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In the past these previews have been about the opposing team and any personnel changes we expect to see from the Blackhawks. So here goes. We’re playing the Columbus Blue Jackets, and they suck. They are without leading scorer Rick Nash and #1 goaltender Steve Mason, so this should be an even easier game to win. No lineup changes for the Blackhawks, Corey Crawford starts.

Now let’s talk about what everybody’s interested in: the playoff race, and the Blackhawks’ chances.

Some teams have clinched Division titles or playoff spots, so they aren’t relevant. Neither are the teams that are (for all practical purposes) mathematically eliminated from the race in the West. That leaves the following teams:

4th:  Phoenix  (95 points, 4 games remaining, 37 non-shootout wins)
5th:  Los Angeles  (94, 5, 35)
6th:  Nashville  (94, 4, 36)
7th:  Anaheim  (93, 5, 40)
8th:  Chicago  (90, 6, 36)
9th:  Dallas  (87, 6, 33)
10th:  Calgary  (87, 4, 29)

Now, I’m not a stats wonk, I don’t do probability calculations and all of that nonsense. So I’m just going to run down the rest of each team’s season and lob my guesses at where we may end up.

Phoenix will likely beat Colorado, lose in OT with the Kings, and split the last two against the Sharks. That gives them an extra 5 points, total of 100.

LA has suffered significant injuries in the last week, I’m going to say they beat the Coyotes in OT, push the Ducks into OT once and fall in a shootout, and then lose the rest. 3 more points, total of 97.

Nashville will lose to Detroit, but win out their last 3. 6 points, total of 100.

Anaheim will split with the Sharks, lose to the Stars, and beat the Kings twice, once in OT. 6 more points, total of 99.

Chicago I’ll save for a minute.

Dallas will beat both the Kings and the Ducks, I’ll say they split against the Avalanche, and beat Columbus and Minnesota. 10 points. 97 total.

Calgary will lose to Vancouver, but take their other 3. 6 points, total of 93.

If that proves out (HA! Yeah, right…) the standings (minus Chicago) will look like this:

4th:  Phoenix (100 points, 39 non-shootout wins)
5th:  Nashville  (100, 39)
6th:  Anaheim (99, 40)
7th:  Dallas (97, 38)
8th:  Los Angeles (97, 36)
9th:  Calgary (93, 32)

So now, to the Blackhawks.

Remaining games: Blue Jackets, Lightning, Canadiens, Blues, and Detroit (*spitting noise*) twice.

We have to beat Columbus. Hear me guys? WE HAVE TO BEAT COLUMBUS! We pushed the Lightning to OT in their building last time, I think we’re going to pull it out this time. We will beat the Canadiens, they’re sliding of late. 6 more points, 3 more NSW. That would put us at 96 points, 39 NSW. Not good enough.

We’ll need another win from among the last three against the Blues and Red Wings. And this is what it all comes down to.

In the next ten days we will find out who is going to be playing for the Blackhawks next year. Who is going to step it up when we’re down two goals early in the 3rd in a possibly-season-ending game? Who is going to dog Henrik Zetterberg until he goes to the bench and cries? Who is going to back-check the Wings so hard they can’t tell which goal they’re supposed to be shooting at? Who is going to knock Todd Bertuzzi out of the game and into the hospital in the first minute of the first game of that home-and-home? Who is going to take the punishment in front of the net and notch a tip-in goal for every bruise they get across their backs? Who is going to block shots like he’s protecting a 5-year-old girl wearing street clothes in the net behind him? And who is going to absorb 35, 45, 55 shots and THEN win it in the shootout?

We all know the names of the guys who will be there. But who will join them? Bryan Bickell? Troy Brouwer? Viktor Stalberg? Jake Dowell? Ryan Johnson? These guys all have the mojo, they just haven’t found it the last 20 games. If it shows up between now and April 10th, we have a shot at this.

If not… well, this post-season will be difficult to watch without a team to cheer for.

6pm puck drop tonight out in Columbus. Comcast SportsNet has the TV coverage, broadcast radio is WGN AM-720, and XM subscribers can hear the game on channel 204.

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