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The Chicago Blackhawks were nearly unstoppable in the regular season. They got off to a 21-0-3 start and never lost more than two games in a row.
For most of the campaign they seemed destined to win the Presidents’ Trophy — but as we’ve seen time and time again, regular season success does not always translate into playoff victories.
Chicago entered the postseason with some significant of question marks. Could goaltender Corey Crawford, as good as he was in the 2013 campaign, step up when his team needed him the most? How would a squad that faced little in the way of adversity this year deal with it in the playoffs? Were they truly ready to battle for the Stanley Cup after back-to-back first-round exits following their salary cap mandated exodus in 2010?
After cruising past the Minnesota Wild in the first round, the Blackhawks found themselves down 3-1 in their second-round series against the Detroit Red Wings.
Chicago managed to fight back, in part because of the lineup adjustments they made, but also because Crawford performed well under pressure. He limited the Red Wings to five goals over three consecutive win-or-go-home games. Overall, the 28-year-old netminder has a 1.74 GAA and .935 save percentage in the playoffs.
Chicago’s depth players have also stepped up. When the Blackhawks were forced to shed salary in 2010, they lost a lot of key role players. However, forwards Andrew Shaw, Bryan Bickell, Michal Handzus, and Michael Frolik have all made important contributions during the 2013 playoffs just as guys like Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg, Dustin Byfuglien, and Tomas Kopecky helped make the 2010 Blackhawks Cup winners.
Now all that stands between Chicago and its goal are the Boston Bruins. Beating the Bruins would be no small accomplishment, but regardless of what happens, the Blackhawks have already proven a lot this year.
By just about any measure, Monday’s been lousy to Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.
He was pulled with a few minutes remaining in the first period after Chicago Blackhawks built a 3-1 lead, scoring those three goals on just eight shots on net.
You could summarize Vasilevskiy’s awful start by those numbers, or by how rare the 3-1 goal was for the scorer.
Tomas Jurco failed to score a goal or an assist in 16 games with the Red Wings, then went pointless in nine more games with Chicago before finally scoring his first goal of the season on Monday.
Now, Jon Cooper didn’t pull Vasilevskiy because Jurco scored that tally. Still, it rubs a little extra salt in his wounds all things considered.
Here’s the Jurco goal:
Patrick Kane‘s 2-1 goal might have hurt the most, actually, as it quickly dissolved a tying tally by Ondrej Palat:
Update: The Lightning decided to put Vasilevskiy back in net to begin the second period. Interesting.
The bad news is that Artem Anisimov seems likely to miss all – or at least most – of the regular season for the Chicago Blackhawks with his lower-body injury.
The good? Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville believes that Anisimov will be ready once the playoffs swing into motion, as the Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus reports.
Anisimov was hurt when he got tangled up with Canadiens forward Alex Radulov on March 14:
The Blackhawks have been filling Anisimov’s typical spot alongside Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin with Ryan Hartman and Nick Schmaltz lately. There have been flashes of brilliance with Schmaltz, but Chicago would probably feel most confident with Anisimov back in his familiar place.
Chicago’s Central lead is pretty secure over the Minnesota Wild at the moment, which likely reduces motivation to rush Anisimov back before he’s truly ready. The Blackhawks close out their regular season on April 8, so there’s still time for him to heal up.
The Anaheim Ducks are flying high – er, waddling with some swagger? – right now thanks to Jonathan Bernier‘s somewhat shocking turnaround, but the pending return of John Gibson is promising.
(Especially since the Ducks will likely want him to shake off some rust before the playoffs begin.)
While it’s not clear if he’s exactly 100 percent healthy just yet, the Ducks sending Jhonas Enroth back to the AHL is a strong sign that Gibson is close.
Enroth actually never got a shot to start for the Ducks, as his last NHL appearance came on Nov. 30, closing off his ill-fated run with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Considering that Enroth was once a fairly hot commodity as at least a promising backup, it will be interesting to see how his 2017-18 season pans out. Will he get more or less of a chance than he received this season?
Bernier, meanwhile, is richly rewarding the Ducks for sticking with him.
He’s provided them with a Vezina-caliber March: 9-1-1, 1.71 GAA and .943 save percentage with one shutout. You almost wonder if there’s at least some potential for a goalie controversy if Gibson stumbles whenever he gets back into action … but hey, having two good goalies to choose from is better than none.
(Which was the scenario that must have scared the Ducks when Gibson got hurt in the first place.)
The Tampa Bay Lightning almost certainly haven’t faced the Chicago Blackhawks in a game this important since the two teams were vying for a Stanley Cup.
While the Blackhawks have already punched their ticket to the postseason and are merely trying to pad their lead in the Central Division, the Bolts are fighting for their playoff lives. At the moment, they rank three points behind the Boston Bruins for the final spot in the East. With a game in hand, they can make up a lot of ground tonight.
With all of that in mind, it should be an entertaining contest. You can check it out on NBCSN, watch online or via the NBC Sports App.
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