Are Blackhawks for real? Big tests await after Red Wings

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings. Pre-game coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Heading into this weekend, and heading into March, the Blackhawks find themselves in an unexpected place: playoff position. By Sunday’s game against the Red Wings, the Blackhawks will have faced Detroit six times already this season.

The Blackhawks need to load up against the Red Wings, because for those asking if Chicago’s actually for real … well, the real tests are about to begin.

Let’s dig into the Blackhawks’ recent hot streak, and the challenging March schedule that should tell us if this team is for real (sorry, Red Wings).

What’s behind the Blackhawks’ hot streak

Heading into the weekend, the Blackhawks are red-hot thanks to mix of the expected and the unexpected.

Expected: Patrick Kane‘s leading the way, scoring-wise.

Unexpected: Instead of being a huge weakness, the Blackhawks’ goalies have been a resounding strength. Kevin Lankinen being the primary goalie behind that run adds a bonus unexpected. (Though it’s worth noting that Malcolm Subban‘s been heating up lately.)

Expected, at least if someone told you Chicago was off to a hot start: The Blackhawks’ power play has been deadly.

Unexpected: They’re not enjoying outrageously good shooting luck at even-strength. Instead, they’ve been more respectable when it comes to winning the chances for vs. against (high-danger and otherwise) battles than expected. At least so far.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

To the Blackhawks’ credit, they’re not getting too ahead of themselves. In a piece for The Athletic about the Blackhawks gaining some hope back on Feb. 18 (sub required), Mark Lazerus notes how the team and its coach emphasized how they were building something. This is a work in progress.

“We’ve got to continue to have that mindset that we’re going to improve as the year goes on,” Jeremy Colliton said. “We’re not a finished product, we’re not going to be a finished product. That’s how we’re going to get results. We believe we’re on our way to being an excellent team. But it’s not just going to happen. We’ve got to make it happen with our mentality and our work ethic.”

Keeping at it so far is promising. Staying positive through looming bumps in the road won’t be quite as easy, however.

March schedule poses big challenges for Chicago

Yes, this probably comes across as raining on parades. But, in a year with such unusual scheduling, teams can often give you the wrong impression.

Again, after Sunday, the Blackhawks will have faced the rebuilding Red Wings six times. Lately, the Blackhawks have loaded up on a steady diet of those Red Wings, and also the wayward Columbus Blue Jackets.

If the schedule holds, the Blackhawks begin March with a stretch of three games in four days (March 4-7) against the Tampa Bay Lightning. In case you forgot, the Lightning crushed the Blackhawks by a combined score of 10-3 in Chicago’s first two games of the season.

That’s not the extent of Chicago’s games against the defending champs in March, either, as they’ll also take on Tampa Bay on March 18 and 20.

The Lightning are the type of team to really expose a team like Chicago: one that seemingly has been grinding out tight wins against shaky opponents.

In addition to those tests against the Lightning, there are four potential barometer games against the also-better-than-expected Florida Panthers. (At least in that case, it could be a test of both teams, as the Panthers still have something to prove.)

[2020-21 NHL on NBC TV SCHEDULE]

All things considered, the Blackhawks might cross their fingers that the Stars and Predators don’t have their games in order in March, as Chicago may be gasping for a break with that schedule.

Look, there’s no shame in taking advantage of lesser opponents. College football programs pave the way to mid-tier bowl appearances with that very practice.

The point is just that, while we only know so much about any NHL team this early in the season, it’s especially true with a team that’s generally faced lighter opposition, like the Blackhawks.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Bruins set NHL record with 12 straight home wins to start season

    Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
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    BOSTON — The Boston Bruins set the NHL record for most home victories to start a season with their 12th straight, topping the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 in overtime with a power-play goal from David Pastrnak.

    The Bruins broke the mark of 11 that was set by the 1963-64 Chicago Blackhawks and equaled by the Florida Panthers last season.

    “That felt awesome,” Bruins first-year coach Jim Montgomery said. “We talked about it after the second (period) going into the third. There’s been a lot of great teams in this league and you’re able to set a precedent, break a record. It’s pretty special and it doesn’t happen if those guys don’t believe in themselves like they do.”

    Boston, which trailed 2-0 late in the second period, tied it with 9:33 left in regulation when David Krejci scored his second of the game on a shot from the right point.

    “It’s never fun being down going into the third, you’re sitting in here (in the locker room) trying to figure it out,” Krejci said. “You want to come out and do the job, something special on the line. It’s hard to win in this league. To get 12 in a row at home is pretty special.”

    In overtime, Carolina was playing shorthanded after being called for too many men on the ice when Pastrnak one-timed a pass from Brad Marchand inside the far post from above the left circle.

