Marian Hossa

Game of the Week preview: Blackhawks could finish anywhere from fifth to ninth place

Considering the fact that the final regular season NBC Game of the Week (at 12:30 pm ET) also comes on the final day of the 2010-11 campaign, there was a serious risk that this could have been a meaningless game. Instead, the Chicago Blackhawks host the Detroit Red Wings in a contest that could rearrange the lower half of the Western Conference’s playoff tree.

To put it in the simplest terms, the Blackhawks could finish as high as fifth place in the West with a regulation or overtime win against Detroit. That’s a pretty high ceiling for a team fighting for their playoff lives, but there’s also the very low floor. If Chicago loses in regulation and the Dallas Stars earn a regulation or overtime win, the Blackhawks won’t even make the playoffs.

There are, however, some in-betweens among those two extremes. The most important thing to remember is that a single point will clinch them a playoff spot (and the seventh seed), but if you want the full rundown of the scenarios, check the bottom of this post.

Beyond the minute details of how/where they can end up in the playoffs, the most important question is: how are they approaching this game? CSN Chicago’s Tracey Myers caught up with coach Joel Quenneville and the team, who realize that weeks of discussing must-win games boil down to a contest that really is the biggest of their turbulent 2010-11 season.

“Everything’s at stake for tomorrow’s game,” Joel Quenneville said after Saturday’s practice. “I don’t know how many times we’ve said that statement all year, but tomorrow it really is.”

If the Blackhawks want to get that one point – or two, which would actually be more to their liking – they’re going to have to bring the same dominant game they had in their 4-2 victory in Detroit on Friday night. The Blackhawks were stellar; as Brian Campbell said, they recognized the situation at hand.

Rinse and repeat.

“It’s the biggest game. (Friday) was the biggest before that, and the one before that. It’s been that way for a while,” Campbell said. “We’re still in the same situation. It’s probably going to be a playoff atmosphere so we’ll be ready to go.”

The defending Stanley Cup champions must wait until the absolute last day of the season to find out if they’ll even make the playoffs again. While their focus must have been centered on their own conference foes more than anything else on Saturday, there’s a good chance that the Blackhawks are also aware of the sorry fate of another former championship team: the Carolina Hurricanes.

Much like the Hurricanes, Chicago’s fate is in their own hands. Will they win that staring contest, or will they blink, allowing another team to decide their future? We’ll find out in the NBC Game of the Week.

Chicago’s possibilities beyond a regulation/overtime win or the worst case scenario:

A single point would earn the Blackhawks the seventh seed since the 98-point Los Angeles Kings don’t have as many non-shootout wins as Chicago.

There’s also a nail-biting scenario in which Chicago could stay in eighth place. They would “accomplish” this task by losing in regulation to Detroit while the Stars fail to win in regulation or overtime.

The final situation involves a shootout win for the Blackhawks. Chicago would end the season with the same amount of non-shootout wins as Phoenix and Nashville, but they hold tiebreaker advantages over both teams.* Ultimately, then, a shootout win would be just as valuable as a regulation or overtime win. The Blackhawks would earn the fifth seed in that situation.

(How did I get at that last point? Let’s just say it’s a complicated scenario, but Buddy Oakes at Preds On the Glass came up with the same conclusions.)

***

So, in the grand scheme of things, the Blackhawks can earn the fifth spot with a win and a playoff spot with an overtime or shootout loss. If they fail to earn a point, they are at the mercy of the Stars.

If you’re hoping for a playoff atmosphere in the last day of the season, look no further than Sunday’s game between the Red Wings and the Blackhawks.

Matthews to sit out preseason tilt versus Sabres, as Maple Leafs give him ‘a little break’

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Auston Matthews poses for a portrait after being selected first overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in round one during the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes/Getty Images)
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The Toronto Maple Leafs play the Buffalo Sabres on Friday. But No. 1 overall pick Auston Matthews won’t be in the lineup, according to multiple reports.

“Sooner or later, he’s going to get in, but not tonight,” said assistant coach Jim Hiller, as per the Toronto Sun.

“The lineups are day by day. They (World Cup players such as Matthews, Milan Michalek, Leo Komarov and James van Riemsdyk) went through a solid three weeks. It’s a little break, a little down time. There are tons of games coming. They’ll get a lot of ice time. They’ll get in shortly.”

(The report also notes that Matthews is not dealing with a health issue, which is obviously good news for the Leafs.)

