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.
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.”
Video: Kane urges patience, but ‘trying to heal as fast as I can’
Clearly, Kane was trying to temper any expectations that he could beat the 12-week timeline that was originally set for his return from a broken clavicle.
“You wish you could be out there tomorrow with the guys, and start playing right away,” Kane said. “But it’s not realistic. It’s not possible. You’ll drive yourself crazy if you start thinking of certain dates when you can come back. The only thing I can really control is trying to heal as fast as I can, trying to get myself in the best shape as possible. And if it’s seven weeks, great. If it’s five weeks, great. If it’s six weeks, great. Who knows what it’s going to be in the end? I think the timetable’s still at the 12-week mark.”