The 2015-16 regular season has come down to one last game for the Chicago Blackhawks. But after being taken to overtime by the St. Louis Blues on Thursday, paired with Dallas earning a victory the same night, it was guaranteed the Blackhawks would place third in the Central Division. That also ensured their final regular-season game would mean nothing.
And with that in mind, we already have an idea of what the Blackhawks’ lineup will look like tonight in Columbus. It will not include captain and first-line center Jonathan Toews, nor will it include interim top defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson. Both of those men are getting a respite ahead of the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs next week.
Hjalmarsson will finish one game sort of completing all 82 regular-season games, while Toews will fall two games short. Those two will still be part of a small group that reached the 80-game mark for the Blackhawks this regular season. Patrick Kane and Trevor van Riemsdyk will be the only Blackhawks to play in all 82 games, while Brent Seabrook will hit 81 games and Artemi Panarin will participate in 80 games.
There’s nothing wrong health-wise with Toews or Hjalmarsson. Coach Joel Quenneville has just decided to give the pair a break before the postseason grind begins. Any time off is probably useful for these two, who are among the NHLers to have played the most games over the last several seasons. It’d be nice to get Seabrook a rest, too, but it’d leave just five defensemen to dress tonight.
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On the other end of the spectrum, goaltender Corey Crawford will return to the lineup after missing almost a month with an upper-body injury. It’s not entirely certain what Crow was dealing with, but the below tweets seem to indicate it might’ve been a bout with vertigo.
It’s important for Crow to get back into the swing of things prior to what will be a tough first-round playoff series against either Dallas or St. Louis. He’s certain to see plenty of rubber tonight, with the Blue Jackets having just this game left before they hit in the golf course for the summer, and with the Blackhawks lineup decimated by injuries and rest nights.
In addition to the absence of Toews and Hjalmarsson, Marian Hossa (lower body), Artem Anisimov (upper body), Andrew Shaw (lower body) and Duncan Keith (suspension) will not play this evening. That leaves the lines and pairings in a state of flux. CSN Chicago’s Tracey Myers has a guess at what the forwards may look like:
For those of you not big on remembering players’ numbers, that comes out to:
Artemi Panarin-Dennis Rasmussen-Patrick Kane
That’s an interesting lineup, to be sure. But considering the only things of importance in this game are A) if Crow looks healthy and capable in his return and B) how Panarin winds up in his final regular-season stats, it’s probably not a big deal. The only defensive change will be Christian Ehrhoff returning to the lineup. Have away at guessing how the pairings will look.
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Speaking quickly on the Panarin stats situation, the Russian was ninth in the league in points coming into today’s action. If he manages a top-10 finish in the league, it’ll cost the Blackhawks $1.725 million — and it will go against the salary cap. That would be the bonus Panarin would earn for his achievement. Some might suggest sitting Panarin to avoid a potential fiasco, but that’d be a terrible look for the Blackhawks. You can’t just offer guys potential bonuses and then bench them when they get close to achieving the criteria for said bonuses. That was one precursor to the Black Sox scandal in Major League Baseball. It’s smart for the Blackhawks to roll Panarin tonight, business as usual.
But other than the Crow and Panarin situations, there won’t be much to watch for in this game other than hoping everyone stays healthy for one more regular-season tilt. You can enjoy the stylings of former Blackhawk Brandon Saad, who will suit up for the Blue Jackets. He recently achieved his first career hat trick.