Winning the West next target for Hawks

Now that the Blackhawks have clinched a playoff spot, they can turn their attention to winning the Western Conference to assure home ice for the first three rounds.

If you don't think that's important, Duncan Keith would beg to differ.

“It makes a difference,” Keith said. “You always want to have home-ice advantage if you can get it. But at the end of the day you've got to win four games in a series no matter where you're playing. I think we've played good on the road this year and at home.”

The Hawks are 15-2-2 on the road and 14-3-2 at the United Center.

“That was our goal first and foremost at the start of the year, to clinch a playoff spot and we've done that,” Keith said. “Absolutely, we want to finish as high as we can. We want to be playing our best hockey and firing on all cylinders going into playoffs.

“Our goal has always been to get better as a team and take it one game at a time. There are 10 games left and we just want to be playing our best hockey when it counts.”

The Hawks were the first team in the West to nail down a playoff spot thanks to their 29-5-4 record.

“These wins are important because we want to keep our confidence and our momentum as a team and keep reinforcing the fact we have high expectations for ourselves come playoff time,” Jonathan Toews said. “We have a little ways to go before the playoffs and we want to keep working on our game. I think we're going to be a confident team going into the playoffs no matter who we get in the first round.”

If the playoffs started on Monday, the Hawks would open with Detroit in the first round, but a lot can happen in the next few weeks and the players will take whatever club they get.

“We've done a good job of never thinking too far ahead this year, taking it one game at a time and we're going to go forward with that mindset,” Toews said.

“All those little things don't matter. It's great that we're in first place right now. We've hung on to that spot for a long time and shown a lot of maturity in our team that we can be on top for so long and just keep playing and improving like we have. It's one of those qualities we have as a team that's going to help us do some damage in the playoffs.”

Hawks coach Joel Quenneville sees the last 10 games as a way to keep improving for the playoffs while trying some things with defense pairings and forward lines.

The Hawks are 4-0-1 since Quenneville shook up his defense pairings and started using Keith with Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brent Seabrook with Nick Leddy and Johnny Oduya with Michal Rozsival.

“I know we've tried some things here with the defense and the lines in games and we'll continue to explore and try things,” Quenneville said.

Ÿ Follow Tim's hockey reports on Twitter @TimSassone and check out his Between the Circles blog at

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Blackhawks game day

Blackhawks vs. Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center, 7 p.m. Tuesday

TV: Comcast SportsNet and NBC Sports Network

Radio: WIND 560-AM

The skinny: The Wild is coming off a 3-0 shutout of Columbus on Sunday that snapped a three-game losing streak. Defenseman Ryan Suter is having a Norris Trophy caliber season with 28 points while playing more than 27 minutes a night. The Wild will be without forwards Dany Heatley (left shoulder surgery) and Matt Cullen (lower body). Corey Crawford is expected to start in goal for the Hawks.

Season series: Hawks lead 1-0-1.

Next: Detroit Red Wings at the United Center, 7:30 p.m. Friday.

— Tim Sassone

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