Patrick Kane

Winnipeg Jets v St Louis Blues

NHL on NBCSN: Blues, Blackhawks battle for positioning in Central


NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2014-15 campaign tonight as the St. Louis Blues host the Chicago Blackhawks at Scottrade Center with puck drop at 8 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game and pre-show online.

The Blackhawks and Blues conclude their season series tonight in St. Louis. Both teams have won two games in the series.

St. Louis used a 2-1 win over Chicago on Sunday to take over top spot in the Central Division. Jake Allen, who won that game for the Blues, gets the call again Thursday for his third straight start. Allen may have stolen the starting job from veteran Brian Elliott as the playoffs approach.

Chicago has two games remaining (including tonight) and can finish anywhere from the top seed in the Central to the first wild card spot in the Western Conference. The Blackhawks head to St. Louis looking to avoid a third straight loss.

Defenseman Kimmo Timonen is day-to-day with an upper body injury following a hit from Ryan Reaves on Sunday. Chicago is also without Brad Richards (upper body) for the remainder of the season. Patrick Kane (clavicle) is skating with the team, but has yet to be cleared for a return.

St. Louis can clinch home ice in the first round with a win tonight. A Blues victory coupled with a Predators regulation loss against the Wild would win St. Louis the Central Division on Thursday. The Blues are looking for their second Central Division crown in four seasons.

The Blues will be without Robert Bortuzzo (upper body) who was injured Sunday night in Chicago. Additionally, Alex Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko are expected to miss the contest due to lower body injuries.

St. Louis enters tonight’s action one point up on Nashville and three points ahead of Chicago.

Is everything OK with the Blackhawks?

Zach Parise, Corey Crawford

Maybe they just really miss Patrick Kane. He’s a pretty good player, right?

Still, something just doesn’t seem 100-percent right with the Chicago Blackhawks. And, frankly, it didn’t before Kane got hurt.

In 2015, starting with the Winter Classic loss in D.C., the ‘Hawks are a pedestrian 23-16-4. They’ve had a couple of four-game winning streaks during that stretch, but never really any sustained momentum. They’ve been shut out or held to one goal 13 times.

Analytics-wise, in those 43 games, their score-adjusted Fenwick ranks 14th in the NHL.

In their first 37, it ranked first.

Perhaps the ‘Hawks just got a little too comfortable after starting out so well in October, November, and December.

“They seemed the more desperate hockey team tonight,” forward Kris Versteeg said after last night’s 2-1 loss to Minnesota. “Those guys were really fighting for their lives over there.”

The ‘Hawks haven’t had to fight for their lives all season.

Whether it’s an overreaction or not, clearly a segment of the fan base is sensing trouble:

Look, nobody’s writing off a team with Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, and possibly Kane. At online sportsbook Bovada, only the Rangers (6/1) are more heavily favored than the ‘Hawks (8/1) to win the Stanley Cup.

Something seems off, though.

Related: Blackhawks’ decision-making was ‘tough to watch’ last night

Kane not ruled out for first round of the playoffs

Patrick Kane

Patrick Kane will miss his 19th game tonight when Chicago plays host to the Minnesota Wild, but a return to the lineup could be close.

Kane, who has been out of the Blackhawks lineup since Feb. 24 due to a fractured left clavicle, has been practicing and a return for the first round of the playoffs isn’t being ruled out.

“Medical clearance is the hurdle,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville told the Chicago Tribune on Sunday.

Kane was on pace for a career year with 27 goals and 64 points in 61 games prior to being sidelined.

Related: Kane urges patience, but ‘trying to heal as fast as I can’

NHL on NBCSN: ‘Hawks, Blues battle in tight Central Division race

David Backes, Jonathan Toews

NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2014-15 campaign tonight as the Chicago Blackhawks host the St. Louis Blues at the United Center, with coverage starting at 7:30 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game and pre-show online.

With just a week worth of games left, the battle for the Central Division title is fierce. Nashville leads the pack with 104 points in 79 contests while St. Louis and Chicago are just one and two points back respectively and have each participated in one less game than Nashville. So clearly the stakes will be high tonight and on Thursday when the Blue and Blackhawks battle (Thursday’s rematch will also air on NBCSN).

“It’s amazing,” Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “You play all these games and it always comes down to the last week or the last game. We’re both chasing Nashville. We’re both (trying) to finish in first place overall. We know (Sunday’s game is) a big one and we’re excited for it.”

“Twice in the next three games — huge games for us,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. “They’re four-point games with little time to make up ground. We know they’re meaningful (because) there’s still a lot to be sorted out.”

Even the winner of the Central Division will likely face a difficult first round opponent given that the Minnesota Wild – which are 26-7-3 during goaltender Devan Dubnyk’s run – and the defending champion Los Angeles Kings currently occupy the two Wild Card seeds. However, the Western Conference being that tight only adds to the importance of possessing Game 7 home-ice advantage as deep into the playoffs as possible.

It certainly has been a factor when Chicago has played St. Louis in recent years as the Blues haven’t won in regulation in the United Center over their last 13 regular season and three playoff contests. That’s not all St. Louis will have to overcome tonight as Vladimir Tarasenko and Alexander Steen are both dealing with lower-body injuries. Those are the Blues top two scorers, but their absence hasn’t stopped St. Louis from outscoring its adversaries 11-6 over its last two games.

Meanwhile Chicago, which is without Patrick Kane (clavicle), has won four straight contests. One of those winning streaks will end tonight and the fight for the Central Division will draw closer to its conclusion.

Zucker cleared for full practice, could return to Wild before end of season

Tampa Bay Lightning v Minnesota Wild

Minnesota could get a key lineup piece back before the playoffs.

Jason Zucker, who’s been out with a broken collarbone since early February, has been cleared to practice fully and could draw back in for some games prior to the end of the regular season, per the Star-Tribune.

If it happens, it’ll be a rather speedy recovery.

When news broke of Zucker’s injury on Feb. 10, he was expected to miss three months while recovering. But he was back on ice four weeks after sustaining the break and, should he play prior to the end of the regular season (Minnesota’s last game is on Apr. 11), Zucker will have been sidelined for just two months.

(Which bodes well for Patrick Kane’s return in Chicago. Just saying.)

Getting Zucker back would be key for the Wild. He was second to Zach Parise in goals at the time of his injury (18 to Parise’s 21) and was the team’s leading sniper at even strength. Wild head coach Mike Yeo praised Zucker’s maturation as a player this season, saying the 23-year-old’s progress “was so high this year.”