Taking a look at a challenging, Detroit-filled final eight games for the Chicago Blackhawks

In 2009, the Detroit Red Wings punted the young but talented Chicago Blackhawks out of the playoffs in an exciting playoff series. This time around, they might not need to wait until the postseason to spoil the fun for their historic rivals.

As Tracey Myers points out, the Blackhawks begin a must-win stretch run against their hated division foes tonight (at 7:30 pm ET on Versus). If that wasn’t enough, Chicago faces Detroit in a home-and-home series during their last two games of the 2010-11 season, a duo of contests that might end up determining their playoff fate.

That isn’t the only thing that’s challenging about Chicago’s final eight games. Let’s take a look at their final eight games, with some commentary.

Tonight: @ Detroit

Thoughts: The bright side is that they’ll face a lesser goalie in Joey MacDonald. The negative end, though, is that Johan Franzen will be back in action.

Tomorrow (March 29th): @ Boston

Thoughts: In the span of two days, Chicago will travel to two division leaders. That’s a tough combo, especially since the Bruins will beat up on them after the Red Wings will likely wear them down a bit with their puck possession style.

Friday, April 1st: @ Columbus

Thoughts: There’s good news and bad news with this one. On the bright side, they get a breather after Tuesday’s game against Boston and face a beatable team in the Blue Jackets. The negative is that it’s yet another road game.

Sunday, April 3rd: Home vs. Tampa Bay

Thoughts: The Lightning have been struggling lately and the Blackhawks get to play this game at home. This isn’t a cakewalk, but Chicago has a solid chance of winning this game.

Tuesday, April 5th: @ Montreal

Thoughts: With four of their next five games on the road – and four games against playoff teams in that period – it’s going to be a tough run for the Hawks. The Habs have been a bit shaky lately too, but getting two points from a game in Montreal is never a sure thing.

Wednesday, April 6th: Home vs. St. Louis

Thoughts: Another back-to-back at least partially damages the perks of getting this game at home, but perhaps the Blues will acknowledge tank mode in this one.

Friday, April 8th: @ Detroit

Thoughts: This is the first half of a home-and-home with the Red Wings …

Sunday, April 10th: Home vs. Detroit

Thoughts: … Which the Blackhawks hope won’t mean much for Detroit. An ideal scenario would be that the Red Wings already are firmly in their second or third seed, so maybe they decide to rest their veterans a bit. That might not be likely, though, since the team would surely prefer it if Chicago wasn’t a nuisance for them in the postseason.

***

Ultimately, the Blackhawks’ fate is in their own hands. With the Calgary Flames hurting from a games remaining standpoint, it’s probably going to be a three-horse race between Chicago, the Anaheim Ducks and Dallas Stars for the final two playoff spots. (I’m not saying the Flames are finished, just their odds are the slimmest.)

The Ducks and Stars play against each once and square off against Pacific Division opponents for the rest of the run, which might or might not be a good thing for the Blackhawks (depending on how many three-point games take place). The bottom line is that Chicago’s best course of action is to take the bull by the horns rather than hope that Anaheim or Dallas stumbles.

It won’t be easy, though, and it looks like Chicago’s road to the playoffs will go through Detroit. Part I of what could be a suspenseful, horror-tinged trilogy begins in about 30 minutes.

NHL suspends Tom Wilson two preseason games for interference

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Capitals forward Tom Wilson has been suspended for two preseason games for interference, after his late hit on St. Louis Blues forward Robert Thomas during Friday’s exhibition game.

The incident occurred early in the third period, as Wilson caught Thomas with a heavy and late hit along the boards at the Blues bench.

“Over a full second after Thomas loses control of the puck, well past the point where Thomas is eligible to be checked, Wilson comes in from the side and delivers a forceful body check, knocking Thomas to the ice,” stated a member of the NHL Department of Player Safety in a video explanation of the suspension.

“In addition to the lateness of the hit, what elevates this hit to the level of supplemental discipline is the predatory nature and force of the hit. Wilson tracks Thomas for some time and alters his course to ensure he is able to finish his hit. Then, with the puck long gone from Thomas’ control, Wilson finishes the check with force.”

The Capitals continue their preseason schedule Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes. They also play the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday.

