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Playoff Watch: No. 1 seed slipping away

3/29/2010

Every morning from now until the playoffs, I’ll give you an update on where the Chicago Blackhawks stand in the playoff race.

The No. 1 seed in the conference is slowly slipping away from the Hawks. Sunday’s loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, coupled with the San Jose Sharks' fourth consecutive victory, put them further back in the hunt for the top spot in the West. The Hawks now trail the Sharks by five points (104-99). The Hawks have eight games left while San Jose only has six.

With the Colorado Avalanche losing to the Sharks, they remain the eighth seed, which means if the playoffs opened today, the Hawks would take on the Los Angeles Kings in the opening round.

The way Chicago is playing right now, even the No. 2 seed may be in jeopardy. Luckily, the Hawks have a seven-point lead on their nearest competitor in the division and a five-point lead on the Vancouver Canucks, who have the No. 3-seed.

No one may have gained on them on Sunday, but still, the loss was every bit as bad as the one before it, despite a closer score (4-2).

Was Joel Quenneville trying something out of desperation when he broke up the Duncan Keith/Brent Seabrook pairing on Sunday? Or was it a needed change, considering the way the defense has been playing?

It seems more desperate to move Brent Sopel“up” to be paired with your top guy. Sopel and Keith were minus-two and Sopel was right in the middle of the two goals against they were on the ice for. He may not be quick enough to handle a prime spot on the blueline. He is a warrior as a penalty killer, but an 18-minute, regular shift guy? That might be a different story.

Jordan Hendry played only seven minutes while Nick Boyntonwas a healthy scratch. My guess is Quenneville is far from done tinkering with his defense and you will see Seabrook and Keith back together before long.

The offense is another story. Columbus came in giving up the second most goals in the conference. If you want to be a real pessimist, you could say the Hawks scored one or maybe two legit goals in the two games. They scored two late on Thursday, after getting down 8-1, and the two they scored Sunday were a little flukish. Antoine Vermette put the puck in his own net for the Hawks first goal and then Patrick Sharp scored shorthanded late. Either way, the offense is lacking.

Quenneville said there was a lack of pace and speed to their game on Sunday. Translation: no intensity or desperation. How does that happen coming off an 8-3 drubbing? The Hawks are simply not maximizing their talent. They’re good enough to outshoot an opponent 35-20 -- as they did on Sunday -- but without that intensity, the goals won’t come.

Eight games remain. Desperation has yet to arrive.