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NHL Playoffs 2011: Blackhawks A Rare Chicago Team To Back Into Playoffs

The Blackhawks backed in to the playoffs. Now they have to take their chance and make the most of it.

Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks celebrate Jonathan Toews' goal during game action against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)
Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks celebrate Jonathan Toews' goal during game action against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)
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There's one consolation for Blackhawks fans now that they know their flawed playoff team is headed to Vancouver to begin their playoff series on Wednesday night.

They can't possibly play worse on the road than at home, where they have run up a string of embarrassments, the latest of which was Sunday's 4-3 loss to the Red Wings when one lousy point would have eliminated the evening drama of biting nails to see if Minnesota could beat Dallas to clinch the Hawks' postseason berth.

All season, coach Joel Quenneville warned his team that leaving points on the ice from a slew of home games they should have at least tied, if not won outright, would come back to haunt them. He said it again Sunday. Losses to also-rans like Edmonton (twice in 10 days), two to Colorado and Minnesota, among others, made the effort to defend the Stanley Cup with a depleted, under-performing and oft-injured roster much harder than need be.

And with a 20-12-9 road record, maybe the Hawks can steal one of the first two games at Rogers Center.  They'll spend the next couple of days trying to find someone to park himself by Robert Luongo. Dustin Byfuglien cast a giant shadow, so the would-be psych-out artist for Luongo will be greatly diminished in stature this year -- unless Quenneville tells 6-foot-8 John Scott to simply hang around Luongo for want of anything better to do.

The way things stand to play out, I'm afraid the Hawks' main legacy from this season will be to rank as an uncommon Chicago team to back into a postseason -- someone else does their clinching for them. Almost all Chicago postseason entries have actually posted victories to pave their way into the playoffs.

But recent Chicago playoff teams haven't done well in the postseason, with the exception of last year's Blackhawks Stanley Cup champions. The Bulls managed to win a couple of games against tough Celtics and Cavaliers teams, but the Cubs and White Sox made early exits from their recent postseasons, with the Cubs getting swept in their last two playoff efforts in 2007 and 2008.

Somehow, I don't envision a similar Vancouver sweep. But I see a powerful revenge factor at work among the Canucks, still smarting from two consecutive playoff knockouts at the hands of the Hawks.

The only way the (barely) eighth Western Conference seed has a chance is to somehow tap into that wellspring of Canucks emotion and use it for the Hawks' own advantage. Yet I wouldn't be so confident if the Hawks steal the first two games in Vancouver. They get to play three at home, max, in this series. Doesn't sound promising, huh?

Three weeks ago, I projected the Hawks would end up with 99 points. They finished with 97, in far different ways than could have been predicted, including two road wins in Detroit. I'm through predicting. This Hawks team has gotten me all goofed up. Imagine what they've done to themselves with that kind of style this season.