Since their loss to the Predators on March 14th at the United Center, the Blackhawks have all of a sudden achieved seven points in their last four games and have taken a three point lead over the Avalanche for second place in the Central Division. With the Blues’ loss earlier today in Philadelphia, the Blackhawks now have a chance to bring the deficit between them and St. Louis down to just two points for the division lead if they can win tomorrow night against Nashville and if the Blues lose in Pittsburgh. It wasn’t long ago that the Blues had a nine point edge and the Avs a one point edge over the Hawks, but things can change quickly in the NHL as we are currently witnessing.
For the Blackhawks to hold onto second place in the Central or take the division lead, they are going to need a lot of guys to step up. With Patrick Kane now sidelined for the remainder of the regular season, they need to fill his shoes by committee. In last night’s win over Carolina, Sharp (who had been in a major scoring slump) and Versteeg both stepped up to the plate and delivered with big goals to help lead the Hawks to a 3-2 win. Toews added the third and game-winning goal in typical Jonathan Toews fashion. The Blackhawks will need guys like Sharp, Versteeg, Shaw, Bickell, and Saad to pick up their game down the final stretch here to help make up for Kane’s absence from the lineup.
One positive that we can take away from Kane’s injury is the fact that it opened up a roster spot for Teuvo Teravainen, the number four prospect in the NHL who’s team in Finland was just eliminated from their playoffs last week. Teravainen was introduced to the media on Friday and is expected to see playing time within the next two games. How well he adapts to the NHL and ultimately how well he plays will determine whether or not he becomes an everyday starter for this team from here on out. The Blackhawks badly need a number two center, and Teuvo Teravainen appears to be that guy in the future. Can he be that guy right now is the real question, however. Only time will tell. If Teravainen does become an effective and dangerous player between now and the playoffs, then one would have to think the Blackhawks will make yet another strong push for the Stanley Cup, not that they couldn’t already.
The Hawks also signed Matt Carey who just finished up his first collegiate season of hockey at St. Lawrence University. Carey, 22, is a center who tied for his team lead in goals this season and is said to be a solid two-way player. He will most likely see action in a few games before the end of the regular season, but he won’t be on the playoff roster. It’s a similar situation to the one we saw with Drew LeBlanc last season at this same time.
Looking ahead, I am very anxious to see just how well Teravainen adapts to the NHL and whether or not he becomes a guy the Hawks can trust as their number two center. Staying focused and not letting the pressure from the media and fans get to him will be key for Teravainen.
As for the rest of the NHL, the Bruins seem to be the biggest story at the moment. They have been near the top of the Eastern Conference all season, but now they have won eleven straight games, are tied for the league lead in points with the Blues, and are the first team in the league to have clinched a playoff berth. They are on a serious role right now and appear poised to make another deep run in the playoffs. Their defense and goaltending are just about as good as you’ll find in the NHL, and everyone knows you can’t win a Cup without those two things.
Out west, the Sharks have overtaken the Ducks in the Pacific Division for the division lead. San Jose is 8-1-1 over their last ten games while Anaheim is a weak 4-4-2. I mentioned in a previous blog post that the Ducks have been susceptible to late season collapses over the past few years, and it appears they are headed in that same direction again unless they can turn things around in the next couple games.
The Metropolitan Division still seems to be the most crowded division point-wise. The second place team in that division (Philadelphia) and the fifth place team (Washington) are separated by just six points, with New Jersey sitting in sixth just four points behind the Capitals. It’ll be fun watching these teams to see who gets hot and makes their way into the postseason.
As I previously mentioned, the top of the Central Division is now a lot closer than it was even just three days ago. The Blues lead the Blackhawks by four points for the division lead at the moment, and if the Blues lose tomorrow afternoon and the Hawks win tomorrow night, that gap will be down to just two points. Colorado lost last night to Boston while the Blackhawks won, stretching Chicago’s lead to three points over the Avs for second place in the Central. It will be huge for the two-seed in this division to get home-ice during the first round of the playoffs. As a Chicago fan, I know that having home-ice in a series against the Blues will be even bigger.
The season is quickly coming to an end, yet only one team has clinched a playoff spot. We are in for another good finish.