The Blackhawks need to catch the Predators to make the playoffs.
The Hawks are winless in five games against the Predators this season.
And the Hawks have three games against the Predators this week — Monday in Nashville, then Wednesday and Friday in Chicago.
The objective couldn’t be simpler.
“It’s not really a situation you see too often where you play a team three times in a row in the regular season,” Patrick Kane said Sunday. “For it to be Nashville and [for us to be] where we are in the standings, we all know the importance of these games.”
The Stars are in the mix, too, holding the final Central Division playoff spot based on points percentage. They will enjoy four consecutive games against the last-place Red Wings this week, so the Hawks-Preds series winner likely won’t find themselves in a playoff spot come Saturday.
But the Hawks can deal with the Stars later — May 9 and 10, their final series — and can’t afford to fall further in the meantime.
For all of the challenges and pressures this series presents, it also offers the Hawks an opportunity to finally get over two humps they’ve been unable to traverse recently.
Coach Jeremy Colliton’s teams have built up a three-year history of faltering in their most important regular-season games.
In 2018-19, the Hawks had won 10 of 12 and pulled within two points of a playoff spot entering two crucial home games
Feb. 22 and 24 — against the Avalanche, with whom they were tied for fifth in the Central, and then the Stars, who occupied fourth.
The Hawks outshot the Avs and Stars 91-60 yet lost both games, 5-3 and 4-3. They -ultimately missed the playoffs by nine points; Colliton later described that weekend as the season’s crucial moment.
In 2019-20, the Hawks were 13-6-2 over their last 21 games and within three points of a playoff spot entering a crucial five-game Western Canada road trip Feb. 9-16. But the Hawks went 1-4-0 on the trip, including two blown-leads-turned-losses against the Jets, the team holding that last playoff spot.
And in 2021, the Hawks’ most -momentous series was March 27-28 at home against the Preds, when they hoped to build off sweeping the Panthers and getting Kirby Dach back. But they lost both games.
This week, the Hawks can dispel that -narrative.
“We’re going to lay it all on the line and see how it comes out,” Colliton said. “We understand you can’t take for granted the opportunity to play in these types of games.”
“The success hasn’t been here as a team lately where we want it to be,” Kane said. “It’s important for the young guys and [their] development to play in important games. But it’s just as important for the team and organization, as well.”
The Hawks’ second hump is the Predators themselves, who have dominated their rivals dating to the 2017 first-round debacle.
Since Game 1 of those playoffs, the Hawks are 5-12-4 — including 0-3-2 this -season — against the Preds. Even more -pitifully, they’ve scored more than two goals only twice in those 21 meetings (and allowed more than two goals 13 times). They’ve scored just six goals in this year’s five matchups.
For the Hawks to finally thrive in a high-pressure moment in a playoff chase would be huge. To do it against the Preds would be even sweeter.
“They play a good team game, and they don’t really give up much space through the neutral zone,” Kane said. “We really want to play with speed. If we have to get it in deep and have to forecheck and do it that way, that’s what it is. We have to find a way to beat these guys.”