Who: Chicago Blackhawks (14-3-4)
When: Tonight, 9:00PM EST/7:00PM MDT
Your Starting Goalies: COL – Semyon Varlamov (9-5-0), CHI – Corey Crawford (13-3-3)
The Dangermen: Like the Blues, the Blackhawks are a very deep and very dangerous team. Oh, and they happen to be the defending Stanley Cup champions.
The usual suspects litter the top of the scoring charts for the Blackhawks – Patrick Kane leads in both goals (11) and points (21) while also riding a seven-game point streak, with Patrick Sharp right behind him (20 points). Captain Serious, Jonathan Toews, is right behind them with 19 points.
Marian Hossa, 9 goals and 15 points in 19 games, should be back in the lineup tonight, adding yet another weapon to the Blackhawk lineup. Rookie center Brandon Pirri is riding a four-game point streak and everyone is clicking right now as the Blackhawks are 8-1-1 in their last ten and coming off a 5-1 win over the San Jose Sharks.
The Hawks can hurt you with just about any line and if the Avalanche continue to take penalties and put themselves at a disadvantage, this will get ugly in a hurry. The Blackhawks will likely get theirs, it’s just a matter of how many.
The Defenders: The Blackhawks possess one of the best defensive groups in the league and have one of the best defensemen in the game in Duncan Keith. The former Norris Trophy winner leads the defensemen with 15 points in 21 games and continues to be the driving force on the back end. He’s smart, he’s smooth and he adds another offensive presence while also being pretty good at defending his own zone.
Brent Seabrook is also having himself a pretty good year with a dozen points so far. He’s much bigger than Keith but likely to log similar monstrous minutes. Underrated but just as important to the Blackhawks.
Nick Leddy, Johnny Oduya, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Michael Rozsival give Chicago plenty of puck movement, strong defensive play and strong skating to aid their transition game and move pucks quickly out of the zone.
These guys are the Cup champions for a reason and one of the big reasons is the play of the defense.
Puck Stoppers Inc.: Corey Crawford is the man for Chicago now and forever. He’s never been a guy who is going to dominate from bell to bell, but he’s good enough to backstop a stacked team. At 13-3-3 with a 2.42 GAA and .910 save percentage, he’s doing just that.
What the Blackhawks really care about is his postseason play these days and, after last year’s run, they know they have their guy. He’ll remain the solid presence in net but is beatable if you can get to him quickly.
How the Avs match up: Very simply put: this is a statement game for the Avalanche. The odds are against them with the losing streak surrounding them and Alex Tanguay, Ryan Wilson and Matt Duchene out due to injury.
On paper, this should be the Blackhawks all the way. They are deeper, they have a far stronger defense and they’ve got a proven track-record that they are a dangerous team. The Avalanche will have little room for error and will need to not only be aggressive on the forecheck and smart with their defensive zone passes, but they need to STAY OUT OF THE DAMN BOX. This is one of those teams that you just don’t give extra chances to.
Defensively, there needs to be heads up play. No watching the puck and losing your man, quick passes to get out of the zone and clear it if you have doubt you can make the play. As I’ve said a thousand times already: this team is too good for the Avalanche to make mistakes and survive.
Key Matchup: Avs vs adversity
Cower in fear if: The Avs don’t STAY OUT OF THE DAMN BOX. Seriously, this power play is not to be trifled with.
Patrick Kane does Patrick Kane things that don’t involve being drunk.
Crawford looks bored.
Laugh maniacally if: The Avs get on the board quickly and get the Blackhawks scrambling.
Superhuman Varly shows his face again.
Gabe Landeskog “LIKE A BOSS”es someone.
Silly predictions: MacKinnon, with an increased role in the absence of Duchene, looks very much like a rookie against an elite team; Varly turns aside 35+ shots; Kane and Toews both pick up points; the Avalanche don’t give up a power play goal.
Final: 3-1 Blackhawks
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