Posted April 01, 2012 on AP on Fox
The Chicago Blackhawks didn't have to wait until the final game of the season to clinch a spot in the playoffs this year. Now they have three more games to improve their starting position in the postseason. The Blackhawks host the Minnesota Wild on Sunday night in the first of two meetings between the teams in the next five days. Chicago clinched a fourth straight playoff berth after holding on for a 5-4 win at Nashville on Saturday. Unlike last year, when the Blackhawks (44-26-9) didn't earn a spot in the postseason until the final day of the regular season, this year they'll have time to improve their seed. Saturday's win moved Chicago into a tie with Detroit for fifth place in the Western Conference - one point behind the Predators for fourth and home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. "We'll see how it works out,'' coach Joel Quenneville said. ''Where we're at, we've got to catch two pretty good teams right in front of us, and so we'll see how that plays itself out.'' Chicago has notched at least one point in 13 of its last 15 games. It is 7-1-1 in its last nine, with the last three games decided by one goal. The Blackhawks squandered a 4-0 lead Saturday before Brent Seabrook scored the winner at 8:19 of the third period. Seabrook also had an assist, Patrick Kane had a goal and assist and Corey Crawford made 29 saves. Sunday is the final home game of the regular season for Chicago, which has road contests remaining against Minnesota on Thursday and Detroit on Saturday. "Now the focus is to keep getting better as a team," Kane said. "Keep moving ahead and get some confidence heading into the postseason." The Blackhawks are still without Jonathan Toews, but could get their captain back in one of the remaining regular-season games. Toews, who has been cleared for contact, has been sidelined by a concussion since Feb. 19. Chicago has won both meetings against Minnesota this season, extending its win streak in the series to four games. The Blackhawks are 8-1-1 versus the Wild since the start of the 2009-10 season. However, the Wild (33-35-10) have won two straight - both against playoff contenders. After dropping three in a row, they defeated Florida in overtime on Thursday and picked up a 4-3 shootout victory over Los Angeles on Saturday. Erik Christensen scored in the third period and converted in the shootout. Captain Mikko Koivu also scored in the shootout. The two also came up big against the Panthers. Christensen had the tying goal with 31 seconds left and Koivu scored in overtime. While they have the chance to defeat a third consecutive playoff contender Sunday, coach Mike Yeo said that is not a concern for his club. "We take a lot more satisfaction out of doing things the right way and keeping up with the standards we have for ourselves than we do in beating somebody else and hurting their chances," he said. Minnesota is looking to win three in a row for the first time since a season-high seven-game streak Nov. 28-Dec. 10.
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