Analysis

Chicago Blackhawks’ Big-Game Talk Atypical For Regular Season

By Colin Likas
Jan 15, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Minnesota Wild right wing Jason Pominville (hidden) celebrates scoring a goal with teammates while Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford (50) reacts during the third period at the United Center. Minnesota won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 15, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Minnesota Wild right wing Jason Pominville (hidden) celebrates scoring a goal with teammates while Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford (50) reacts during the third period at the United Center. Minnesota won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Chicago Blackhawks claim they’re taking tonight’s game against Minnesota seriously, which is an odd view for them in the regular season

I think it’s important to follow all of the Chicago Blackhawks beat writers across various media outlets in the city. Among those who is easily identified is Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times.

During Tuesday’s off day for the Blackhawks, Lazerus published a piece getting the Blackhawks’ thoughts on their upcoming tilt with the Central Division-leading Minnesota Wild, a game that takes place tonight at 7 p.m. and is literally the only NHL game on the docket.

Now, we’ve seen the Blackhawks have two chief modes for many seasons under coach Joel Quenneville. There’s the “treating it like a playoff game” mode, and there’s the “we don’t care until we’re down two goals with six minutes left” mode.

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The Blackhawks appear to be taking the former approach to tonight’s game. Probably a good idea, considering the Wild are six points ahead of the Blackhawks with two games in hand. However, it’s strange to see the Blackhawks actually admitting as much, as Lazerus’ article showed.

Blackhawks treating Wild with clear respect

The Wild, after starting the season so-so, have been out-of-control hot over the past couple months. Following a 3-2 overtime loss to Calgary on Dec. 2, the Wild were 11-8-4, tied for third in the Central Division with Nashville, Dallas and Winnipeg at nine points behind Chicago.

Since then, the Wild have lost just four games in regulation and five overall, improving their mark to 35-12-5. Setting aside whether or not the team is built to survive the playoffs, the Blackhawks seem to be taking the Wild very seriously based on this two-month binge.

"“That’s the motivation, front and center, right there,” center Jonathan Toews said. “We’ll be thinking about that. We’ve still got a ways to go, (but) every chance we get against this team, we know it can be a four-point swing.”"

That’s Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews talking about the importance of games against the Wild moving forward, especially if the Blackhawks still have aspirations of winning the division.

You’ll hear Toews try to motivate his team in various ways through the media, but you don’t often see Toews thinking in terms of points or actually admitting the team is thinking about chasing someone in the regular season.

"Kane called it “our biggest game of the year,” and it’s hard to argue. The Hawks won three straight playoff series over the Wild from 2013 to 2015, but the Wild have beaten the Hawks in eight straight regular-season games."

Chicago Blackhawks

“Our biggest game of the year?” I’m not sure the Blackhawks have used that phrase on a regular- season game in about five years.

Quenneville also talked in the article about keeping the Wild “honest” and wanting to finish in first place in the division. Again, this is stuff we know the Blackhawks care about and are interested in — they’re a professional sports team, after all — but actually hearing it during the regular season, out in the open is a bit strange.

What does it mean?

Ultimately, I would be incredibly surprised if the Blackhawks are in any way fearful of the Wild at this point in the season. While the run Minnesota has gone on is certainly impressive, everyone starts from scratch in the postseason. Many of the Blackhawks know that better than most NHLers.

The Blackhawks went on an outrageous run that lasted the entire lockout-shortened 2013 season and nearly lost to an inferior Detroit squad in the postseason’s second round. The NHL is a fickle beast, and the Blackhawks typically don’t make much out of regular-season games — at least the core guys don’t.

So hearing them talk openly in this manner is a bit odd. It gives you hope that the team is turning a corner so far as leaving its annual winter doldrums behind (though they often last into February).

Still, the Blackhawks can only worry about themselves. And I think they’re entering this game tonight with a bit of a chip on their shoulder. Strange to say for a group that has multiple three-time Stanley Cup champions in the salary-cap era.

But the Wild decided to use Vezina Trophy favorite Devan Dubnyk last night against a meh Winnipeg team, while leaving far-inferior backup Darcy Keumper to run the show tonight. Even with the road-home dynamic in play for the Wild (they were on the road last night, at home tonight), that’s a bit of a slap to the Blackhawks.

Next: Blackhawks' Hot And Not — Second Line Heating Up

The Blackhawks don’t have something to prove tonight, necessarily. Because, again, the playoffs reset everything and show a team’s true mettle. But perhaps the Blackhawks are getting a little tired of Minnesota being like a runaway train. If that’s so, they have a nice chance to throw a wrench in the works tonight.

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