Letang set to return to Penguins lineup vs. Blues on Sunday

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For the first time since February, Kris Letang is expected to be in the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup when they face the St. Louis Blues on Sunday.

Letang hasn’t played since Feb. 21. He underwent neck surgery in April and missed the entire Stanley Cup playoffs as a result. Despite the absence of their best defenseman, which is a huge loss in Letang, the Penguins were able to overcome that and emerge as champions over Nashville.

According to Pens Inside Scoop on Saturday, head coach Mike Sullivan said Letang will play in Sunday’s Kraft Hockeyville game between the Penguins and St. Louis Blues.

That wasn’t the only Letang news Saturday:

Getting Letang back into the lineup will provide a huge boost to an already strong Penguins team, with his ability to log heavy minutes and act as a catalyst in Pittsburgh’s offensive attack.

“I want to be the same player I was before. I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t be able to do that,” said Letang. “Hopefully everything goes well and I go back to the old way, playing over 25 minutes and in all situations.”

But what is most critical is having Letang healthy, and Sullivan this offseason has stressed to the star defenseman to recognize situations when he should make a simple play rather than risk taking an unnecessary hit.

“When people try to dissect all of that, they make assumptions that they understand, but they don’t,” Letang told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“Mike and I have a clear understanding of what he wants me to do. I think I’m tired of hearing people around it because I had a talk with Mike and Jim. It’s just a way of avoiding those unnecessary hits. It’s not going to be reducing ice time or anything like that. It’s taking a different approach on certain plays.”

Related: Letang isn’t interested in getting less ice time now that he’s healthy

Canucks’ Horvat out a week with upper-body injury

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The Canucks will resume their preseason schedule on Thursday, although it appears right now that Bo Horvat will likely not be in the lineup.

Just prior to puck drop against the L.A. Kings on Saturday, the Canucks announced that Horvat is expected to be out a week with an upper-body injury.

Per Dan Murphy of Sportsnet, the injury occurred on a hit from Drew Doughty during the first game of the two-game exhibition series between the Canucks and Kings in China.

The good news for the Canucks is that their regular season schedule begins on Oct. 7, which would give Horvat two weeks to get fully healthy and ready for the opener against Connor McDavid and the Oilers.

The 22-year-old Horvat enjoyed a 20-goal, 52-point season in 2016-17, emerging as the team’s leading scorer and one of the few bright spots during another disappointing season for the Canucks. As a result, he signed a six-year, $33 million contract extension earlier this month.

Related: Horvat believes he is ‘just scratching the surface’

Report: NHL has already made adjustment on slashing, faceoff calls

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The NHL preseason began with the league trying to crackdown on slashing and faceoff violations.

The early results were a lot of confusion, a ton of penalties, and a lot of griping from players, former referees and media about the confusion and the number of penalties.

Former NHL referee Paul Stewart griped on Twitter that it was taking away from the officials ability to call a game by feel and hockey sense. The Winnipeg Jets brought in retired referee Paul Devorski to work with their players in an effort to help them gain an understanding of what the league was looking for and to cut down on penalties.

It was obvious that something was going to have to give.

Either the players would have to adjust to the new standard implemented by the league, or the league would make its own adjustment and scale things back a bit.

In most matters like this in the NHL, it usually tends to be the latter.

That also seems to be the case here as Sportsnet’s John Shannon Tweeted on Saturday morning that the league has already sent a note to its officials to “dial it back” a bit when it comes slashing and faceoff violation calls.

Well, that was fast.

The enforcement of the faceoff rule seemed like a minor thing that really wasn’t going to make much of a difference, but the emphasis on slashing is one that needs to be kept (and extended to interference, holding, hooking or any other sort of obstruction), especially given the way some of the league’s star players are defended where slashing down on their hands or stick seems to be the preferred way of playing them. Not only from a player safety standpoint to help reduce injuries (getting hit with a stick can break bones … or fingers) but because the drop in power plays over the past decade (the “let them play” mindset) has been one of the many factors in the continued decline in goal scoring across the league.

If the NHL is serious about changing this stuff the onus needs to be on the players to adjust, not the officials. Set the standard. Call it consistently. The players will figure out what they can and can not do.

Anything less than that basically just amounts to the league saying, “hey guys, we would really like you to cut down on the slashes” and hoping that the players listen. But as long as they can get away with it, they will not listen.