Push for the Playoffs: Blackhawks face long odds in playoff chase

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Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2018-19 NHL season. We’ll highlight the current playoff picture in both conferences, take a look at what the first-round matchups might look like, see who’s leading the race for the best odds in the draft lottery and more.

Time is not on the Chicago Blackhawks’ side. Heading into tonight’s action, the ‘Hawks find themselves six points out of a playoff spot with just 13 games to go. Can they do the unthinkable?

It all starts with their game in Toronto tonight. The Maple Leafs are one of the better teams in the league and they’re still fighting for home-ice advantage in the playoffs. The Leafs are also coming off an ugly loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday night. This one won’t be easy for Chicago.

“We’re always looking (at the standings) after the fact a little bit,” Brandon Saad said, per the Chicago Tribune. “But we know we’ve got to just control what we can control here and take it day by day and game by game. All you can do is keep winning and hope for the best.”

If the Blackhawks are going to get in, they’re going to need at least 10 or 11 victories between now and the end of the season. Even then, there’s no guarantee that 20 more points will be enough to get them in (it probably won’t).

IF THE PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY
Lightning vs. Blue Jackets
Capitals vs. Hurricanes
Islanders vs. Penguins
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs

Sharks vs. Coyotes
Jets vs. Stars
Flames vs. Golden Knights
Predators vs. Blues

TODAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS
Blackhawks vs. Maple Leafs, 7pm E.T. (NBCSN, livestream)
Devils vs. Oilers, 9:30 pm E.T. (NBCSN, livestream)
Rangers vs. Canucks, 10:00 p.m. ET

EASTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Sports Club Stats)
Lightning – In
Bruins – 100 percent
Maple Leafs – 100 percent
Capitals – 99.7 percent
Islanders – 99.5 percent
Penguins – 96.9 percent
Hurricanes – 93.8 percent
Blue Jackets – 56.3 percent
Canadiens – 44.9 percent
Flyers – 7.6 percent
Panthers – 1.0 percent
Sabres – 0.3 percent
Rangers – 0 percent
Devils – Out
Red Wings – Out
Senators – Out

WESTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Sports Club Stats)
Sharks – 100 percent
Flames – 100 percent
Jets – 100 percent
Predators – 99.8 percent
Blues – 99.3 percent
Golden Knights – 99.1 percent
Stars – 86.5 percent
Coyotes 38.9 percent
Wild – 37.4 percent
Avalanche – 29 percent
Oilers – 5.0 percent
Blackhawks – 4.8 percent
Canucks – 0.3 percent
Ducks – 0 percent
Kings – 0 percent

JACK OR KAAPO? THE DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE
Senators – 18.5 percent*
Red Wings – 13.5 percent
Kings – 11.5 percent
Devils – 9.5 percent
Ducks – 8.5 percent
Canucks – 7.5 percent
Rangers – 6.5 percent
Sabres – 6 percent
Blackhawks – 5 percent
Oilers – 3.5 percent
Avalanche – 3 percent
Panthers – 2.5 percent
Wild – 2 percent
Flyers – 1.5 percent
Canadiens – 1 percent
(*OTT’s 2019 first-round pick owned by COL)

ART ROSS RACE
Nikita Kucherov, Lightning – 111 points
Patrick Kane, Blackhawks – 98 points
Connor McDavid, Oilers – 98 points
Johnny Gaudreau, Flames – 90 points
Sidney Crosby, Penguins – 90 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE
Alex Ovechkin, Capitals – 46 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 42 goals
Patrick Kane, Blackhawks – 41 goals
Cam Atkinson, Blue Jackets – 38 goals
John Tavares, Maple Leafs – 38 goals

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.

Kane plays hero as Blackhawks steal one late against Ducks

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Time and time again, the Chicago Blackhawks have needed a hero. And time and time again, that man has been Patrick Kane.

Kane kept true to that narrative on Wednesday night in a 4-3 win for the ‘Hawks over the Anaheim Ducks, scoring a goal with 17 seconds left on the clock in the third period to break a 3-3 tie on NBCSN.

Fittingly, the goal was Kane’s 40th of the season, marking the second time in his NHL career that he’s hit that plateau.

And what a stunner (and heartbreaker for Anaheim) it was.

Jonathan Toews picked up a loose puck in the Chicago zone with roughly 21 seconds left. His outlet pass found Brandon Saad streaking through the neutral zone. Saad, gunning it down the left side, undressed Hampus Lindholm on a nasty toe drag at the Anaheim blue line, slid the pick over to Kane on the ensuing two-on-one and Kane did the rest, sniping a shot past Ryan Miller to win it.

The two points were massive for the Blackhawks, who are now five points back of the final wildcard in the Western Conference. And Chicago looked like they were heading to their third straight loss down 3-2 with just under five minutes left.

