Evaluating Blackhawks' Stanley Cup playoff chances amid hottest stretch of season

Evaluating Blackhawks' Stanley Cup playoff chances amid hottest stretch of season

The Blackhawks' playoff percentage has been in the low single digits for a while now. But Tuesday was a good day. Actually, a very good day.

After winning their fifth game in a row, the Blackhawks found themselves only three points out of the final wild card spot in the Western Conference. But they received major help from around the league that has Chicago thinking about the playoff possibilities.

Going into Tuesday, six teams stood in the way between the Blackhawks and the second wild card position. Five of those teams (Anaheim, Arizona, Colorado, Edmonton and Vancouver) lost in regulation. The other (St. Louis) won in regulation. Heck, even Minnesota, which is sitting in the first wild card spot, lost — albeit in a shootout.

With their comeback victory against the Oilers and the Ducks losing their fifth straight game, the Blackhawks jumped Anaheim in the standings. One down, five more to go.

Because of how Tuesday unfolded, the Blackhawks' playoff odds nearly doubled in one day, going from 3.5 to 7.2 percent, according to It doesn't seem like a lot, but consider this: their percentage was at a mere 0.3 prior to their five-game winning streak.

Clearly, getting above the playoff line remains a longshot because four of the five teams ahead of the Blackhawks still have at least one game in hand — Colorado has two and St. Louis has three. The only team that doesn't? The Canucks, who visit Chicago on Thursday and have a minus-13 goal differential on the road compared to a plus-4 at home.

Here's where the big picture challenge lies: The Blackhawks have 28 games left. Only eight of them are against the five teams referenced above — three of which are against Colorado. That means they need to continue getting major help from around the NHL because they don't exactly control their own destiny. And they need to do it with the roster as currently constructed because it's difficult to envision a scenario where the Blackhawks deviate from the plan and become buyers.

So it's not impossible, but it's still a significant uphill battle. Crazier things have happened in hockey.

If the Blackhawks can somehow pull this off, this would fall right into that conversation, considering their chances at landing the No. 1 overall pick (7.5 percent) outweighs their chances of making the playoffs (7.2). But the gap has closed considerably, for better or worse.

Is Dylan Sikura on the outside looking in with Blackhawks?

USA Today

Is Dylan Sikura on the outside looking in with Blackhawks?

The Blackhawks divided practice into two groups on Thursday and Friday. One of them was filled with NHL players. The other was loaded with prospects.

Dylan Sikura found himself in the first group with the prospects, and it's hard not to read into what that could mean about his standing with the team as the coaching staff looks to finalize its 23-man roster over the next two weeks.

Once thought of as a highly-touted prospect coming out of college, Sikura put up strong numbers in the AHL last season but his offensive production hasn't translated to the NHL level.

Part of that is because he was put in favorable situations in college and Rockford, where he played first-line minutes and was the go-to guy on the top power play unit. It was difficult for him to get those same opportunities in Chicago when players like Alex DeBrincat, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are viewed as the heavy lifters on offense.

When the Blackhawks traded Dominik Kahun to the Pittsburgh Penguins in June for defenseman Olli Maatta, GM Stan Bowman felt he was able to pull the trigger on that trade because he was confident that there were players in-house ready for bigger roles and that could fill Kahun's skates. Bowman singled out Sikura specifically.

“Looking at some of our young players that are getting ready to take on a bigger role, you can look at guys like Dylan Sikura,” Bowman said at the time. “He didn't have the offensive success at the NHL level but I liked the way he played when he was with us last year in Chicago. It felt like his game was real effective other than the production part. Then when he was in Rockford I really liked the way he was able to score down there. So I think he's not far from being a guy and he's got sort of a similar skill set that Dominik has.”

Bowman is right. When Sikura was on the ice at 5-on-5 last season, the Blackhawks controlled 55.4 percent of the shot attempts and 53.2 percent of the scoring chances, according to Natural Stat Trick. When he wasn't on the ice, those numbers dropped to 47.7 and 45.5, respectively. 

But through 38 career games with the Blackhawks, Sikura is still looking for his first career NHL goal and he knows it's a results-oriented business.

“It's obviously something you think about every now and then and it's tough but I thought there was spurts last year where I was really good," Sikura said. "And even though I wasn't scoring I was still playing and put in situations playing with top guys, so I think all that is going to help me in the long run. Coach always says you end up getting rewarded for what you deserve and I think if I continue to work away from the puck and work on that side of the game then the offense will come."

Sikura survived the first wave of cuts, which consisted of six players. But the next round is expected to be bigger and should come this weekend with the IceHogs training camp beginning Sunday.

Whether Sikura is part of that remains to be seen, but with a crowded forward group already and limited spots available, he might have to wait for his chance again mid-season.

“You always got to be ready, if it's going to be here to start the season or down there, you always got to be ready to go,” Sikura said. “You saw last year, I think when you're down there sometimes you don't think you're coming up then next day you get a call, so you always got to be ready and working on your game. It's a little bit of different hockey down there, but you've got to do the little things and I think my game kind of changes down there a little, but to stick up here I've got to do the little things and hopefully it all works out."

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Blackhawks make first wave of roster cuts in 2019 training camp

Detroit Red Wings

Blackhawks make first wave of roster cuts in 2019 training camp

After starting training camp with 55 players, the Blackhawks made their first wave of roster cuts on Friday and they weren't very surprising.

Forwards Nathan Noel, Graham Knott, Tyler Sikura, Tim Soderlund, Dylan McLaughlin, Kris Versteeg and defensemen Chad Krys, Jack Ramsey and Jake Ryczek were re-assigned to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League. Goaltender Alexis Gravel was also returned to his junior team, the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

The Blackhawks training camp roster now sits at 45 players: 26 forwards, 14 defensemen and five goaltenders.

The IceHogs kick off their training camp on Sunday, so expect the Blackhawks to make more roster moves before then. Saturday's preseason game against the Boston Bruins could serve as the final opportunity for some of the bubble players to make an impression before the organization makes their next round of cuts.

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