What began as a season with points in 24 straight games could be guaranteed to finish as a Presidents' Trophy season for the Chicago Blackhawks as soon as Monday night.
The Blackhawks are once again racking up points with gusto, securing at least one point in each of the last 11 games. It has made it awfully tough for the Pittsburgh Penguins to catch up in the face for the NHL's best record meaning the Hawks are on the verge of the Presidents' Trophy now with only a few games remaining.
First they have to at least continue the points streak Monday night against a Vancouver Canucks team that is playing to cinch up the Northwest Division. Pick up two points and they just need a loss from the Penguins. They can still claim the award with an overtime loss and one in regulation from the Pens.
Some will tell you that no team wants the Presidents' Trophy. It's usually been a harbinger of bad luck for the winner in the playoffs. Those people are a bit nuts and steeped in superstition, if you ask me. If you can secure home-ice advantage in every series you play then you take that.
Especially when that home is the Mad House on Madison in Chicago. The Blackhawks play in front of more than 20,000 on a nightly basis and are 17-3-3 at home this season. Of course, they're also 17-2-2 away from home, so the point is they are just really good no matter where they play.
There has been little doubt as to what team has been the league's best this season -- the Blackhawks are just close to making it official. That means little, though (unless you're in Washington). The real prize is being the best in the postseason, and being the top overall seed does nothing but help that quest.
• With just one point against the Blackhawks, the Canucks will officially wrap up the Northwest and take the top-three seed that comes with it.
• The San Jose Sharks can punch their playoff ticket if the Red Wings fail to get a point vs. the Coyotes.
• The Blues can also secure their playoff spot if the Coyotes beat the Red Wings in regulation. At worst they would finish tied with both teams and would win the tie-breakers (they could end up tied with Detroit in Regulation/Overtime Wins, but the Blues own the third breaker, head-to-head points).
7 ET, Winnipeg at Buffalo: All idle eyes in the East will be on the Jets. They are on the brink of elimination, the last team below the top eight still alive in the conference. Win and they keep the dream, moving one point behind the Rangers who will have a game in hand. Lose and the Senators, Rangers and Capitals can all clinch in their next game (in Ottawa's case, that's on Monday night).
7:30 ET, Pittsburgh at Ottawa: Pittsburgh already has the East wrapped up, so the Pens don't have anything substantial to play for. That doesn't mean they'll roll over. But the Sens could really use this one. If they were to go pointless and the Jets were to win, Ottawa's lead would be one point -- albeit with a game in hand -- while trailing in the tie-breaker of ROW.
7:30 ET, Phoenix at Detroit (NBC Sports Net): This is a critical game on the race for the seventh and eighth positions in the West. If Detroit wins then pull one point back of both Minnesota and Columbus with a game or games in hand on both. Lose and they're in real danger. The Coyotes, meanwhile, can't be officially eliminated but a loss would extinguish they're slim hopes. A win ties them with Detroit and Dallas in ninth 45 games in. The worst thing for the other teams in the West would be a three-point game in Phoenix's favor.