Alex DeBrincat scored his second of the game to tie the game up, a goal that seemed to renew Chicago’s energy.

The two teams played to a scoreless first period. It was the second frame where the floodgates burst.

The Blackhawks were given a prime opportunity to blow the game open, too, early in the second when Rickard Rakell drilled Drake Caggiula from behind, resulting in a five-minute major and a game misconduct for the former.

The Blackhawks would score, with DeBrincat getting his first of the game. But the goal was washed out by Devin Shore‘s shorthanded marker not long after.

Artem Anisimov returned the favor, sniping a shorthanded goal of his own before Carter Rowney tied it for the Ducks.

The tie lasted until the third when Troy Terry gave the Ducks their first lead of the game off a bad turnover.

Corey Crawford returned after missing 28 games with a concussion and stopped 29 shots. He didn’t look great on Rowney’s goal, but outside of that, Crawford looked every bit the part of the goalie that was the talk of the league in recent times.

Crawford’s performance (and health) is going to be key down the stretch drive here if the Blackhawks are going to slide in the back door of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Getting his first action in over two months was the first step, and Crawford passed the test.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: Red Wings host Blackhawks on Wednesday Night Hockey

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Blackhawks have won nine of their last 11 games (9-2-0), including seven straight wins from Jan. 20 – Feb. 10, to climb right back into the playoff race. On the morning of January 20, exactly one month ago, the Blackhawks had 41 points and were dead last in the NHL. Now, as of Tuesday morning, they have 59 points, and are just one point behind the Minnesota Wild, who currently owns the second wild card in the Western Conference.

Patrick Kane is having arguably the best year of his career, and should the Blackhawks rally to make the playoffs, he could perhaps win his second career Hart Trophy. He’s currently on a season-best 18-game point streak (40 points: 14 goals, 26 assists), and is averaging 1.53 points/game, which would be the best of his 12-year career. He has an assist in 17 straight games… only two players in NHL history have posted a longer assist streak than Kane – Wayne Gretzky (23 games – 1990-91) & Adam Oates (18 games – 1992-93).

The NHL Trade Deadline is less than a week away and Detroit has a few key players that are set to become unrestricted free agents at the end of the season: Gustav Nyquist, Thomas Vanek, Niklas Kronwall, Nick Jensen, Luke Witkowski and Jimmy Howard.

Red Wings GM Ken Holland has been weighing whether he should try to sign some of the pending free agents or trade them – with a focus on Howard, Nyquist and Jensen specifically. Holland said he’d like to sign all three to extensions – and all three players have expressed a desire to stay – but a deal must work for both sides.

“I need to weigh which of them we consider re-signing because they can help us in ’19-20 and then we maybe need to do something to add to that in the summer of ’19 because if you just trade all those players away your team is worse,” he said. “So now you got to make moves to get back to where you’re at and even beyond and that’s hard to do in the summer.”

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Chicago Blackhawks at Detroit Red Wings
Where: Little Caesars Arena
When: Wednesday, Feb. 20, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Blackhawks-Red Wings stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BLACKHAWKS
Drake CaggiulaJonathan Toews – Patrick Kane
Alex DeBrincatDylan StromeDominik Kahun
Brandon SaadArtem AnisimovDylan Sikura
Chris KunitzMarcus KrugerJohn Hayden

Duncan KeithErik Gustafsson
Carl DahlstromConnor Murphy
Slater KoekkoekGustav Forsling

Starting goalie: Cam Ward

RED WINGS
Tyler BertuzziDylan LarkinAnthony Mantha
Thomas Vanek – Frans Nielsen – Gustav Nyquist
Andreas AthanasiouLuke GlendeningChristoffer Ehn
Darren HelmJacob De La RoseJustin Abdelkader

Niklas Kronwall – Mike Green
Danny DeKeyser – Nick Jensen
Trevor DaleyFilip Hronek

Starting goalie: Jimmy Howard

MORE: Jonathan Toews is back

For the first time in his career, Mike Tirico will call play-by-play for an NHL game on Wednesday when the Red Wings host the Blackhawks. He’ll be joined in the booth by Eddie Olczyk and ‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst Brian Boucher. Pre-game coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Kathryn Tappen alongside Mike Milbury, Keith Jones and Bob McKenzie.

PHT Power Rankings: 10 teams that could be most active at NHL trade deadline

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In this week’s edition of the PHT Power Rankings we start to get you ready for the trade deadline (which is now just two short weeks away!) by looking at 10 teams around the NHL that could be the most active leading up to trade deadline day.

Some of these teams are sellers. Some of them are buyers. All of them have the potential to be busy over the next two weeks.

