Hawks clinch Central

Clinch the division for the first time since Patrick Kane was 4 years old?  Check.

Dominate the Flames (again) in front of a raucous home crowd?   Check.
A three game winning streak, the team clicking on all cylinders, and goaltending (amazing, right?) leading the way?    Check, check, check.
Yes, Hawk fans, all is right in our little world right now.
division champs.jpg

The Blackhawks clinched the Central division on Sunday, guaranteeing a 1-3 playoff seed.

Days like today make last week's "the world is ending" three game losing streak seem like a distant memory. The team we all love is back, and it appears they are back for good. 
The Calgary Flames came into today's game on a mission. They had been playing well as of late, probably because they are fighting for their playoff lives. With this in mind, I expected a low-scoring, grind it out matchup between two solid teams. Instead, the Hawks quickly turned a desperate Flames team into a helpless one.
Patrick Kane was excellent, scoring a goal on a lethal wrist shot in the 2nd period after assisting on Troy Brouwer's goal earlier. The 4th line contributed again, as Tomas Kopecky scored on a rebound early in the game. Antti Niemi continues to impress. He's looked "in the zone" these past several games, and we can only hope it continues into the playoffs.
Perhaps most importantly, the Hawks' mash-up defense unit has looked solid in three straight games now. Keith and Byfuglien have looked good, while Hjalmarsson and Seabrook have been supurb. Hjalmarsson, especially, has stepped up in his increased role with the absence of Campbell and Johnsson. The Hendry/Sopel pairing needs some work, but if they're the only ones having some issues, that's fine with me.
If the Hawks play in the playoffs the way they did today, things should be just fine.
Hopefully, today's Central Division Championship is only the first of three banners that will be added to the UC rafters in the coming months.
Playoff Talk
As the NHL heads into its final week of the regular season, there could still be plenty of movement in the Western Conference standings. As I type this, the San Jose Sharks lead the Avalanche 2-1 after the first period. If the Sharks win, they will be three points ahead of the Hawks, with three games remaining (the Hawks have four left). 
If the Sharks LOSE, they will remain only one (or two, if it is an OT Loss) point(s) ahead of the Hawks.  This would mean that the Hawks completely control their own destiny in their quest for the #1 seed in the West, as they would have a game in hand and also own every tiebreaker. 
Here's a look at the remaining schedules for both the Hawks and Sharks (not including the Sharks game in play):
Blackhawks                                           Sharks

4/6 @ Dallas                                             4/6 @ Calgary
4/7 vs. St. Louis                                        4/8 vs. Vancouver
4/9 @ Colorado                                         4/10 vs. Phoenix
4/11 vs. Detroit
On paper, the Hawks look to have a slightly easier remaining schedule. If the Avalanche end up beating San Jose tonight, the smart money would be on the Hawks to take the #1 seed.
At this point, there are still five teams that could realistically visit the United Center for Game 1 in a week and a half. The Kings, Predators, Flames, Avalanche, and... *gulp* the Red Wings are all still in the conversation. If the Hawks earn the #1 seed, they will likely face either Colorado or Calgary. With the #2 seed, they'd likely face Nashville, Los Angeles, or Detroit. 
With so many scenarios still in play, that's really the easiest way of explaining it at this point.
One additional note about the playoffs: For anybody concerned with the 1st round schedule, we won't know that until the evening of Sunday April 11th, but we DO know right now that Game 1 won't take place on a Thursday like it did last season. On Thursday the 15th, the Harlem Globe Trotters will be at the UC, making it likely that Game 1 will take place on Wednesday the 14th. 
Keep it here for Hawks news, updates, and playoff scenarios as we head down the stretch.
-JT    (Follow me on Twitter @ Jtalarico328 for Hawks news and thoughts)

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