Today: Chicago Blackhawks at Minnesota Wild, 7 p.m. (CSN Chicago)
I really don’t need to tell you how this series has gone for the Blackhawks. The Wild seem slightly upset over being knocked out of the last three postseasons by the Blackhawks, as they’ve taken all four of the regular-season matchups this year. The last one was also the closest, as the Wild knocked off the Blackhawks 3-2 in a shootout. I don’t know how the Blackhawks ever lose in a shootout, considering who they have at their disposal to shoot, but here we are.
Zach Parise has seven points in his last three games, pushing him to 49 for the season. The Wild don’t have a runaway scorer, but they do have some fair balance on offense. Mikko Koivu leads the charge with 54 points, while Ryan Suter has 49 from the blue line with a wicked shot. Charlie Coyle (42 points), Thomas Vanek (41), Mikael Granlund (41) and Nino Niederreiter (41) also make some contributions.
Devan Dubnyk has also gotten hot in net, pushing his save percentage to .920. The Wild pretty much need Dubnyk to be on all the time, as they’re just average in most every offensive and defensive category. But that hasn’t stopped the Blackhawks like making them appear to be the second coming of an old Edmonton Oilers/New York Islanders outfit.
The Wild have a team speed the Blackhawks have trouble matching, and pushing Gustafsson out of the lineup in favor of Svedberg on the blue line isn’t necessarily helpful in dealing with that. The Blackhawks may end up playing a game of “top six cancel out,” which would leave things up to both teams’ bottom six. For the Blackhawks, that was effective enough against bad teams like Calgary and Vancouver, but it may not work against the Wild. Plus, Erik Haula, Jason Pominville and Niederreiter are part of the Wild’s bottom six. I don’t think I need to explain what those three have done against the Blackhawks of late.
Friday: Chicago Blackhawks at Winnipeg Jets, 7 p.m. (CSN Chicago)
It’s no secret the Jets are playing out the string, and that they’re not doing so particularly well. But they’ll generally give the Blackhawks a game regardless. The wasn’t the case last time out, as Darling recorded a shutout in a 4-0 Blackhawks victory on March 18.
The Jets have size throughout the lineup and some more than capable pieces on the top six and top of the blue line. Blake Wheeler is having a career year with 68 points, Mark Scheifele has contributed 52 points and Dustin Byfuglien has netted 45 when he isn’t trying to send people into the umpteenth row. Bryan Little is hurt, while Nikolaj Ehlers and Marko Dano are promising pieces at forward.
Beyond Byfuglien and Jacob Trouba on the blue line, things are pretty rough. They’ve got size, but not much talent. And things are even worse in net, especially after Connor Hellebuyck was sent down for no reason, leaving Ondrej Palat and Michael Hutchinson to stink up the joint.
Like with the Canucks and Flames, the Blackhawks shouldn’t need to get up a ton to win this one. However, the Jets do have enough guys to make the Blackhawks pay for sleeping, and Darling won’t necessarily bail his team out on every chance a second straight time.
Sunday: Boston Bruins at Chicago Blackhawks, 11:30 a.m. (NBC)
This marks the final regular-season national broadcast, as well as the last morning game. It brings to town a Bruins team that many would probably say is overachieving this season, as the Bruins are firmly in a playoff spot at third in the Atlantic Division. They still have an outside shot at winning the division, but a 4-5-1 stretch and having to leapfrog both the Panthers and Lightning while currently five points out may be too much to overcome.
Patrice Bergeron is leading the charge here, as he should be. His 63 points have really helped linemate Brad Marchand, who Boston fans are trying to push as the next big thing. I see nothing that doesn’t say his 55 points are purely a product of playing alongside a really good player like Bergeron, but to each his own. Loui Eriksson boosted his trade deadline stock before not getting moved, and the Bruins are likely devastated to have his 57 points. David Krejci is doing David Krejci things with 56 points, while Ryan Spooner (who?) boasts 47.
The Bruins defense is … interesting. Playing behind an offense that has produced 222 goals, the third-best total in the league, will certainly make any unit look better. Zdeno Chara has aged poorly but is still leading this group, while Kevan Miller is receiving top pairing minutes. Dennis Seidenberg is still here, as is Torey Krug. It’s just a fine, if not underwhelming, group.
But there’s always that Tuukka Rask guy. His individual stats aren’t incredible this season (.918 save percentage, 2.51 goals-against average), but he’s plenty capable of stealing games all by himself while simultaneously throwing a temper tantrum worthy of a spot on “Kids Say The Darndest Things” (just without Bill Cosby as host).
This is one of three playoff teams the Blackhawks have left in their final six regular-season games, and it would behoove them to show up for the contest. The Bruins took a 4-2 win at home in early March in these teams’ other meeting this season, and this game could have big implications on the Blackhawks getting some sort of home ice in the playoffs.