There's no need to go searching for a map of the big picture. The Blackhawks can leave the scoreboard watching for the other teams. They can let their opponent worry about potential matchups.
Their mission Friday here at Joe Louis Arena against the Red Wings (7:30 p.m. ET, VERSUS) is a simple one: Win.
"We just want to get into the playoffs," Patrick Kane
said after Chicago's morning skate. "That's what we're worried about right now."
Dallas hasn't done Chicago or Anaheim any favors by winning three in a row in regulation to stay in the race, but it hasn't changed the one thing the Blackhawks and Ducks have going for them: They're in control and they potentially can clinch playoff berths Friday.
The Ducks are guaranteed a postseason spot if they beat the Kings on Friday, but the Hawks aren't as lucky. There are three scenarios that would get them into the playoffs before they travel home to play the Red Wings again in the regular-season finale Sunday (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC, TSN):1) Chicago beats the Red Wings and Dallas loses in any way to the Avalanche.
This one is the most simple and straightforward. The Hawks currently have 95 points and the Stars have 93, and both teams have one game remaining after Friday. Obviously Dallas would not be able to make up a difference of three or four points in one game, so the Hawks would be in if this scenario were to come true.2) Chicago loses in overtime or a shootout and Dallas loses in regulation.
The Hawks don't want to risk this one by losing, but if this scenario were to happen, the point they would earn for playing beyond regulation would be enough to put them three points ahead of the Stars heading into Game No. 82 for each team.
A Dallas regulation loss also would put the Ducks in regardless of how they do against L.A.3) Chicago wins in regulation/overtime and Dallas wins in a shootout.
This is the most convoluted of the three scenarios because it involves a tiebreaking situation. In this scenario, Chicago and Dallas could still wind up tied in points at the end of the regular season, but the Blackhawks would be guaranteed to have at least one more non-shootout win and that would be enough to get them into the playoffs.
Regardless, the control-your-own-destiny theory doesn't change the stakes of Friday's game.
"Especially the last couple of weeks we've played so many big games that felt do or die," Hawks goalie Corey Crawford
said. "It's not going to change tonight. It should be another good one."
Chicago has won the last three meetings against the Red Wings, including an exciting 3-2 overtime victory here at Joe Louis Arena on March 28 when Marian Hossa
won it with a 4-on-3 power-play goal. The other two outcomes were 4-1 in favor of the Hawks while the Wings beat them 3-2 in Chicago in the second game of the regular season for both teams.
However, nobody in the Chicago locker room cares much about the recent history between the Original Six rivals, not with so much at stake Friday.
Let's not forget that Detroit potentially can jump San Jose and move into second place in the Western Conference with a chance to clinch that spot Sunday at United Center.
"It's a big game for them as well," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "We have to get points in these games to control our destiny and it should be an exciting game. We had a great game here (12 days ago) and I expect the same pace here today."
If the lines during the morning skate hold, the Blackhawks will be going with Jonathan Toews
between Patrick Sharp
and Marian Hossa
as the top trio. Sharp surprisingly returned from a knee injury Wednesday and contributed team-highs of seven shots on goal and four hits in a 4-3 overtime win. Toews had the overtime winner.
Quenneville said Sharp showed no ill effects from playing perhaps earlier than anyone anticipated and he's "good to go for tonight."
"It's a huge boost for us not only to get him in the lineup, but to see him battle like that and play as hard as he did and as he does definitely helps," Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith
Kane likely will be skating on a line with rookie Ben Smith
and Michael Frolik
. Smith was recalled prior to Wednesday's game and played 19 shifts totaling more than 13 minutes against the Blues. He was on the ice in the final minute of regulation.
"We always think that positioning, he's in the right spot, and I think his instincts are high end," Quenneville said of Smith. "As the game grew he got a little more responsibility playing with [Frolik] and [Kane]. He can see plays and make plays. He was used in the right spot. I think he's a very handy player and useful guy, and we found out in the course of a game that he turned into that type of guy."
The lines, though, are fluid and Quenneville can and will change them at will.
The stakes he can do nothing about. They're as high as they've been all season for the Blackhawks.
"You see teams with over 90 points or close to 100 points still fighting for a playoff spot, it's crazy to think about but that's how tight it has been this year," Kane said. "It's been a pretty fun ride so hopefully we can pull away from this and prevail."Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Senior Writer