Coming off a four-day break, the Chicago Blackhawks return to the ice tonight with a home game against the Anaheim Ducks
It’s time for the homestretch of the Chicago Blackhawks’ regular season. A four-day break now in the books, the Blackhawks will play 17 games over the next 31 days. That run starts tonight against the Anaheim Ducks at the United Center.
While the Ducks have plenty to play for right now, the Blackhawks suddenly do as well. It seemed for a long while the Minnesota Wild would have the Central Division close to wrapped up at this point. But now, the Blackhawks are just a point behind the Wild with only one more game played.
Therefore, every other game until further notice is key for the Blackhawks. While they shouldn’t have trouble holding off the Nashville Predators (74 points with one more game played), the goal is now catching the Wild. And it’s entirely realistic.
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The Blackhawks, after all, are on a seven-game win streak. They’ve also won 12 of 13 games dating back to the start of February.
The Ducks, meanwhile, are in a major battle in the Pacific Division. Their 78 points in 66 games has them tied for second with Edmonton, but just two points clear of Calgary. So Anaheim needs all the points it can get as well.
Lineups/players to watch
The Ducks’ forward lines are not totally certain, as Nick Ritchie is not traveling for this game due to an injury suffered in the Ducks’ previous outing.
The top two lines of late have featured Andrew Cogliano–Ryan Kesler–Jakob Silfverberg and Patrick Eaves–Ryan Getzlaf–Ondrej Kase. Corey Perry, AKA the Lord Voldemort cosplayer, has been on the third line with Ritchie and Rickard Rakell.
With Ritchie sidelined, there’s a chance Perry could jump up a line. Perry was playing down in Randy Carlyle‘s attempt to spread out the offense, as this team struggles to produce beyond the big three of Getzlaf (52 points), Kesler (47) and Perry (42).
We all know what it is Anaheim focuses on and believes itself to be good at: being physical. Kesler will never live down his “no human can withstand that many hits” comment, and it’s an idea that has lived on with the change from Bruce Boudreau to Carlyle.
Anaheim’s defense has some real solid pieces, although it insists on using Kevin Bieksa on the top pairing. Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatenen are solid guys spread across the second and third pairings, respectively, and Cam Fowler is the top offensive producer from the blue line (32 points).
Typical starting goaltender John Gibson is not available for tonight’s game due to injury, which means Jonathan Bernier is probably getting the call, which Jhonas Enroth as backup. That’s a plus matchup for the Blackhawks.
Speaking of the Blackhawks, here were their lines during yesterday’s practice:
Schmaltz is back in the lineup after an illness caused him to miss a couple games. Jurco gets back alongside Hossa for a connection that had a little action in Jurco’s first game with Chicago. And Tootoo has parlayed his season-best display in Nashville into another start.
On defense, Niklas Hjalmarsson makes his return from injury and will be paired with the re-debuting Johnny Oduya as the Swedes are set to take on each opponent’s top competition. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook pair on the second group, and Trevor van Riemsdyk and Brain Campbell make up the third.
TV listings and prediction
Game time: 7:30 p.m.
TV: Comcast SportsNet
Radio: WGN 720-AM
Live stream: CSN Chicago Live
Radio stream: WGN Radio App
Prediction: The Blackhawks have trouble coming off extended breaks. This is no secret. Their lone loss since the beginning of February saw them follow the bye week with a defeat at the hands of Edmonton.
However, unlike some past displays, the Blackhawks actually looked pretty good against the Oilers in that loss. Goaltender Cam Talbot just stood on his head. It happens.
With the Blackhawks getting a home tilt against an inferior goaltender in Bernier (.904/2.85 slashline in 27 games this season), I like their chances even coming off an extended break. I’ll say the Blackhawks score a 4-1 victory, with Schmaltz, Hartman and Kane (twice) tallying for Chicago.