Apr 7, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks left wing Bryan Bickell (middle) is congratulated by left wing Viktor Stalberg (left) and center Michal Handzus (right) for scoring a goal against Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne (35) during the second period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

Chicago Blackhawks Clinch Playoff Spot with 5-3 Win over Predators

They’re the hottest team in hockey right now, and they’re the first team to clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs. After a 5-3 win against the Nashville Predators, the Chicago Blackhawks became the first team this season to punch a playoff ticket, and they did so in front of their home fans inside the United Center.

It should come as no surprise that the Hawks are the first team in, as they are currently the best team in hockey and have been since they started out their season in record fashion, earning a point in their first 24 games.

But now that the Hawks are in, folks in Chicago are having flashbacks to the 2010 season that saw the Blackhawks make a run all the way to the franchise’s first ever Stanley Cup victory over the Philadelphia Flyers. Much of that team is still intact, as head coach Joel Quenneville is still in power and both Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are still as good as ever — if not better.

Netminder Ray Emery manages to be brilliant more often than not, and when he’s not in goal, Corey Crawford is an excellent replacement. The rest of the lineup has really stepped up this season as well, as rookie Brandon Saad is having a breakthrough year with fans and is quickly earning his stripes as a solid member of the team.

Chicago now has nine games left to rest up and get ready for whoever awaits them in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. It’s looking very likely that the Blackhawks will enter the postseason with the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, but that is yet to be decided. So even though the Hawks are in, there is still work to be done.

As it stands now, Chicago sits five points ahead of the Anaheim Ducks and it’s very unlikely they will be able to catch them. The next closest team to the Hawks are the Vancouver Canucks with 48 points, meaning if the Hawks  play right in the next few games, they will choke out the Ducks and claim possession of the top seed in the West.

But for now, the Hawks can relish in the fact that they’re in the playoffs and set up very well to have the road to the Cup run through the United Center and a rowdy downtown Chicago scene. The work is far from over, but the Blackhawks are demonstrating in every way that they’re the best team in hockey and it’s up to the rest of the NHL to come and try to stop them.

Tags: Chicago Blackhawks Nashville Predators NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs

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