The Blackhawks' defense of their Stanley Cup title last June has come to this: they must win four straight games against the Vancouver Canucks, starting tonight in Game 4, or go home for a disappointing summer.
They knew it would be a tough road after they had to break the band up last summer because of the NHL salary cap rules; key players like Andrew Ladd, Ben Eager, Kris Versteeg and Dustin Byfuglien spent the season in other uniforms, some while they were still toting the Cup around Chicago.
It won't be easy. Teams have come back from 3-0 deficits in NHL playoff series, most recently last year when the sixth-seeded Flyers beat the third-seeded Bruins and made it all the way to the Finals. This isn't nearly the same thing -- the Blackhawks squeaked into the playoffs and needed help in the final regular season game, and the Canucks were the best team in this year's regular season, scoring the most goals and allowing the fewest.
There won't be any punishment for Vancouver's Raffi Torres for the hit he took on Brent Seabrook on Sunday -- except for the Blackhawks, who will have to play without Seabrook tonight.
Anything can happen in the NHL and often does, but it seems pretty likely tonight is the Blackhawks' final game of the year. I've been wrong before, and hope I am now.
The game starts at 7 p.m. CDT. It's being televised by CSN Chicago, with national coverage on Versus.