Don't count out the Chicago Blackhawks from postseason play just yet. With their thrilling 4-3 OT win over the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night, they stand just five points out of a wild-card playoff berth with five other teams having the same desire.
It marked their longest winning streak of the season with their fourth win in a row.
Either the Western Conference is really weak or parity has turned things into high gear.
With 29 games left, can they do it?
They certainly seem like they can if they can continue their stellar play of late. They have corrected their losing ways by beating some quality teams prior to the Wild game.
They defeated the Washington Capitals, New York Islanders, and the Buffalo Sabres.
Those are tough teams, although the Caps had gone in a funk losing seven straight games before coming up for air.
Their schedule shows 15 homes games and 14 road games left in this 2018/19 campaign.
They play the struggling Edmonton Oilers (four straight losses) next on the road. The Oilers are just two points ahead of them in the standings, and if they are going to make a run... now is the time.
Trade deadline choices
The way the 'Hawks had been playing everyone assumed they would be sellers at the trade deadline.
There's no indication of which players might be getting their walking papers in a trade but this team has thoroughly mismanaged its salary cap limitations.
Now, with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane using an amazing 35.6 percent of the cap space they must determine how to proceed.
But, here again, two defensemen have been tied up to long-term contracts with no-movement clauses. Both Duncan Keith ($5.538M) and Brent Seabrook ($6.875M) are in contracts which won't expire until 2022/23 for Keith and 2023/24 for Seabrook.
They both have voiced their opinion that they intend to keep their no-trade clauses intact. And, you can't really blame them. They were both very instrumental in getting the Blackhawks three championships.
So, where does general manager Stan Bowman go if his team turns things around... or if they don't?
There are a few players who are on expiring contracts and could be dealt away. Marcus Kruger is an unrestricted free agent with a $2.775 million cap hit and not much to show for it with just four goals, four assists in 46 games.
Chris Kunitz who is 39-years-old has only participated in 30 games this season with one goal, two assists. It's doubtful he will be re-signed.
Another disappointing player who will be a restricted free agent is Brendan Perlini. He was acquired along with Dylan Strome from the Arizona Coyotes.
He is in the last year of his entry-level contract and has not performed very well at all. While with the Coyotes he had just two goals, four assists in 22 games. He has actually digressed to three goals, one assist in 24 games with the 'Hawks.
Worse yet, his ice-time has really decreased from 14:31 to 9:50 minutes with Chicago. His +/- ratio is a horrible -14.
This a kid who seemed to have potential similarly to Strome but the difference is Strome has finally improved his game to NHL levels, while Perlini is struggling big time.
Look for the Blackhawks to see what they can get for him even with his lowly statistics.
So, just like five other teams battling for a playoff berth the next several weeks will determine their fate as well as the direction each team takes as far as the trade deadline choices go.
Obviously, the 'Hawks can't continue to win without continued defensive awareness and off the chart goaltending.
Colin Delia has been a pleasant surprise especially, with Corey Crawford's concussion status still keeping him out of games. Delia has a 5-2-3 record with a 2.99 goals against average and a save percentage of .922. Not bad for a kid who was called up on an emergency basis from the AHL Rockford IceHogs.
In three weeks we may know if the Blackhawks are in or out of the playoff picture.
According to their captain Jonathan Toews, "Regardless of our situation we've got to keep creating that belief in ourselves in the locker room that we've got the crew here that can put points on the board every single night. That's our focus in the room. Anything aside from that is not really anything that we can control or worry about."
Spoken like a true captain.
What is your opinion of the Chicago Blackhawks chances of making the playoffs and if they don't what moves will they make at the trade deadline? Let us know in the comments section below.