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Blackhawks’ playoff push should be fight to the finish


Blackhawksat RED WINGs

The facts: 6:30, CSN, 560-AM

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Debatable penalty calls and goals and dramatic overtime finishes can overshadow plenty of things, especially when every game for the Blackhawks comes with a must-win feel.

That being said, there is nothing guaranteed about the Hawks’ playoff berth. There still are scenarios that would eliminate the Hawks from postseason contention and enable the Dallas Stars to sneak in. What the Anaheim Ducks do against the Los Angeles Kings in those teams’ season-ending home-and-home matchups tonight and Saturday also will impact the final standings.

The Stars’ 4-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday night in Dallas tightened up the Western Conference race even more. With 93 points, the Stars moved within two of both the Hawks and Ducks.

All three teams have two games remaining, and the Stars probably have the easiest schedule with matches tonight at Colorado and Sunday at Minnesota. The Ducks have their two games with the fourth-place Kings, and the Hawks face two games with third-place Detroit.

The real key, however, is that the Hawks still hold their playoff fate in their own hands. If they can manage to pick up three points in the two games against the rival Red Wings this weekend, they’re in — regardless of what the Stars do the rest of the way.

The two points the Hawks earned Wednesday night at the United Center against the St. Louis Blues were huge. But some areas in need of ­fixing still showed up in the 4-3 overtime victory — areas that served to illustrate why there was a need for their rally in the first place.

The Hawks’ recent propensity for tight play and a year-long trend of taking their foot off the gas have led to a 6-5-3 record since their eight-game winning streak. Their impotent power play — which is 1-for-17 in the last five games — also stands out. However, the Hawks were able to overcome all three deficiencies against the Blues.

“If anything, we know we can keep playing harder and better,” defenseman Duncan Keith said.

“We know we’re going to have to playing against ­Detroit and beyond.”

Will the Hawks’ victory against the Blues ease some of the pressure for their games against the Red Wings?

“No,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “You still have a lot of interest in other games as well as our own needs. We still have a day to see how it plays out with Detroit, but . . . there are a lot of things to sort out. We’ve got different issues, and ours is to get in.”

Even though they will be without Henrik Zetterberg (lower-body injury) the next two games, the Red Wings aren’t going to roll over and let the Hawks wrap up their playoff berth during the home-and-home weekend ­series. Detroit (102 points) still has a goal, too — to surpass the San Jose Sharks (103) for second place in the Western Conference.

“The bottom line is we play a team the next two games that is doing everything they can to be in the playoffs and move up,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said Thursday in Detroit. “They’re going to be tough games for us. . . . [but] I’d like to finish ahead of San Jose.”

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