April 16th. A date marked on every NHL fans calendar. That day will be the start of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Once the Chicago Blackhawks clinched a spot in those playoffs, many fans set their sights past the rest of the regular season and straight to the first round. In all reality, the Blackhawks have four more regular season games to play.
Recently, the Blackhawks seem to have caught that theoretical “injury bug” that has plagued a few teams this season. Forward Patrick Kane was injured in a game against the St. Louis Blues on March 19, and was placed on the long term injured reserve for the rest of the regular season. Kane was a main staple in the Blackhawks offense, leading the team in points (69) and goals (29) at the time of his injury. He has since been overtaken in both categories by Patrick Sharp. Another centerpiece to the attack, captain Jonathan Toews has also been shut down until the playoffs. This move is justified by the fact that both players will be 100% come playoff time. But what of the remaining four games? The Blackhawks are still in a competition against their division rival the Colorado Avalanche for second place in the Central Division and home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs, which will most likely be a series against those Av’s. Colorado has found themselves in some bad luck as well, losing forward Matt Duchene (23 goals 70 points) for not only the regular season, but possibly for the aforementioned first round series.
In order for the Blackhawks to attain home ice, and succeed in the playoffs, it will take some younger guys to step up and score. The Detroit Red Wings are a great example of that. After losing most of their top players to injury, including captain Pavel Datsyuk, they had many young players who were able to score goals and keep them in the Eastern Conference playoff race. 24 year old Gustav Nyquist is one of the hottest players in the NHL right now. Nyquist has had 22 goals in his last 27 games for the Wings, keeping them in a playoff spot. The Hawks have many young talented players as well. 22 year old Andrew Shaw and 21 year old Brandon Saad, are both one goal away from joining the Blackhawks top 4 goal scores (Kane, Toews, Sharp, and Marian Hossa) as the only Hawks to score 20 goals. Shaw has gotten opportunities to center the top line, with Sharp and Hossa on either side of him, while Saad is the top scorer of the second line. Both players have chances to make their presence felt and hopefully begin a scoring run lasting into the playoffs.
Bryan Bickell was a playoff hero last year when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, which warranted a large raise in his pay. Since then, Bickell has had an off season as far as scoring with only 13 points this season. The injuries offer up an opportunity for Shaw or Saad to do the same thing during this seasons playoffs. The fan favorite prospect, Teuvo Teravainen, most likely won’t see time in the playoffs in order to save the first year of his contract. Most considered him a “savior” for the Hawks this season. The Blackhawks will hopefully be fully healthy at the start of the playoffs, gearing them up for another Stanley Cup run, but it will make things easier if one of the young guns step up during these last four games, and through the playoffs.