    “It was a big win for us, obviously, coming from behind,” Pastrnak said.

    Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Stefan Noesen each scored a power-play goal for Carolina, and Pyotr Kochetkov made 38 saves. The Hurricanes lost their fifth straight.

    In a rematch of last spring’s opening-round playoff series that the Hurricanes won in seven games, Carolina shutout the NHL’s highest scoring team for nearly two periods and jumped ahead a pair of power-play goals in the opening period.

    “We took too many penalties. That’s hurting us right now,” Kotaniemi said. “I think 5-on-5 we’re doing a really good job. We started good tonight and couldn’t keep that up.”

    Boston’s tying goal was originally disallowed because of goaltender interference on Nick Foligno but overturned on a coach’s challenge after it was ruled that he was nudged into the crease by Carolina defenseman Brett Pesce.

    Boston starting goaltender Linus Ullmark made 28 saves but had to leave with 13:03 left in the third period with an undisclosed upper-body injury. Teammate Connor Clifton had jumped on him to block a shot during a scramble. Jeremy Swayman made six stops in relief.

    Carolina’s Noesen scored at 6:34 in to make it 1-0. And with five minutes left in the period, Kotkaniemi collected the puck near the side of the net after Seth Jarvis‘ shot bounced off the back glass and slipped it inside the post at 15:05.

    Krejci scored for Boston with 31 seconds left in the second.

    Boston came in with a league-high 82 goals in 20 games (4.10 per game), but it was held to relatively few chances despite getting a 5-on-3 power-play advantage early on.

    TAKE NOTE

    The Bruins honored captain Patrice Bergeron, who recorded his 1,000th career point when the team was on the road against Tampa Bay, with a message on the Jumbotron. The crowd gave him a standing ovation.

    Bergeron became just the fourth Bruin to reach the mark, joining Hall of Famers Ray Bourque (1,506), Johnny Bucyk (1,339) and Phil Esposito (1,012).

    UP NEXT

    Hurricanes: Host the Calgary Flames.

    Bruins: Host the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    Predators postpone 2 games due to Nashville water main break

    Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
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    NASHVILLE, Tenn. —  The Nashville Predators postponed two home games because of a water main break that soaked their downtown arena.

    Hours after the Predators decided they couldn’t play against the Colorado Avalanche, the team announced it also postponed the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Makeup dates for the two games will be announced later.

    The NHL said the water main break that occurred “significantly impacted the event level” of Bridgestone Arena. Team locker rooms and the ice surface are on the event level.

    Predators President and CEO Sean Henry told reporters that the water in the event level ranged from 3 inches to 3 feet.

    “We’re assessing it right now. We’re remediating it,” Henry said. “The good thing is, the water got shut off, the city responded in a pretty fast manner. I don’t think anyone is ready for things like this the Friday after Thanksgiving.”

    Video posted by a WTVF-TV reporter shows the water puddled up on the main floor’s concourse area and the team store. The team was forced to close the store until further notice, pointing shoppers online for Black Friday specials.

    The Predators’ next home game is now scheduled for Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks.

    The water issue also resulted in a switch to a different venue for a college hockey game between Northeastern and Western Michigan. They also had been scheduled to play at Bridgestone Arena, a game that was moved to Ford Ice Center Bellevue.

    Rangers trade Ryan Reaves to Wild for 5th-round pick in 2025

    Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
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    ST. PAUL, Minn. — The New York Rangers traded enforcer Ryan Reaves to the Minnesota Wild for a 2025 fifth-round pick.

    Reaves had been a healthy scratch for eight of the past 12 games for the Rangers. He gives struggling Minnesota some extra muscle and a veteran presence.

    The 35-year-old is signed through only the rest of this season at a $1.75 million salary cap hit. He has no points and 12 penalty minutes in 12 games of his second season with New York.

    Reaves has played in 869 NHL regular-season and playoff games for the St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vegas Golden Knights and Rangers. He was with the Golden Knights during their inaugural season in 2017-18 when the reached the Stanley Cup Final.

    Toronto’s Morgan Rielly placed on long-term injured reserve

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    TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs placed defenseman Morgan Rielly on long-term injured reserve with a knee injury.

    Rielly was hurt in a collision with with New York forward Kyle Palmieri early in the third period of Toronto’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Islanders at home.

    Rielly has no goals and 16 assists in 20 games this season and is averaging 23 minutes of ice time.

    Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said following practice that the 28-year-old Rielly doesn’t need surgery, adding there’s no firm timeline for his return beyond the minimum 24 days and 10 games required for going on long-term injured reserve.

    Toronto’s defense is also missing Jake Muzzin with a neck injury and T.J. Brodie with an injured oblique.