Martin Brodeur gave a 22-word quote shortly after New Jersey was eliminated from playoff contention in 1996 that pretty well summed up how the Devils were feeling one year after winning the Stanley Cup.
"It was really hard to explain when we won it," Brodeur said, "and now it's really hard to explain when we're not in it."
Jonathan Toews does not want to be saying the same thing Sunday. The Chicago Blackhawks do not want to feel how the Devils felt in 1996, how the Hurricanes felt in 2007, how the Canadiens felt in 1970 and how the Maple Leafs felt in 1968.
Four teams in the NHL's expansion era (post-1967) have failed to qualify for the playoffs the season after winning the Stanley Cup. The Blackhawks potentially are five days from becoming No. 5.
The long and short of it is this:
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The Blackhawks still control their own destiny, entering Wednesday's games with a two-point lead on the ninth-place Dallas Stars and 10th-place Calgary Flames. As long as they win, they're in. However, Wednesday's game against St. Louis will be telling for many reasons.
* If Chicago wins in any way, it will prevent the Flames from catching them in the standings, as well as give them a four-point lead on the Flames and Stars, who will have a game in hand but little margin for error. Calgary will be eliminated if it loses in regulation to Edmonton.
* If Chicago loses in regulation and Calgary beats Edmonton, the Flames will match the Blackhawks with 93 points, with Dallas still two points back but with a game in hand. The Hawks still would be ahead in the standings, however, based on points percentage (the Blackhawks would have reached 93 points in one fewer game than the Flames).
* If Chicago picks up one point in an overtime or shootout loss, it will move closer to a playoff berth but potentially leave the door slightly ajar for the Flames while giving the Stars enough reason to believe they can make up three points in their final three games.
The Blackhawks finish the regular season with two games against arch-rival Detroit, one of six teams in the NHL with more than 100 points. The Stars finish with three games against non-playoff contenders -- two against Colorado and a regular-season finale at Minnesota.
Chicago has just one win in its last four games, and that came by way of a shootout against Columbus. Dallas has won two straight after going winless in six.
The Blackhawks are dealing with some significant injuries, including Patrick Sharp's knee, Dave Bolland's concussion and potentially Troy Brouwer's shoulder, which he injured Tuesday. However, their inconsistencies this season are not limited to the past week or two:
* The Blackhawks won more than seven games in a month only once this season (8-3-2 in February).
* They were 3-7-1 in an 11-game stretch from Oct. 22-Nov. 13 and 3-5-2 in a 10-game stretch from Jan. 23-Feb. 18.
* They had an eight-game winning streak from Feb. 20-March 5, but are just 5-5-3 in the 13 games since.
"The importance and meaning of the games are real," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said.
The Devils were feeling the same way at this stage of the season 15 years ago, yet they couldn't find any solutions down the stretch. They lost eight of their last 14 games and were eliminated on the final day of the regular season when Ottawa beat them 5-2. Tampa Bay won three of its final four games and finished in eighth with 88 points, two more than the Devils.
The Devils and Lightning each would have had the opportunity for 12 more points had the shootout existed, but nevertheless 86 points would have been good enough to earn the Devils the fourth seed in the Western Conference.
As it stands now, the Blackhawks' 93 points with three games left would be good for sixth place in the Eastern Conference.
The conference comparison didn't make any difference to the Devils 15 years ago and it doesn't matter to the Blackhawks now. Chicago can erase the worry about being compared to the 1967-68 Maple Leafs, 1969-70 Canadiens, 1995-96 Devils and the 2006-07 Hurricanes simply by winning its final three games.
As long as the Hawks do that, they won't have to worry about the Flames or the Stars and Toews won't have to try to explain the season away like Brodeur did 15 years ago.
"We need more," Quenneville said. "It's all got to come out."
He is, in my opinion, one of the best defensemen in the NHL and continuing to grow. I think his game, from an offensive standpoint, he continues to drive our offense... I think there's still tremendous upside for Oliver.
— Coyotes GM Don Maloney on defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson