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.

Canada beats US 3-1 in women’s hockey Olympic tuneup

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Haley Irwin and Sarah Nurse scored in the second period, sending Canada to a 3-1 victory over the United States on Friday night in the latest Olympic tuneup between the world’s top powers in women’s hockey.

Marie-Philip Poulin also scored for Canada, and Ann-Renee Desbiens made 25 saves.

Brianna Decker opened the scoring for the U.S. with a power-play goal early in the second. Alex Rigsby stopped 33 shots in defeat.

Poulin made it 3-1 with her goal 55 seconds into the third.

It was the fifth of six meetings between the rivals as they prepare for the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea. They play again Sunday night in Edmonton, Alberta.

Canada has won four of the five recent matchups, after the Americans took the series opener Oct. 22 in Quebec City.

”We just have to be better in the red zones – that’s the difference between winning and losing,” United States coach Robb Stauber said. ”We’ll give some focus and energy to some things we think we can do better, and we’re going to go into Edmonton and see what that end result looks like.”

The last four Olympic gold medals in women’s hockey have gone to Canada, but the U.S. has won seven of the past eight world championships.

The Buzzer: Eichel hat trick, Schneider robbery, Gaborik’s 1,000th game

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Players of the Night: 

Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres: Eichel ended a four-game goal-less drought with some authority on Friday. After scoring in the first period, Eichel watched as his Sabres blew a 2-1 lead to trail 4-2 with 10 minutes to go. Eichel then turned on overdrive, scoring twice in 10 seconds to tie the game and force overtime. Sadly, his efforts were in vain as the Carolina Hurricanes got the winner 2:15 into the extra frame. It’s Eichel’s first career NHL hat trick.

Brian Boyle, New Jersey Devils: What an inspirational story Boyle has been this year. On Friday, Boyle scored twice, including the game winner, to bring his goal total to eight on the season. His second of the night was also his 100th of his career.

Highlights of the Night:

Eichel showed a good bit of patience on his hat trick goal:

Cory Schneider committed robbery on this save:

Sam Gagner scored on a pretty backhand deke to give the Vancouver Canucks the win in overtime, ending a four-game losing streak:

Factoid of the Night: 

MISC: 

Scores: 

Hurricanes 5, Sabres 4 (OT)

Devils 5, Stars 2

Rangers 4, Kings 2

Red Wings 3, Maple Leafs 1

Canucks 4, Sharks 3 (OT)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Melnyk threatens to move Senators if ‘disaster strikes’

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If you’re looking for someone to spoil an upcoming function, you may want to give Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk a call.

On the eve of the Senators’ outdoor game against the Montreal Canadiens at Lansdowne Park in Ottawa, and on the night when Ottawa’s greats from yesteryear took the ice with Parliament Hill as a backdrop, Melnyk did his best to steal the spotlight from the NHL 100 Classic on Saturday.

Speaking to reporters, Melnyk threatened to pull the plug in Ottawa and relocate the team if disaster struck.

“If it becomes a disaster, yes,” Melnyk said. “If you start not seeing crowds showing up, yes. But, for now, we are on the cusp of doing OK.”

The doom and gloom continued, with Melnyk suggesting he isn’t going to waste a “lifetime of working hard” to support the Senators.

“It’s not going to happen,” he said. “The bigger question is whether I’m prepared to blow all that money I made over many years in a different industry in a different country. How long can you underwrite a team?”

Melnyk reiterated that he’s not looking to sell the team, a statement he made earlier this week in the Ottawa Sun, and used McDonald’s as an example on Friday. 

“It won’t. It just won’t happen,” he said. “It’s a franchise. Imagine if you own a McDonald’s franchise, but you can move it. But why would you sell it? It’s something that’s very difficult to buy.

We’re doing OK here. Not great, but we’re doing OK. It’s just too much fun. What else do you do? I’m a Canadian. I’m a hockey fan, fanatically a hockey fan, and I couldn’t think of anything better to do.”

Melnyk said the Senators have “cut everything to the bone,” saying the Senators have one of the thinnest management groups in the league.

“We want to keep and maintain great players,” he said. “You can’t keep spending at the top end and getting the lowest revenues. It doesn’t work.”

According to CapFriendly, the Senators are at just over $73 million in projected cap space.

Melnyk called the Senators disaster on the ice this season a “crappy streak” that every team goes through.

“We have way too much talent with this team not to perform,” he said.

When asked if his comments on Friday could take away from the luster of the event taking place in Canada’s capital this weekend, Melnyk said no.

“It keeps the newspapers selling and the radio people listening,” he said.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Marian Gaborik plays game No. 1,000 on Friday

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Marian Gaborik has already hit two milestones that end in double zeroes this season.

On Friday night, and at the world’s most famous arena, he hit his first that ends in three.

Gaborik took to the ice at Madison Sqaure Garden in his 1,000th NHL game as the Los Angeles Kings took on the New York Rangers.

It’s not a bad backdrop for the veteran of 19 NHL seasons.

Gaborik played 255 games with the Blueshirts between 2009 and 2013, hitting the 40-goal plateau twice and recording his career-best season in 2009-10, scoring 42 goals and adding 44 helpers for 86 points in 76 games played.

Gaborik has only played 11 games this season after starting the year on the shelf with a knee injury. Gaborik only returned to the lineup on Nov. 24, but he set two milestones in his return, hitting 400 career NHL goals and 800 career NHL points earlier this month.

Coming into Friday’s game, his stat line read 800 points in 999 NHL games.

As Sportsnet’s Mike Johnston points out, perfect symmetry could be achieved if Gaborik finishes with a plus-one in the plus-minus column in the game and he is held without a point.

I’m sure he’d rather have a new puck to add to his mantle… but think of the stats, Marian.

UPDATE: He didn’t think of the stats. 


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck