As the anthem is sung, the whistle is blown and the puck is dropped, we all sit back and wonder which Blackhawks team will take the ice. That’s basically what it comes down to this evening against Montreal: will they bring the “give-a-shit” tonight? Or are they going to lose to a clearly-inferior team — again?
We saw this earlier in the season, and we just wrote it off. Now, it’s the playoffs on the line. It matters. The question remains because the ‘Hawks haven’t answered it convincingly enough, consistently enough, all year. Tonight we will ask the same question. Only the Blackhawks know the answer.
Awaiting us in Montreal is a Canadiens team who is also locked in a tight playoff race with four other teams. The Habs are tied for 6th in the East with the Rangers, with Buffalo, Carolina, and even Toronto nipping at their heels. They, too, are hit and miss: 4 wins in their last 10 games, and sliding in the standings in the face of resurgent Rangers and Sabres teams.
This is the last home game of the season for Les Habitants, and a win tonight will clinch a playoff spot for them. So Montreal will be playing intense, motivated hockey tonight. The Blackhawks need to do the same, or these two points will slip away as well. Vraiment.
There are more similarities between these two teams than just their place in the standings. Both teams have a goaltender that is standing on his head regularly as a frequently-impotent offense can’t give him enough goal support. And both are reliant on offensive contributions from their defensive corps in the late part of the season, to pick up the slack from slumping role-players up front who have been a disappointment. I would not be the least bit surprised to see this game go to a shootout tied 0 – 0.
And like Chicago, their lineup has been the victim of the injury bug — some of which caused by dirty play. The league (and the world) watched Max Pacioretty’s neck snap like a chicken bone against the stanchion at the hands of Bruins’ defenseman Zdeno Chara several weeks ago. Pacioretty is still healing from his injuries and is doubtful for the remainder of the season.
But apart from that there seems to be a problem with the entire team’s right knee. Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges and Jaroslav Spacek have all undergone surgery on their right knee this year. What’s up with that? All three are out, and Alexandre Picard, Jeff Halpern and Travis Moen are all doubtful. Teams are in the habit of rolling out their backup netminders against Chicago for some strange reason, but I think it’s a safe bet that we see Carey Price between the pipes this evening.
The Blackhawks’ situation looks like this:
The right-hand column labeled “ROW” is non-shootout wins. As you can see, we’re teetering on the brink of polishing up the golf shoes if we don’t get our shit together. Both Calgary and Dallas gained on us Sunday night, so we’re in more than a little trouble if we don’t start racking up some points. It has to start tonight, because those last two games this weekend against Detroit (*spitting noise*) are going to be hell.
Head Coach Joel Quenneville keeps tinkering with the first line, flipping between Viktor Stalberg and Bryan Bickell last game after Troy Brouwer didn’t work out. Nick Leddy has turned invisible, and his minutes are now averaging below 9 per game. Chris Campoli spends more time below the hash marks in the other team’s end than any defenseman I’ve seen play in the NHL. And if Niklas Hjalmarsson gets one more Delay of Game penalty, somebody should lob HIM over the boards and into the stands. That’s happening nearly every game now, and it’s getting ridiculous.
Patrick Sharp is not back, neither is Dave Bolland. Expect to see Corey Crawford in net, expect John Scott to be scratched. Beyond that, we’ll just be waiting for the Blackhawks to answer the question again.
6:30pm puck drop Chicago time. Comcast SportsNet has the TV coverage, broadcast radio is WGN AM-720, and XM subscribers should find the game on channel 208.
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