Jan 23, 2014; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp (10) exchanges words with Minnesota Wild forward Matt Cooke (24) in the third period at Xcel Energy Center. The Wild won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports
The hits just keep coming, for the Chicago Blackhawks. First it was Patrick Kane who was announced would miss the rest of the regular season, and would not be able to return to the lineup, until the 1st round of the playoffs. Now, it’s Jonathan Toews who will miss the remainder of the regular season(6 games), and won’t be back until the 1st round of the playoffs, also. This all might end up being a good thing, for the Blackhawks, as their stars will be getting some much needed rest, before the games start to matter again.
For the Minnesota Wild, however, every game matter, as they will be battling until the very end, just to make it into the post-season. A win over the defending Stanley Cup Champions, injury ravaged or not, will go a long ways in helping the Wild’s make it to the playoffs.
Let’s take a look at how these teams matchup.
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Statistically, the Blackhawks have a big advantage, here, but without 2 of their biggest stars, it’d be wise not to put a lot of stock, in the Hawks’ numbers. Minnesota is a defenseive-minded team, that happens to have a couple of dangerous offensive players, which makes them tricky. Scoring against the Wild is very difficult, and it will be even harder, for the Hawks, without Kane and Toews. If the Hawks are to win, they’re going to have to grind this one out, and try to stay as turnover free, as possible, as the Wild will make them pay. It is very important that the Hawks not fall behind early, in this game, as the Wild go into total shutdown mode, with a lead.
The Wild are currently leading the Western Conference Wild Card race, as they have a 4 point cushion before they are no longer in the playoff picture. Every remaining game is important, for Minnesota.
Zach Parise is the most dangerous player, on Minnesota’s roster. It’s hard to imagine how anemic the Wild’s offense would be without Parise. Ryan Suter is arguably the most important player, on the Wild roster, and he is one of the top-5 best defenseman, in the entire NHL. Jason Pominville currently leads Minnesota, in points, at this point, in the season. Team Captain, Mikko Koivu has 9 points, in his last 6 games.
In net, for the goalie health challenged Wild will likely be Ilya Bryzgalov. Since being traded to Minnesota, from the Edmonton Oilers, Bryzgalov has a solid record of 4-0-2, with a modest Save Percentage of .909%.
The Blackhawks have lost 3 games in a row, and in all honestly are just trying to ride out the final 6 games, of the regular season, as injury free as possible, since they have an all but determined date, with the Colorado Avalanche, in the 1st round, of the playoffs, with Colorado looking like they will have the home-ice advantage.
The Hawks’ roster will have an unusual look to it, with both Kane and Toews out. Look for Teuvo Teravainen to play a bigger role, as he will likely have to step up, in the absence of Toews. Patrick Sharp will be the Hawks most depended upon, source of offense, in this game, as he is on a bit of a tear, lately. Fingers must be crossed in hopes that Marian Hossa stays healthy, from here on out, as his all-world, 2-way game is vital to the Hawks’ success. It’s not all bad news, on the injury front. Bryan Bickell will make his return to the lineup, tonight, after missing several games, due to an injury. Joakim Norstrom has been called up, from Rockford to fill in, on the depleted roster, and will likely be the 4th line center, tonight.
In net, for the Hawks will likely be Corey Crawford. This season, Crawford has been very good, as he has put up a very solid .918 Save Percentage, in 55 games played, this season.
In 4 games, in this Central Division season series, the Wild have won 3 out of 4 games. It only looks to be getting easier for the playoff hungry Wild, as the Hawks are limping their way to the post-season, with their roster a shell of it’s former self. The biggest key, tonight, for the Blackhawks is to maintain the remainder of it’s overall health, but a win and 2 points might help us forget about the recent spell of injuries.