On a night when the No. 2 overall selection Patrik Laine is slated to make his preseason debut for the Winnipeg Jets, fans wishing to see Matthews don a Maple Leafs jersey in his anticipated debut will have to wait.

Matthews played for Team North America at the World Cup held in Toronto. He had two goals and three points in three round robin games, but the young North American team was unable to advance to the semifinal round.

The Maple Leafs play the Montreal Canadiens at home on Sunday.

McLellan: Maroon’s lower-body injury not considered serious

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It appears Patrick Maroon‘s injury from Wednesday’s preseason game against the Vancouver Canucks looked worse than it is.

The Edmonton Oilers forward was in obvious pain immediately after he went hard into the boards from an awkward hit delivered by James Sheppard just past the midway point of the third period. Maroon needed help to the bench and was unable to put much, if any, pressure on his left leg.

He left the game and didn’t return.

Good news, however, from the Oilers: Head coach Todd McLellan told reporters on Friday that the injury — lower body — is not serious, as per the team’s Twitter account.

According to Mark Spector of Sportsnet, the 28-year-old Maroon is expected to be ready for Edmonton’s season opener against the rival Calgary Flames on Oct. 12.

The Oilers acquired Maroon at last season’s trade deadline, a move that certainly added size and an element of grit to their group of forwards.

In 16 games with Edmonton, he scored eight goals and 14 points. In 56 games with Anaheim that same season, he registered only 13 points before the trade.

Patrik Laine to make highly anticipated preseason debut for Jets

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Patrik Laine gives an interview after being selected second by the Winnepeg Jets during round one of the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jen Fuller/Getty Images)
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Anticipation has been building since the Winnipeg Jets officially took Patrik Laine with the second overall pick in this year’s NHL Draft.

On Friday, Laine, the highly coveted Finnish forward, will make his preseason debut for the Jets when they play the Edmonton Oilers in Winnipeg, as the home fans get the chance to take in the occasion.

The Jets have done a nice job of amassing good young forwards in their organization. Laine, who has the gifts to be a prolific scorer in the NHL, is at the top of that prospect list.

Winnipeg’s roster tonight also includes forward prospects Kyle Connor, Nic Petan and Brandon Tanev, not to mention more NHL experienced forwards like Alex Burmistrov, Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele.

Laine enters this season with high expectations placed on him from fans and media, after coming to the NHL following a standout career in Finland as a teenager. He’s aware of the expectations, but toned down the hype with the usual statements of just playing his game.

“Just be brave on the ice and show everybody I will earn my spot on the team,” he told reporters.

Laine has already seen game action this month. Not with the Jets, but with Finland’s entry at the World Cup of Hockey.

Following offseason knee surgery, Laine wasn’t happy with his performance in Finland’s first pre-tournament game. In three tournament games, Laine failed to register a point, despite a team-best 10 shots on goal, as Finland was quickly eliminated in the round robin.

Related:

Looking to make the leap: Patrik Laine

Murray: Ristolainen’s good-faith gesture unlikely to sway talks with Sabres

BUFFALO, NY - JANUARY 22: Rasmus Ristolainen #55 of the Buffalo Sabres makes a pass during the game against the Detroit Red Wings on January 22, 2016 at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Tom Brenner/Getty Images)
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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Buffalo Sabres general manager Tim Murray tells The Associated Press he doesn’t believe defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen‘s decision to join the team for practice without a contract will have any effect on thawing negotiations.

With a big laugh, Murray on Friday said the only way Ristolainen could speed up contract talks is if “he got all lovey-dovey” and elected to take the Sabres’ latest offer.

Ristolainen is a restricted free agent whose rights were retained by the Sabres in June. After representing Finland in the World Cup of Hockey, Ristolainen reported to the Sabres on Thursday in what was regarded as a sign of good faith.

Though he’s not allowed to play because he’s not under contract, Ristolainen is practicing with the team and also taking part in meetings. Ristolainen is not making himself available to reporters.

Murray says he didn’t see anything wrong with allowing Ristolainen to practice, saying he’d rather the player be in Buffalo than working out elsewhere.

Murray says the two sides are still negotiating.

In three seasons, Buffalo’s 2013 first-round draft pick has established himself as the Sabres’ top defenseman. Last year, Ristolainen led the team in averaging more than 25 minutes of ice time per game, and led Buffalo defensemen with 41 points (nine goals, 32 assists).