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Blackhawks meet Red Wings with season hanging in the balance

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

It has come down to one point.

The Blackhawks’ season started with the high expectations that come with being the reigning Stanley Cup champions. There was the banner raising, the rings, the return of their young and talented core and the arrival of some new players who would open some eyes.

But the Hawks’ title defense turned out to be an arduous road from start to finish. There were bright moments, such as their eight-game winning streak, but also plenty of dark ones. Every game was a test. Nothing came easily.

In the end, some of it will be forgotten and possibly forgiven if the Hawks prevail — or gain at least a point — in their regular-season ­finale today against the Detroit Red Wings and advance to the postseason.

But if the Red Wings win in regulation and the Dallas Stars beat the Minnesota Wild in regulation or overtime later today to move past the Hawks because of tiebreakers, Game 82 will be the conclusion of an unpredictable and extremely disappointing season. The Hawks would follow the Carolina Hurricanes as the second team since the lockout to fail to make the playoffs after winning the Cup.

“All 81 games have put us where everything is at stake for [today’s] game,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “It’s been a battle — a major battle for us. But we still put ourselves in position where we do have control. Let’s get excited about it.”

There isn’t much left to say on the Hawks’ part. It’s simple: Win, and you’re in; lose, and it might be a very long summer.

The Hawks have some of the best big-game players in the league. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and others have a history of excelling in such situations.

But the Red Wings — despite being without injured Henrik Zetterberg — have similar players. And judging by some of the comments coming from their locker room after the Hawks’ 4-2 victory Friday, the Red Wings sound like they’re out to prove they’re not the ones struggling down the stretch.

But the Red Wings won’t have additional motivation. The San Jose Sharks’ 3-1 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes cemented the Wings as the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference, with the Sharks second.

“We expect a dangerous team with a lot of incentive on their side, and there’s incentive on our side,” Quenneville said. “We’re the only team that’s playing all 82 with a huge purpose behind them. That’s got to be our focus. We never had an easy one all year, so we don’t expect one.”

Quenneville said he could see the urgency in his players’ faces before their victory Friday at Joe Louis Arena. The Hawks fully expect the Stars to defeat the Wild, but there’s confidence in knowing their fate is in their hands.

“I know Dallas is going to win their game [today] — that’s pretty much the bottom line,” defenseman Brian Campbell said. “We have to take care of our business. We’re lucky enough that we have it, [and] we’ve done enough work throughout the regular season to put ourselves in that situation.”

For the last few weeks, every game has been a “must-win” or a “playoff game” for the Hawks, but their results were uninspiring — until Friday. They finally played like a hungry team that wants to be in the postseason.

“We’ve played a lot of big games this year, especially the last little stretch,” goalie Corey Crawford said. “It’s nothing new for us [today]. But it’s a lot better to be deciding your own fate instead of worrying about someone else. I’m sure we’ll have the best preparation we can. I don’t think they’re going to give us anything, either. I expect another hard game.”

NOTE: Center Dave Bolland was back on the ice Saturday as he continues to make considerable progress in his recovery from a concussion. Bolland was not made available to the media after the short practice.

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