classes.

Knowing their points position in the Western Conference playoff grab-bag is critical with just three weeks to go in the regular season. Each and every Hawk must know where they stand in relation to the Sharks, Predators and Ducks of the world. If they fall a couple of points short in the numerical scramble for eight playoff spots -- with the top four getting home-ice advantage in the first round -- there's practically no time to gain lost ground.

The classically-viewed playoff threshold was 95 points to get into the postseason. But this season, that might not be quite enough. And surely it seems 100 points is needed to get the No. 4 spot, if it's already too late to win a divisional title, as appears the Hawks' fate.

"At the start of the season, if you said 95 points, chances are you'll be in the top eight," Hawks leading scorer Patrick Sharp said. "You look at the way things have been all season, and it's tough to predict what that final points total is going to be. I definitely pay attention on a daily basis, but at the same time I know it's going to come to those final four, five, six games.

"I would like to think 100 points would be safe. But from our standpoint as a team, we're not really chasing a number of points per se. We just want to keep ourselves ahead of the teams behind us. If we make the playoffs with 86 points, we're happy. If we make it with 100, we're happy."

Well, 86 isn't going to do it, as that number brought up the rear of the top eight as the weekend concluded. Having taken the minimum number of math classes necessary to graduate high school -- and then none in college -- I ran the numbers in my own clumsy manner before the Hawks left on their two-game road trip that concluded Sunday night in Arizona.

Projecting ahead, I figured the Hawks would finish with 99 points. That supposed a split in the two-game road swing, coming home Wednesday against Florida with 86 points. Then you'd figure the Hawks could pick up at least three points in home games against the Panthers and Anaheim to get to 89 points.

Then comes the first of three games against the blood-rival Red Wings in the final two weeks -- two in Detroit and one at the United Center to wrap up the regular season. The cynical view here is the Hawks will come out of the trio of games with just one victory and two points. But no matter what the results, if the Hawks can't develop playoff intensity from a trio of games against the Wings, they don't belong in the playoffs.

"They will be big games," Sharp said. "If we're only six points behind them going into those three games, we can technically catch them in the standings. It's going to be a big game from their standpoint. It's going to be big for us as well. Even if the games are meaningless points-wise, they're still big games with the two rivals going at each other."

Said captain Jonathan Toews: "They'll feel those are very important games, too. When we get around to them, we expect them to be playing their best hockey. They're not just going to throw those games knowing they've got the division all sown up."

Beyond the Wings, the point calculation here figures an upset victory in Boston on March 29, a triumph at Columbus on April 1, a home conquest of Tampa Bay on April 3, a loss in Montreal on April 5 and a win over St. Louis at the United Center on April 6.

But knowing the Hawks in this unpredictable season, they'll toss a couple of more losses or ties into that equation and fall short of 99 points. The third period against the Wings on April 10 at the UC smells like nail-biting time for the average Hawks fan.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at DGemsNet@aol.com.

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