Let’s take a look at who is out there and who could be made available.

1. Ottawa Senators — Senators management has a grand plan for what the future of the franchise will look like, but it remains to be seen how they actually get there. In the short-term the stage is set for them to potentially be the biggest sellers at the trade deadline because of the ongoing rebuild and the number of key players that are on expiring contracts, including Mark Stone, Matt Duchene, and Ryan Dzingel. Not to mention any other veteran player that could potentially be available. The Senators are trying to re-sign both Stone and Duchene, but the longer it goes without a deal and the closer we get to the deadline the more likely it seems that one or both could be on their way out. The Senators need to find a way to recoup a first-round draft pick after sending theirs to Colorado in the original Duchene trade, and they should be able to get at least one or two if they send out their pending UFA’s. It will not be the potential Jack Hughes pick they sent away, but a rebuilding team without any first-round picks isn’t off to a great start.

2. Detroit Red Wings — Ken Holland started the rebuild, at least a little bit, last trade deadline when he sent Petr Mrazek and Tomas Tatar away for five draft picks. He could be doing even more this season with free agents Jimmy Howard, Gustav Nyquist, Thomas Vanek, and Niklas Kronwall all on the roster. Howard and Nyquist are by far the most marketable pieces that he has to deal from and could fetch him a decent return at the deadline. As tempted as the Red Wings might be to try and re-sign Howard given their short-term (and long-term) goaltending situation they should resist that urge and cash in on what has been one of the best seasons of his career. Or at least one of his best seasons in recent memory. A mid-30s Howard isn’t going to be the difference between a good Red Wings team and a bad Red Wings team next season, so they should try to get what they can right now and hope one of the contenders that is a goalie away (looking at you, San Jose) wants to take a chance on a deadline rental to put them over the top.

[Related: Five teams that should be calling about Jimmy Howard]

3. New York Rangers — The Rangers have been shipping out core players for more than a year, dealing away Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller since the start of last season. There will undoubtedly be more moves coming over the next two weeks even though they have put together a nice hot streak here recently. Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello both look like they could be on the move, but would it surprise anyone if they also moved some players that still had term left on their deals or years of team control? Like a Pavel Buchnevich, Vladislav Namestnikov, or even maybe, if the price was right, a Chris Kreider?

4. Columbus Blue Jackets  — This is a totally fascinating team because I have no clue what they are going to do. The Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky contract situations mean that if they do something it is probably going to be massive. A potential playoff team shipping out top-tier players at the deadline would be huge news and significantly alter the course of several playoff teams and potential playoff teams. Or they could also keep them and load up around them for one more run, which would also be significant. Either way GM Jarmo Kekalainen has a chance to do something bold. Standing pat doesn’t seem to be an option. He is either selling or going all in.

5. Los Angeles Kings — Everything! Must! Go! The Jake Muzzin trade was a pretty clear sign that it is finally time to start looking for the future. They already sent away one pending unrestricted free agent on Monday by trading Nate Thompson to the Montreal Canadiens, and Carl Hagelin seems like he could probably be sent elsewhere as well. Their veteran players have some big contracts that might be tough to move, and I don’t expect them to even consider trading Anze Kopitar or Drew Doughty, but this still feels like a team whose complete teardown is imminent.

6. Florida Panthers — This is a team to watch because they are clearly trying to position themselves for a run at some big free agents this summer. There is the rumor that they are interested in trying to strike now and get Bobrovsky away from Columbus to sign him before he hits the open market, they are a potential landing spot for Panarin, and they have a few UFAs they can move for more draft picks, including Derick Brassard and Riley Sheahan who were acquired in the big blockbuster with Pittsburgh. Will they ship out even more money in an effort to clear even more salary cap space? TSN’s Frank Seravalli mentioned the possibility of Jonathan Huberdeau on Monday, the type of move that would almost certainly indicate they would be all in on free agency.

[Related: PHT’s 2019 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker]

7. Boston Bruins — Simply put, they have to find some secondary scoring. All of their offense comes from the same five players — Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, David Krejci, and Torey Krug. They are all great, but five players alone producing offense will not get you very far in the playoffs. Especially against the teams they will have to face on their potential postseason path.

8. Pittsburgh Penguins — Jim Rutherford tends to strike early before the trade deadline, and he has done that with a few moves already this season (Tanner Pearson, sending Jamie Oleksiak back to Dallas, the big trade with the Florida Panthers) but I just don’t see him being done. He has never done. He is always tinkering with his roster and this roster right now, as currently constructed, is not where the Penguins expect it to be. Almost anything is on the table with this team.

9. Chicago Blackhawks — A lot of this is dependent on what they can do with some veteran players that have no-trade clauses, specifically Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, but there are a lot of bloated contracts here that they should explore moving. Not only Seabrook, but also perhaps Anisimov and Brandon Saad.

