It’s time to see if the Chicago Blackhawks can withstand the hits of the Anaheim Ducks once again, as these teams meet for the third and final time in the regular season. The first two matchups were in the midst of the Ducks’ lengthy offensive swoon, as the Blackhawks earned wins by scores of 1-0 and 3-2 in overtime.
The Ducks, meanwhile, have found their offense a bit of late, allowing them to go 7-2-1 in their last 10 games and boost to third in the weak Pacific Division. In those seven games, they scored between three and six goals each time, and while that still has the Ducks with the fewest goals in the league, it’s progress.
I have no idea what the lineup will be for the Blackhawks tonight, as their morning skate was a bit of a cluster. Besides Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Corey Crawford skipping the morning skate, Andrew Desjardins came off the ice early, Viktor Svedberg returned from Rockford and appears to be in the lineup and Erik Gustafsson was one of the last guys off the ice, likely making him a scratch. Also, Artemi Panarin will return to the lineup tonight after a two-game absence. So, what does this all mean?
— Svedberg is in, and Michal Rozsival also appears to be in, so Gustafsson will get a night off
— Crawford will get the start over Scott Darling, according to NHL.com
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Let’s move on to the Ducks.
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Getzlaf and Perry lead the show with 40 and 38 points, respectively. Rakell is somehow third on the team with 28 points, and village idiot Kesler displays 26 points. The Ducks haven’t gotten a lot of blue-line offensive support, with only Vatanen (25) above 20 points among defensemen. The story in Anaheim, though, has been the goaltending. When healthy, Gibson (.917, 2.13) and Andersen (.920, 2.30) have carried this team in spite of its struggling offense. The Blackhawks have have to get a lot of rubber on the starter (we’ll assume it’s Gibson) if they hope to come out victorious, especially with the Ducks offense now rolling a bit.
Now let’s look at three Blackhawks to watch in tonight’s affair.
Though his defense offered him little help Thursday against the Stars, Crow will want to forget that game against Dallas. His rebound control was not as strong as it normally is, and the first goal he permitted to Patrick Eaves cannot happen. Against the Ducks, Crow will have his comfort level thrown out the window, as Anaheim’s big bodies will be flying at the net. That’s especially true of a guy like Perry, who is also very skilled from all over the ice. This can be a good bounce-back opportunity for Crow, especially with the Ducks offense clicking lately.
Let’s see how the young winger fares coming off his illness, which sidelined him for two weeks. When Toews came off an illness that seems comparable to what Panarin is suffering (according to Joel Quenneville), he immediately made an impact on offense. It’d be really helpful if Panarin could come back and make a quick impact as well, especially with the Chicago offense mostly struggling the last two games. Things only got going against the Stars when Coach Q put Toews and Kane together in the third period, so giving Kane his new best buddy back could certainly spur the offense. It’s just a matter of how Panarin reacts to his first in-game action off an illness.
I thought the big defenseman looked really strong in his one-game stint against Colorado right after the All-Star break, as he contributed an assist in the Blackhawks win. He was then confined to the press box and sent down, only to be quietly brought up again yesterday afternoon. It appears Gustafsson will take a seat tonight, and it’s possible he could be dealing with an injury or illness. So Svedberg gets a shot against a big Anaheim team, not a super fast one like the Colorado outfit he faced previously. It could wind up being a good matchup for Svedberg, but he basically needs to be not noticed, and we’ll consider that a good effort for the third-pairing defenseman.