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Round 2
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Stanley Cup Final

Six reasons the Blackhawks have clinched

Sunday, 04.01.2012 / 2:35 AM / Drive to the Playoffs

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

The Chicago Blackhawks road to the playoffs was bumpy. At nearly every turn they went through some type of adversity, and their loyal and loud fan base experienced severe anxiety about the future of the club, the coach, and the stars.

But, Joel Quenneville kept his job, Patrick Kane was never traded, the goaltending held up just enough, and for the fourth straight season Chicago will be playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They locked up a berth by beating Nashville 5-4 on Saturday night.

How did they skate through all the twists and turns to get back to the postseason? Here are six reasons why:

1. Perseverance: The Blackhawks have spun out of control at times this season. They lost nine straight from Jan. 21 through Feb. 14, including the first seven games of a season-long nine-game road trip. They haven't had great goaltending on a lot of nights. Jonathan Toews has missed the last 19 games with what is likely a concussion. Duncan Keith is still suspended for his elbow to the head of Daniel Sedin. Patrick Sharp missed seven games earlier in the season with a broken hand. But, the Blackhawks still managed to get through it all to get to the playoffs. They won four straight after snapping that torturous losing streak. They were 12-5-2 without Toews heading into Sunday's game. They went 5-2-1 without Sharp. Corey Crawford was recently a Second Star of the Week. It's been rough sledding at times, but the Hawks have gotten to their destination.

Marian Hossa
Right Wing - CHI
GOALS: 29 | ASST: 47 | PTS: 76
SOG: 245 | +/-: 19
2. Marian Hossa: The Slovakian winger has been the most consistent Blackhawk all season. He entered Sunday with a team-high 76 points in 78 games. Hossa's two-way game has at times saved goals, and certainly given the Blackhawks a better presence on the other side of the red line. Hossa signed a 12-year deal in 2009, and he's living up to the promise he came with. His longest scoring slump this season is only six games, and it's no coincidence that it came during the Blackhawks' losing streak. Hossa has had separate point-scoring streaks of nine games, eight games, seven games, and six games twice. That's almost half the season right there.

3. Down but not out: Among the 29 other teams, only the Colorado Avalanche have given up the first goal in a game more times than the Blackhawks. Colorado has done it 46 times while Chicago had done it 45 times heading into Sunday's action. The difference is the Blackhawks have still managed to get points in more than half of those games (19-19-7). Their 19 wins after trailing first are the most of any team in the NHL. The Hawks have managed to get points in 16 of the 28 games in which they have trailed after the first period (11-12-5).

4. Cashing in: The Blackhawks have gained almost half of their points against the weaker teams. They are a combined 22-11-3 against the teams currently in the bottom seven in both conferences. Chicago was perfect in six games against Columbus, won three of four against Anaheim and has taken the first two off the Wild with two more still to go. The Hawks have also picked up 27 points (12-3-3) against the Eastern Conference teams. Only St. Louis has more points (30) against Eastern teams.

5. Mr. Versatility: Patrick Kane's production might be slightly down (63 points in 79 games entering Sunday), but he's been a more effective player for the Blackhawks this season because of his versatility. Kane has shown he can handle the responsibilities that come with playing center. He made the switch early in the season and has recently gone back to the middle. Kane is still working on his faceoffs, but he's slowly getting the hang of it while taking advice from teammates and even linesmen. He will likely shift back to right wing when Toews returns, but Quenneville now knows he can move Kane to the middle if he wants to get a certain matchup in the playoffs.

6. Adding Oduya: The trade for defenseman Johnny Oduya at deadline has had the exact effect general manager Stan Bowman was hoping for when he made the deal with Winnipeg. Oduya has given the Blackhawks another veteran on the back end, freeing some of the pressure off of Nick Leddy's slender 21-year-old shoulders. With Keith out of the lineup because of the suspension, Oduya has also filled in and played some bigger minutes. Chicago is 10-2-2 since Oduya came on board. It wasn't looked at as one of the major moves made by a team at the deadline, but Oduya has paid big dividends in Chicago.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

It means a lot to us, we're very excited. We're looking to continue to build on [our] top core talent of young players. It's just a great opportunity for us to really build high.

— Panthers vice president of hockey operations Travis Viola after Florida won the No. 1 pick in the NHL Draft Lottery