NHL on NBCSN: Struggling Maple Leafs take on slumping Blackhawks

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Wednesday, as the Chicago Blackhawks host the Toronto Maple Leafs at 8:00 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here.

It’s been a strange year for the Blackhawks. We’ve been used to them being competitive year-in and year-out for the better part of a decade, but that hasn’t been the case this season. Heading into tonight’s game against the Leafs, the ‘Hawks find themselves seven points behind the Colorado Avalanche for the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference and 11 points behind the St. Louis Blues (Chicago has three games in hand) for third place in the Central Division.

If the ‘Hawks are going to make the playoffs, things will have to change in a hurry starting tonight. What complicates matters most is that they’ll have to do all this without starting netminder Corey Crawford, who has been out with vertigo-like symptoms. Last week, reports surfaced suggesting Crawford could be done for the year, but thankfully for Chicago, he was spotted working out this week.

This will be the final game of a six-game homestand (split up by a bye week) that hasn’t exactly gone according to plan for the Blackhawks. They’ve gone 1-4 in the first five games because of losses to the Wild, Red Wings, Islanders and Lightning.

As for the Maple Leafs, they’ve also struggled of late, but they’re still sitting in a playoff spot. Still, Toronto has to find a way to get back on track before this slide gets even more out of hand.

The Leafs have just one victory in their last six games. Their offense has dried up significantly over the last few weeks, as they’ve topped more than two goals in regulation/overtime just twice in 2018.

In attempt to get his team going, head coach Mike Babcock has brought out his line blender. Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov being split up. Kadri, who has just two points in his last 20 games, will be lining up with Mitch Marner, while Komarov moves to the fourth line. Also, Dominic Moore, who’s been a regular in the press box, will be in the lineup for Matt Martin.

“I’m trying to have more depth,” Babcock said, per the Toronto Sun. “I like Leo there (with Kadri) because he gives Naz a tightening about 10 times a game to keep him in line.

“We’ll see how it goes in Chicago. At home, (Kadri and Komarov) are going to play together anyway. I’m looking to have more balance and more attack, especially on the road, when I don’t have last change. We have to try some (different) things.”

Like Chicago, the Leafs have some tough injuries to overcome, as they’ll be without blue liner Morgan Rielly for the third straight game.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.