10.  Washington Capitals — I can’t imagine the defending champs are happy with the way this season has gone over the past few weeks or with the current state of their defense. That has to be high atop their shopping list as they look to make a repeat run at the Stanley Cup. I can’t see them doing anything drastic, but they could definitely use a move or two.

MORE: Defense should top Capitals’ shopping list

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

From Anisimov to Seabrook, exploring Blackhawks’ trade deadline options

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Brent Seabrook has been a significant part of Chicago Blackhawks history.

After arriving in the NHL back in 2005-06, he has spent 14 seasons as a part of their blue line, playing in more than 1,000 games and being a cornerstone piece of a team that won three Stanley Cups in a six-year stretch between 2010 and 2015. He is undoubtedly on the short list of most important players to ever play for the team.

Eventually, though, father time comes calling for everybody and Seabrook has simply not been that same player and the Blackhawks have not been that same team for a couple of years now. With the team headed toward what looks to be its second straight non-playoff season and saddled with large contracts for aging players, there is no doubt that general manager Stan Bowman is exploring all of his options, including the possible trades of players like Seabrook that were a key part of the most successful era in franchise history.

One thing is certain up front: You can probably safely assume that Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are on the team’s “untouchable” list, as is Alex DeBrincat, the best young player in the organization and an emerging star.

Everybody else, however, should probably be sitting in the team’s front yard next to the “for sale” sign as they attempt to get out of this rut they have fallen into over the past two seasons.

At the top of that for sale list has to be the blue line duo of Seabrook and Duncan Keith, both of whom are over the age of 33 and still signed to long-term contracts beyond this season.

If the Blackhawks are going to turn the page and move forward as an organization into a new era, it would be in their best interest to find a way to move one — if not both — of those contracts, with Seabrook’s probably being the most pressing given that his play seems to have slowed down the most between the two players.

There has been speculation in recent weeks that the Blackhawks may approach (or have already approached) both players about waiving their no-movement clauses. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman mentioned on Saturday night that the Blackhawks have already approached Seabrook about waiving his and that as of this moment he has declined to waive it, which is well within his right to do. Both sides negotiated that clause in the contract, he earned it, and it’s not up to him to help out the Blackhawks out of their current jam.

If he is happy being in Chicago and being a Blackhawk, he can say no to anything they offer him.

The same is true for Keith.

That doesn’t mean the Blackhawks shouldn’t try, because they absolutely should.

Both players still have at least four more years after this one remaining on their deals (Seabrook actually has five more years remaining) at a combined salary cap hit of more than $11 million per season. While Keith is still a good player and still probably a bargain based on what he provides, there is going to come a point where both players are going to have their careers take a cliff dive. There’s an objective argument to be made that is already happening in Seabrook’s case, which would make his contract extremely difficult (though not impossible) to move even if he was willing to move on.

If they can’t move on from the defenders, there are options at forward.

Artem Anisimov (limited no-trade clause) is another veteran on the other side of that 30 that still has multiple years remaining (two more after this one) on his current contract and has also seen his production plummet over the past two years.

Then there is Brandon Saad, whose return to Chicago has simply not worked the way anyone with the Blackhawks thought it would, and only looks worse given the way Artemi Panarin has continued to be one of the league’s elite offensive players and playmakers.

Saad is still owed $12 million over the next two years after this one.

All of that means Blackhawks have more than $22 million in cap space tied up in the quartet of Keith, Seabrook, Saad, and Anisimov over the next few years, and other than Keith they are not getting anywhere near close to that level of production out of the group. Given the ages of those players and their current career trajectories that is only going to get worse before those deals expire.

That means it should be a priority — and a necessity — for the Blackhawks to unload as many of those contracts as they can, as soon as they can.

It may not bring back a ton of of value in terms of assets (draft picks or players), and it may even require some retained salary or some creative cap maneuvering.

But it is not even necessarily about the assets they could or would get back in return that is important.

It is the salary cap space they could create that matters.

The Blackhawks’ top players are still playing like their top players. Kane is still one of the league’s most productive forwards, and even Toews has seen his career bounce back a little bit offensively after a couple of declining years. DeBrincat is, again, becoming a star and they may have found something in Dylan Strome. There is still a core of players at the top of the roster they can compete with. But everything else around them has fallen off so much that they are once again near the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

They are still the Chicago Blackhawks. They are still a destination team in the NHL with star players at the top of the lineup. They just need to be able to create the necessary space that will allow them to fit the necessary complementary pieces on the roster.

That has to start with some significant trades, even if they involve players that have been a significant part of making the Blackhawks what they have been during this era.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.