The formula is not complicated at all for the Blackhawks in the Western Conference playoff logjam.
They merely have to reach a pair of "magic numbers" to defend their Stanley Cup championship. But in this up-and-down season, that's easier said than done.
The lower number affects the bigger one. That is "three." As in periods. The Hawks have played like champions in single periods all season, such as Monday night's five-goal spree against the San Jose Sharks. But, frustratingly, they've also appeared to take off other periods. Remember the first period last week in Florida, when the Hawks shockingly allowed three goals. They stormed back the final two periods, but couldn't quite tie it up in a 3-2 loss.
The body and the mind melding is hard to do, yet somehow the Hawks have to put forth a creditable effort over 60 minutes and not take a period off. Not when so much is at stake.
If they can achieve "three" as in a complete-game effort, then the Hawks will be in better shape to get to "95." That's the minimum points total commonly seen as the playoff threshold. And if the truth be known, the Hawks will be better off reaching the century mark. One hundred points in this clogged race should be a postseason definite, if not at least a sixth seed.
The three-game swing through Florida, Tampa Bay and Washington produced a disappointing two points, but the Hawks had fortunately vaulted themselves into the thick of the playoff race by picking up nearly 20 points in and around their eight-game winning streak that preceded the stumble in the Sunshine State. The two points gained in the San Jose victory, upping the season total to 84, was crucial.
You can add a third number in here: 26. That's the number of goals Marian Hossa could score that would help achieve the previous two numbers. After a season that disappeared following a series of injuries, slugger Hossa has played much better in the last month. He can't stop now, and his vintage scoring pace to complement Jonathan Toews Hart Trophy-level performance is sorely needed -- as it's always been in his fits-and-starts tenure as a well-paid Hawks star.
So here is speculation how the Hawks can achieve the second magic number, based on the remaining schedule:
-- At Dallas, March 17. Can't be blanked in this one. An upset with two points is critical. 86 points.
-- At Phoenix, March 20. Tough. Still at 86 points. Hawks need one of these two Western Conference road games; they should have plenty of fan support from Chicago baseball fans in town for spring training.
-- Florida, March 23. Can't stumble here. 88 points.
-- Anaheim, March 26. Can they find a way to tie? 89 points.
-- At Detroit, March 28. Probably not. 89 points.
-- At Boston, March 29. Hawks steal one. 91 points.
-- At Columbus, April 1. Visitors dare not play the fool on this day. 93 points.
-- Tampa Bay, April 3. Bingo, magic number achieved. 95 points.
-- At Montreal, April 5. Hawks can't speak French. 95 points.
-- St. Louis, April 6. Dig deep after passing through customs in back-to-back game. 97 points.
-- At Detroit, April 8. Nemesis prevails again. 97 points.
-- Detroit, April 10. Gotta win one of three vs. the Wings in season wrap. 99 points; season finale.
Perhaps I'm being a bit generous in this projection. But based on the Hawks' talent, if they don't get to 95 points, they have only themselves to blame. An even 100 is achievable, yet the schedule could work against them. If they got to the century mark, they'll have the right kind of momentum to charge into the playoffs and do some damage.
Hockey is a strange sport where they count points instead of victories or winning percentage, where ties at the end of regulation that end up an eventual overtime loss net a point. But even with that system, nobody is throwing back the 2010 Stanley Cup -- and no one will refuse a repeat, almost-impossible dream return of the legendary hardware.