Jan 11, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Minnesota Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom (32) makes a save on Chicago Blackhawks left wing Teuvo Teravainen (86) during the first period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
No, it won’t be the last time the Chicago Blackhawks play on the United Center ice until next season, but it is the final time they will during the 2014-2015 regular season. This is exciting news because that means the playoffs are right around the corner! Speaking of playoffs, the Hawks’ opponents tonight, the Minnesota Wild can clinch a spot in the post-season with a win tonight, which would put an exclamation point on the end of their dramatic comeback in the 2nd half of the season.
This will be the 5th and final game of the 5-game season series between the Hawks and Wild. The Hawks have won 3 of the first 4 games but lost the most recent meeting on February 3rd in when the Wild put the Hawks to shame. It was one of the Hawks’ worst games of the season. Puck drop for tonight’s game is set for 7:30 PM Central Time. Tonight’s game can be seen on CSN-Chicago and can be heard on WGN 720 AM.
Here’s a statistical breakdown of the Hawks and Wild.
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Offensively, the Hawks are overall slightly below average and will be taking on a Wild defensive unit that is in the elite class.
Defensively, the Hawks are the 2nd best in the league and will be tasked with shutting down a Minnesota offensive attack that has been above-average.
On the Power Play, the Hawks have been bad overall and will face a Wild Penalty Kill that is the best in the league.
For the Hawks, the Penalty Kill has been great and tonight they face a Minnesota Power Play that is one of the worst in the league.
The Hawks have been great in the faceoff circle and will be taking draws against a Wild team that has been slightly below average in the dot.
In terms of puck-possession and creating scoring chances, the Hawks are great and it is the root of their successes and tonight they are up against the almost(but not quite) as successful Wild.
On paper, the Hawks hold a slight advantage over the Wild. Also, the Hawks playing at home and still fighting for the lead in the Central as well as home-ice advantage in the playoffs gives them plenty of reasons to put on a good performance tonight.
However, the Wild have become a scary team and are eager to clinch that playoff spot but at the same time, they played just last night. Minnesota is also riding a 10-game road winning streak, so this will be a tough one for the Hawks.
The Wild are 44-27-8 with 96 points, which is good for 4th place in the Central Division as well as the 1st Wild Card Spot in the Western Conference. Currently, they are 2 points ahead of the Winnipeg Jets, who are holding the 2nd Wild Card spot, and 3 points ahead of the Los Angeles Kings, who are currently on the outside looking in of the Western playoff picture.
Defenseman, Ryan Suter is arguably the most important player on the Wild. He is routinely on the ice for 30 minutes per night. Zach Parise is Minnesota’s most important forward and he pretty much does everything the right way. He leads the team with 32 goals on the season. Despite going without a point in last night’s loss to Winnipeg, Jason Pominville has 3 points in his last 3 games and is a tough forward to play against.
Starting in net for the Wild could be Devan Dubnyk, but if he plays tonight it will be his 4th game in 6 days. Dubnyk has been the primary catalyst and symbol of Minnesota’s dramatic turnaround. In 37 games with the Wild after they acquired him from the Arizona Coyotes on January 14th, Dubnyk has a sparkling .937 Save Percentage. In 11 career games against the Hawks, Dubnyk has a brutal .895 Save Percentage.
The Hawks are 48-25-6 with 102 points, which is good for 3rd place in the Central Division. Currently, they are 2 points behind the 2nd place Nashville Predators and 3 points behind the 1st place St. Louis Blues. Each team has 3 games remaining and the Hawks and Blues play each other on Thursday. This should be interesting.
Jonathan Toews’ 5 game point streak came to an end in Sunday’s loss to the Blues, but he has 6 points in 4 games against the Wild this season. Brad Richards has been shut down for the remaining 3 games of the regular season. He will be ready for the playoffs, but mercifully as a result Antoine Vermette is returning to center. Kimmo Timonen will likely miss tonight’s game in favor of David Rundblad. The recently signed Kyle Baun will make his NHL debut tonight.
Starting in net for the Hawks will be Corey Crawford. In 55 games this season, Crawford has a fantastic .924 Save Percentage. In 20 career games against the Wild, Crawford has a great .920 Save Percentage.
With 3 games remaining and the Hawks still searching for better playoff positioning, there will be plenty to watch and plenty for the Hawks to play for. Let’s close out the regular season at the United Center the right way.