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As stretch run looms, Blackhawks eye division title, home ice

GLENDALE, Ariz. — If the Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings have proven anything over the last four seasons, it’s that playoff seeding is a bit overrated. The Hawks have won the Stanley Cup as a first-place team and as a third-place team, and reached the conference final in 2014 as a third-place team. The Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2012 as a No. 8 seed, and then again in 2014 as No. 6 seed.

But despite early season concerns about the depth of the Central Division, with just two months left in the season, the Hawks are in no danger of missing the playoffs. In fact, the top three teams in the division — the Hawks, the Dallas Stars, and the St. Louis Blues — have separated themselves from the rest of the division, with the Hawks a whopping 16 points ahead of fourth-place Colorado after Thursday’s overtime victory in Arizona.

So the focus is no longer on making the playoffs. It’s on finishing as high as possible. And with four games left against Dallas — including one Saturday at American Airlines Center and another next Thursday at the United Center — a division title is very much up for grabs.

“You’d like to win the division,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “That’d be a great accomplishment. But everything can change quickly, and I don’t think you want to be content where you’re at. You want to keep pushing forward. We have four [left] with Dallas. That’ll have a lot [to do with] determining where you’re going to finish. We’ll see how it sorts itself out, but certainly, you’d like to keep pushing ahead, or staying ahead.”

It might mean a little more this year, too, given the glaring discrepancy in the Hawks’ record at home and on the road. They’re a league-best 21-5-1 at the United Center, but entered Thursday’s game at Arizona a pedestrian 13-11-3 on the road.

“I don’t think we’re focused on any of that kind of stuff,” defenseman Brent Seabrook said. “We’re focused on paying our game, and if we play well, we’ll get the best position we can. We’re not looking at seeding or anything like that.”

While Seabrook insists he rarely, if ever, checks the standings, plenty of the players do. Coming out of the Christmas break, the Hawks were 13 points behind Dallas. Then the Hawks reeled off 12 straight wins while nearly every other team in the division faltered. So even though there are only 27 games left in the season, the Hawks know how quickly everything can change.

“In the long run, good teams are going to go through that,” Jonathan Toews said of the Hawks’ sputtering rivals. “I don’t think there’s any moment we can feel too confident about our position in the standings.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com
Twitter: @marklazerus