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.

Anisimov out six to eight weeks after undergoing ‘successful’ wrist surgery

Chicago Blackhawks' Artem Anisimov tries to handle a rebound from Montreal Canadiens goalie Mike Condon during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Artem Anisimov on Tuesday underwent successful surgery on his injured right wrist, the Chicago Blackhawks announced.

“We anticipate his return to full hockey activities in approximately six to eight weeks,” said team physician Dr. Michael Terry in a statement.

The news comes eight days after the Blackhawks were ousted in the first round, eliminated in seven games by the St. Louis Blues.

Acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets in last summer’s blockbuster deal for Brandon Saad, the 27-year-old Anisimov enjoyed the second 20-goal season of his career and fell just two points shy of his previous career best of 44 when he was with the New York Rangers.

He played the bulk of this season on a line with two highly skilled players in Patrick Kane, the league-leader in points with 106, and Artemi Panarin, named as a Calder Trophy finalist on Monday.

Prior to his surgery, Anisimov was named to Russia’s preliminary roster for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey, although the recovery schedule should allow plenty of time for Anisimov to be physically ready for the tournament when it begins in September.

Related: Three major challenges facing the Chicago Blackhawks, who won’t be champs in 2016

With Letang suspended, Schultz out to ‘prove a lot of people wrong’ if he gets the call in Game 4

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The Pittsburgh Penguins may hold a 2-1 series lead over the rival Washington Capitals, but they will be without defenseman Kris Letang for a pivotal Game 4 on Wednesday.

Perhaps for the Capitals, the absence of Letang — suspended one game for a high, late hit on Marcus Johansson in Game 3 — on the Penguins blue line can provide an opportunity to help swing the series back in their favor heading to Washington and home ice in Game 5.

“He’s the backbone of their defense,” Capitals blue liner Karl Alzner told CSN Mid-Atlantic.

“He goes back for pucks and gets them out of his zone with a pass or a flip. He transitions the puck and logs key minutes on their PP.”

In addition to seven points in eight games this post-season, which puts him into a tie for third among defensemen in the playoffs, Letang is also among the leaders in ice time, averaging 29:13 per game.

So yes, that’s a significant loss at this juncture of the series, even if for one game.

The Penguins were already without Olli Maatta for Game 3. He was injured on that late, high hit from Brooks Orpik. That forced Derrick Pouliot into the lineup for Pittsburgh. The 25-year-old Justin Schultz, who the Penguins acquired from Edmonton earlier this season, figures to be next in line for Pittsburgh with Letang out.

Schultz entered the league with plenty of hype surrounding him, billed as a dynamic offensive defenseman. But nothing seemed to pan out for him in Edmonton, there were growing concerns about his play in his own end, and his time there ended with a trade prior to the deadline.

This could mean added minutes, too, for Trevor Daley, who played 22:20 in Game 3.

Between Pouliot and Schultz, they have a combined two games worth of Stanley Cup playoff experience.

Video: Letang suspended one game for late hit with ‘significant head contact’ on Johansson

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The National Hockey League has suspended Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang one game for a high, late hit on Washington Capitals forward Marcus Johansson during Game 3.

The incident occurred late in the first period of Monday’s game, as Johansson had passed the puck off after entering the Pittsburgh zone. Letang was given a minor penalty for interference.

“After Johansson moves the puck, Letang delivers a high, forceful hit that makes significant head contact,” stated the league’s Department of Player Safety in a video.

“It is important to note that Johansson is not eligible to be checked on this play. Players who are not in possession of the puck are never eligible to be checked. However, the interference rule provides a brief window during which a player who initiates a hit while his opponent is in possession of the puck may legally finish a check. This is not such a case.”

The DoPS did state that Letang didn’t leave his feet making the hit, but that they leave the ice due to the “force of the hit.”

“This is also not an illegal check to the head,” it states in the video. “While there is significant head contact here, the head is not the main point of contact.”

Following the game, both Letang and Johansson broke down the hit for the media, but of course, both had totally different opinions of what occurred.

The Penguins lead the series 2-1 and have the opportunity to take a stranglehold with a win in Game 4 on Wednesday. Of course, without Letang, that task gets even more difficult.

Meanwhile, the bad blood between the rival Penguins and Capitals continues. This series has already run afoul of the DoPS, with the Orpik suspension and Tom Wilson receiving a fine for kneeing Conor Sheary.

Ruff ‘not telling’ who will start tonight for Stars

Dallas Stars goalie Antti Niemi (31) subs in for goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Dallas. The Stars won 6-5. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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Some intrigue in St. Louis, where Antti Niemi was the first Stars netminder off the ice this morning, only for Lindy Ruff to tell the media that tonight’s starter would be Kari Lehtonen.

Then, just to muddy the waters further, Ruff told reporters, “I’m not telling you who’s starting, so don’t ask.”

Typically, whichever goalie leaves the morning skate first is the starter.

But then, typically, a team doesn’t have a two-goalie system in the playoffs, so perhaps we should’t assume anything at this point. 

All we know for sure is that Lehtonen started the first two games of this series. He played well in Game 1, a 2-1 Stars victory, but got pulled in Game 2 after surrendering three goals on just five shots.

Niemi, meanwhile, was solid in relief in Game 2, allowing just one goal — David Backeswinner in overtime — on 20 shots. For that reason, many figured Ruff would turn to Niemi for Game 3, just like he turned to Niemi for Games 4 and 5 in the first round against Minnesota.

 

But, apparently, we’ll have to wait and see for sure.