Chicago Blackhawks

Hawks approach season’s final countdown

The Blackhawks' Bryan Bickell looks to shoot the puck on the Nashville Predators' Pekka Rinne during the first period Monday at the United Center. The Hawks visit Nashville on Saturday. (AP Photo/Jim Prisching)
The Blackhawks' Bryan Bickell looks to shoot the puck on the Nashville Predators' Pekka Rinne during the first period Monday at the United Center. The Hawks visit Nashville on Saturday. (AP Photo/Jim Prisching)

CHICAGO – The Blackhawks have had a tough time closing out games lately.

They’ll need to find a way to finish the regular season without a similar struggle.

It doesn’t seem so long ago that the puck dropped on the NHL season, but only 12 games remain before the playoffs. Three of those games will come against the Nashville Predators, including today’s matchup at Bridgestone Arena.

Marian Hossa knows that teams are judged by how they finish, not how they start. The Hawks opened the season with a record-setting 24-game point streak but have gone 3-3-1 in their past seven games while being outscored in the third period, 11-5.

“We’ve done lots of good things so far, so we’re happy about that,” Hossa said. “We’ve got a long road ahead of us.

“We know it’s going to be tougher and tougher.”

In recent seasons, the Hawks have played some of their best hockey at the end of the regular season. A year ago, Joel Quenneville’s club went 8-1-3 in the final 12 games but lost to the Phoenix Coyotes in the first round of the playoffs. Before the Hawks’ Stanley Cup title run in 2010, the Hawks went 7-3-2 in the final dozen games.

Here’s a week-by-week look at the Hawks’ final stretch of the regular season.

Third-to-final week

Today: Nashville (road)

Sunday: Nashville (home)

Tuesday: Minnesota (road)

Friday: Detroit (home)

Home-and-home series can be a ton of fun in the NHL, especially when those series feature two teams that have a deep familiarity with one another. The Predators are desperate for points to climb back into the Western Conference playoff picture, but the Hawks cannot afford a letdown with the Ducks in close range for the No. 1 seed. Six points in the next four games should keep the Hawks on top of the conference.

Target: 6 points

Second-to-final week

April 14: St. Louis (road)

April 15: Dallas (home)

April 19: Nashville (home)

April 20: Phoenix (home)

The Hawks have three home games in this four-game span, which offers a great chance to build a winning streak. This season, the Hawks are 13-3-2 at the United Center. If you think that’s impressive, how about this statistic: Since 2008-09, the Hawks are 117-45-20 on home ice. Add the fact that Dallas, Nashville and Phoenix are on the outside looking in when it comes

to the playoff race, and the Hawks should thrive.

Target: 7 points

Final week

April 22: Vancouver (road)

April 24: Edmonton (road)

April 26: Calgary (home)

April 27: St. Louis (road)

Here comes the tough part. A home game against the lowly Calgary Flames should equal two points, no excuses, but the Hawks’ trio of road games at Vancouver, Edmonton and St. Louis could be dicey. The very talented (and very annoying) Canucks likely will be battling for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs, while the Oilers and Blues likely will be competing for a playoff spot. Consider this a good test run for the playoffs, when every game will be intense.

Target: 6 points

Bottom line

If everything goes to plan (well, our plan, at least), the Hawks will pick up 19 points in the final 12 games of the regular season. That would give the Hawks 77 points in a lockout-shortened 48-game season, which would be incredible. It would equate to 131 points in a typical season. Keep in mind that the franchise record is 112.

Is this too much to ask? Yes, probably. OK, make that yes, absolutely.

But in a record-setting season, the Hawks have given us good reason to be greedy.

• Northwest Herald reporter Tom Musick can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @tcmusick and @hawks_insider.

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