By Chris Kuc
Soon, the Blackhawks officially will know their first-round postseason opponent.
It certainly won’t be a surprise.
Barring some sort of galactic event, the Hawks and Avalanche will meet in the opening round of the playoffs.
“We’ve been thinking like that for a while now,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “Probably (to) both teams (it) looks like it’s inevitable.”
All that remains to be determined in the waning days of the regular season is which team will finish second to the Blues in the Central Division and secure home-ice advantage in that first-round series.
“It’s certainly the objective,” Quenneville said of passing the Avalanche. “We’ll keep doing what we have to … to hopefully get it to a realistic number where we can get it close.”
The Hawks did what they could to cut the gap on the idle Avs on Friday night at Nationwide Arena as they defeated the Blue Jackets 4-3 in thrilling fashion. The two points gave the Hawks 103 and pulled the defending Stanley Cup champions to within one of Colorado, which now has two games in hand.
Ben Smith scored the winner with 3.9 seconds remaining in regulation as the Hawks topped the Jackets for the 13th consecutive time. Patrick Sharp had a goal and an assist, Marian Hossa and Jeremy Morin also scored and Duncan Keith added three assists to help make a winner of backup goaltender Antti Raanta.