Pressure mounting on ‘Hawks as they host Minnesota
Two teams looking to climb back into the top eight of the Western Conference will be facing off tonight in the Windy City. 9th-seeded Minnesota will pay a visit to 11th-seeded Chicago in what should be an exciting (and very important) tilt.
The Blackhawks have struggled in the second half. Joel Quenneville’s crew has had consistency problems all year, but now they are starting to tread water following an insufficient road trip. The team went 2-2-2 on the six-game roadie and now faces an uphill battle just to make the playoffs.
The big guns up front are getting the job done for the most part. However, Duncan Keith has had trouble repeating his Norris Trophy campaign from last year. He has 30 points through in 56 games and just six points since Christmas.
It’s hard to pick out the exact problem with this Blackhawks club. Every time I keep coming back to inconsistencies. Last week’s game in Dallas was a perfect example. Jonathan Toews and company were lights-out in the first period, leading 3-0 after 20 minutes. They wound up losing 4-3 in a shootout, wasting a great opening frame.
I’m not saying this is a must-win for the ‘Hawks, but… ok, it’s a must-win. Minnesota is in their way by sitting three points ahead, trying to crack the top eight as well. Chicago has to win this game to get within two points of the 8th-seeded Calgary. Another loss (which would be their third straight at home) would keep the defending champs reeling.
The team will be be without Quenneville tonight as he was hospitalized Tuesday night; assistant Mike Haviland will act as coach.
On the other side of the coin, the Wild have probably made the least noise on a national scale out of all the playoff contenders. But Todd Richards’ crew keeps executing and accumulating points, especially on the road. Since Dec. 9, the Wild are 12-4-1 away from home – a remarkable record.
Minnesota has been getting steady contributions all-around, which is helping them stay in the conference race. One player that has caught my eye is Cal Clutterbuck. Known mostly for his hitting, Clutterbuck has already set a career-high in goals with 18. He also has four goals in his last three games.
Even though they are coming off a loss to Vancouver, I don’t see this as big of a must-win for the Wild. However, any points will be a plus in this one and would help keep pace with the red-hot Kings and Flames.
Records – MIN (30-21-5, 65 pts) … CHI (28-22-6, 62 pts)
Power Play – MIN (40/200, 20.0%, 7th) … CHI (48/196, 24.5%, 2nd)
Penalty Kill – MIN (171/206, 83.0%, 11th) … CHI (145/184, 78.8%, 26th)
Keys to the Game:
Minnesota… Fast start
How will they bounce back from a 4-1 loss from last night? A fast start would definitely help, and it could cause Chicago and the fans to start feeling the pressure.
Chicago… Solid Crawford
Corey Crawford has been better on the road than at home this season, but Haviland needs him to provide a lift tonight with key saves in key moments.
Minnesota… Marek Zidlicky (shoulder, out), Marco Scandella (concussion, out), Guillaume Latendresse (hip, out), Josh Harding and James Sheppard (knee, out)
Chicago… Patrick Kane and Jake Dowell (flu, questionable), Fernando Pisani (head, questionable), Ryan Johnson (upper body, out)
When these clubs met right before the All-Star break, the Wild staged a second period comeback and held on for a 4-2 victory. They usually play well at the United Center; but if that could have been their lone chance to get a ‘W’ in Chicago this year, and they capitalized.
You can expect a strong effort from the ‘Hawks tonight after three days of rest and with their coach in the hospital; if not, the doubts will continue to mount. Chicago has been up and down all year, but I think they pull together for this one and get the much-needed two points.
Prediction: Blackhawks 4, Wild 2
Photo credit: Getty Images
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