Playoff update: Get ready for a wild finish

Every day between now and the end of the regular season I’ll update you on the playoff race as it relates to the Chicago Blackhawks. With a day off on Monday for the Hawks, let’s take an expanded look at how the race shapes up going into what should be a dramatic final week of the season:

The Hawks continue to do things the hard way. Black Sunday, as it might be looked back on, saw the No. 8-seeded Hawks lose 2-0 to the Tampa Bay Lightning while the No. 9- seeded Calgary Flames and No. 10-seeded Dallas Stars closed the gap by winning their respective games.

The Hawks have 92 points, the Flames have 91 and the Stars have 89. Dallas’ win came against Anaheim, which isn’t out of the woods either as the Ducks currently hold the No. 7 seed with 93 points. So seeds 7 and 8 lost on Sunday while seeds 9 and 10 won -- that’s how it goes in the craziest Western Conference race in recent memory.

The week ahead could be dramatic. Both the Hawks and Stars have four games remaining, but Dallas has the much easier schedule. The Flames have just two games left and both are winnable as well. The Hawks, meanwhile, take on a playoff-bound Montreal team on Tuesday in Canada, then come back home for St. Louis on Wednesday before ending the season with a home-and-home series against Central Division champ Detroit this weekend. That’s a tall task.

However, if the Hawks go 2-2 they should make the playoffs. That’s assuming Calgary wins both its remaining games and the Stars go no better than 3-1.

The Flames host Edmonton on Wednesday and Vancouver on Saturday. The highest point total they can achieve is 95. The Hawks would need two wins to get to 96 points and eliminate the Flames but Chicago also holds the tiebreaker, which means just getting three points would place them ahead of Calgary. That’s doable.

Dallas is going to be tougher to eliminate, mostly because two of their four games -- a home-and-home set -- are against Colorado. The Avalanche has been on a collapse of epic proportions. They’ve won just one game against a playoff contender in either conference since Jan. 18. Colorado beat Phoenix last Friday in overtime. If ever a team could pencil in two wins it would be the Stars on Thursday and Friday against the Avalanche.

Before those two games are played, the Stars host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday. Columbus isn’t horrendous on the road (17-14-8) but they’ve been on a downward spiral for a while as well.

The most interesting day of the year could be Sunday -- the final day of the regular season. The Hawks host the Red Wings at 11:30 a.m. and maybe by the end of that game, or even sooner, they will have clinched a playoff spot. But if the Hawks need help, they’ll have to wait until the final game of the regular season finishes in Minnesota when the Wild host the Stars at 5 p.m.

If Dallas wins out, they’ll have 97 points. The Hawks would need six of eight possible points to stay ahead. If the Hawks tie the Stars, earning five points this week, the tiebreaker is too close to determine right now. It all would depend on how the teams achieved their wins this week -- through regulation/overtime or via the shootout.

Can you imagine the Hawks gathered in their dressing room on Sunday, or at a local establishment, rooting for John Madden, Martin Havlat, Cam Barker, and the rest of the Wild?

If it comes down to that, the Hawks probably don’t deserve to play postseason hockey though some might say they don’t deserve it even now. But the season isn’t 78 games long, it’s 82. Will Sunday afternoon/evening be spent dissecting the Hawks’ playoff opponent or will the suspense last until the final horn on the 2010-11 campaign is blown?

Get your fingernails ready for some biting. We’ll know in six days.

Click here for the current NHL playoff matchups.