Dietz: It's time for the Blackhawks to make their playoff push
The playoffs have arrived for the Blackhawks.
From here on out, every remaining regular-season game -- all 16 of them -- will have that do-or-die feel.
Patrick Kane, who has been an alternate captain all season, made that point crystal-clear to his teammates Tuesday before the Hawks defeated Dallas 4-2 at the United Center.
"Kaner before(hand) said every game from here on out's a playoff game," said Vinnie Hinostroza. "We have to approach it as such."
They certainly did that Tuesday, building a 3-0 lead after two periods and then holding off a late push. The top line of Kane (goal, assist), Alex DeBrincat (goal, assist) and Kirby Dach (goal) led the way, but it was truly a team effort from top to bottom.
"A lot of guys rose to the challenge," said coach Jeremy Colliton.
Which is something that must continue down the stretch. It figures to be a wild ride in the final month with the Predators (43 points), Hawks (41), Blue Jackets (38) and Stars (36) all having a legitimate chance to claim the Central Division's fourth seed. Games against Florida, Carolina and Tampa Bay figure to be dog fights as well because they are separated by just 2 points for the 1-3 seeds.
And, heck, even the Red Wings have had a lot to say about the standings, going 6-6-2 in the last 14 games by beating Tampa Bay and Columbus twice as well as Carolina and Dallas.
After hosting the Stars again on Thursday, the Hawks embark on a five-game road trip to Columbus, Detroit and Nashville. Then it's a five-game homestand against the Predators (2), Lightning (1) and Panthers (2).
If the Hawks don't figure out a way to solve Nashville -- they're 0-3-2 so far -- then those three games April 19, 21 and 23 could seal their fate.
"We should be excited about the chance to play in these types of games," Colliton said. "We're in a great position. ... A lot of guys have done well and developed a lot. Individually and as a team and as an organization, we're right where we want to be and now we've got to seize the moment."
Three things could work against the Hawks down the stretch:
• Trading a significant contributor or two by Monday's deadline would surely test the Hawks' depth.
• Half the roster has little or no experience in high-pressure NHL games.
• The condensed schedule could catch up to rookies like Brandon Hagel, Pius Suter, Philipp Kurashev, Kevin Lankinen and others.
On the latter point, Colliton seems to have found a happy medium, especially among the young defensemen. Ian Mitchell, once a staple in the lineup, has been on the taxi squad or in Rockford since March 27. Meanwhile, Nicolas Beaudin and Wyatt Kalynuk have more than held their own over the last six games.
"We wanted to get some of these guys in; give 'em a chance (to see) what it's like," Colliton said. "But at certain points, it seemed (other guys) needed a rest or to play in Rockford. So we take it all on an individual basis and (are) obviously thinking of the team as well for what we need any given night.
"A lot of guys have had experience, whether it's 35 games or one game or two games. That's going to help move this thing forward and the fact we're playing in big games -- with so many young guys part of it -- that's a big positive for us."
Obviously, it would be big for the Hawks if Hagel, Suter and Kurashev contribute down the stretch, but the lion's share of the burden will be on Kane (14G, 37A), Alex DeBrincat (20G), Dominik Kubalik (13G, 15A), Alex DeBrincat (20G), Dylan Strome (7G), Keith, Connor Murphy, Nikita Zadorov and Calvin de Haan.
Oh, and let's not forget Lankinen, who is thoroughly enjoying his heavy workload. Lankinen has made 28 of the last 37 starts, going 14-10-4 with a .918 save percentage and 2.69 goals-against average.
"That's the spot you want to be and that's what you've always dreamed of," Lankinen said of being a No. 1 goalie. "You want to be the guy and you want to help your team win, especially here, in Chicago with the Blackhawks.
"It's an organization that is used to winning and we want to be part of that."
Finishing kickHow many times the Blackhawks, Nashville, Columbus and Dallas face divisional opponents down the stretch:
Hawks: 18-17-5, 41 pts.3 vs. Dallas; 2 at Columbus
2 at Detroit
2 vs. Nashville (1 on road)
1 vs. Tampa Bay; 2 vs. Florida
3 at Carolina
Do or die? Three straight games with Predators (April 19, 21, 23) could determine Hawks' fate. They have yet to beat Preds this season
Nashville: 21-18-1, 43 pts.1 at Detroit; 2 vs. Tampa Bay
2 vs. Dallas
4 vs. Carolina (2 on road)
3 vs. Hawks (2 on road)
2 vs. Florida; 2 at Columbus
No easy street: Final game with last-place Red Wings on Thursday. Hawks, Blue Jackets and Stars all have at least 2 games left with Detroit.
Columbus: 15-18-8, 38 pts.3 vs. Tampa Bay (2 on road)
2 vs. Hawks; 2 at Dallas
2 at Florida; 3 vs. Detroit
1 at Carolina; 2 vs. Nashville
Key stretch: 6-game road trip to Dallas, Florida and Tampa Bay begins April 15
Dallas: 13-14-10, 36 pts.3 at Hawks
3 vs. Florida (1 on road)
2 at Nashville; 2 vs. Columbus
4 vs. Detroit (2 on road)
2 vs. Carolina; 3 at Tampa Bay
Rough road: Last 7 games are away