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Hawks clinch playoff berth

In a surprise to no one who has paid attention to hockey for the past couple of months, the Blackhawks secured a playoff berth for the fifth consecutive season Sunday.

A 5-3 win against the Nashville Predators improved the Hawks' record to 29-5-4, which is the best mark in the Western Conference. The Hawks became the first team in the NHL to clinch a playoff berth this season, with 15 playoff vacancies remaining.

Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said a playoff berth marked the beginning of his team's mission rather than the endpoint. He tallied a goal and an assist against the Predators to earn the No. 1 star of Sunday's game.

"I think the motivation stays the same as it has been the last little while," Toews said. "We want to keep building as a team. Improving on something every single game.

"These wins are very important.  We want to keep our confidence and keep our momentum as a team and keep reinforcing the fact that we have high expectations for ourselves come playoff time. We've got to work for that."

Before clinching their fifth consecutive playoff berth Sunday, the Hawks had not reached the playoffs in five consecutive seasons since 1992-97. Ten games remain in the regular season, beginning with a road contest Tuesday against the Minnesota Wild.

-Tom Musick

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