When the NHL paused its season on March 12, the Blackhawks had a 2.6 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to Hockey Reference. They were six points out of the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference and had four teams to jump, which would have been virtually impossible with only three weeks of hockey left.
But because of the financial ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic, the league was forced to get creative about its Return to Play plan and announced a 24-team format in May. The Blackhawks, as we know, were the final team in the West to get in.
And while it may not feel like their postseason drought has ended, the Blackhawks won't apologize for it. They've been handed a gift and want to take advantage of this new life.
"It's a heck of an opportunity," Jonathan Toews said after Day 1 of training camp. "We were kind of going down that road where our playoff chances were dwindling. It would've been a long-shot otherwise, but we were able to sneak in under these rules and under this format, so it's an opportunity for all of us. Regardless of whether there's fans in the building or not, there's something to play for."
You won't find a bigger competitor than Duncan Keith, who's a two-time Norris Trophy winner and wears his emotions on his sleeve. He wants to get back to playing consistent playoff hockey and is as motivated about the restart as anyone. Just check his Instagram page.
"The biggest thing is just the fact that we're getting a chance to compete and be in the playoffs," Keith said. "You go back to the regular season, we were several points out and it wasn't looking good. Now we're in this opportunity — it's a great opportunity for us to try to prove that we deserve to be in the playoffs. ... We know we've got our work cut out for us, but I think as a group, we're excited to have this opportunity and show that we belong and that we could make some noise as an underdog."
On one end of the spectrum, you have a group of multiple Stanley Cup winners hungry to play meaningful hockey again. On the other end, you have a group of young players that haven't had a taste of the postseason yet and are itching to find out, even though there won't be any fans in attendance.
Put the groups together and you have a hungry Blackhawks squad that's eager to show they can make a potential run.
"It's good experience for everyone because the veteran guys that have played a lot of playoff hockey have never been through something like this before and the young guys who have never played in the playoffs, there's no better opportunity to try and get your feet wet and try and show your teammates what you can do," Toews said. "So, every game, that thought of the Cup being on the line has to be in the back of your mind. You win one game, there's no telling how far you can go, so we'll really try and build that feeling and that mindset in the locker room over the next couple weeks before we start."