13-28-7. That's all you need to say about the nose dive from grace that's taken place over the past 48 games for Minnesota. Thirty-three points in 48 games in Columbus-bad, and the Wild should look no further than their league worst 2.04 goals/game average when trying to figure what's gone so terribly wrong since mid-December. If that goals/game number holds up over their final 4 games (@CHI, @NSH, v.CHI, v.PHX), it'll be the lowest number of it's kind since Columbus's 2.00 in '01-'02. A whole season for the Hawks without a dent in the team-statistic-that-shall-not-be-named, and the hockey gods hand us two of our remaining three against the league's most infertile team? (Those who are superstitious curse me aloud at the very insinuation)
The injury time lost to Koivu (27 games, but back now) and Latendresse (62 games, out since december) hasn't done Minnesota any favors, but as I mentioned in my 1/12 preview, the additions of Heatley and Setoguchi (0.57 combined points/game) have not panned out the way GM Chuck Fletcher hoped when he jettisoned Brett Burns and Marty Havlat. Minnesota doesn't have all that much to write home about on the back end either, and the additions of Tom Gilbert and Kurtis Foster certainly haven't done much to change that evaluation.
The Wild have managed to win 4 of their last 7 though, and they did the Hawks a solid last night in taking down LA in the shootout. With Backstrom going in last night's tilt, the Hawks may see Josh Harding in net at the UC. Harding's had himself an alright season at 0.918 & 2.64, but if the Hawks can put 5 on Rinne, I'm think they might be able to sneak a couple past him.
The Hawks play out their final game of Keith's five gamer tonight, and they'll need the same determined effort that they've shown in three of the four thus far. As I'm writing this fairly early in the day, I've yet to see any lineup changes, and I'm guessing that everything will look pretty much the same with the exception of a possible fourth line tweak. The Men of Four Feathers get a three day break starting tomorrow, so I'm thinking that Crow get's to finish up the back to back set here. As simple and cliche as it sounds, the key to tonight's game will be the Hawks refusal to play down to the level of their opponent. Minnesota gets outshot by an average of 5 per game; get pucks on the Wild netminder and make them earn everything they get on the other end. The win last night was a big one, but I'm hoping that letting Nashville score 4 unanswered will protect this team from a letdown tonight. If Bolland & Co can put the clamp down on Koivu's line, Minny will struggle to score at even strength.
There's still a lot to be gained for the Hawks before the season wraps up; they're probably going to have to win out to get home ice advantage in the first round, but even if that happens, they'll need some help from those opposing Nashville next week. All the Men of Four Feathers can do is take care of their own business and see how things shake out. The pertinent magic numbers need to be quoted in reverse now: Nashville's magic number is 5 over the Hawks, Detroit's is 7.
The Hawks were 10-2-2 in the month of March, which featured a tough schedule, no need to let up against the have-nots tonight. No NHL team has seen as many fans go through their turnstiles in 2011-2012 as the Chicago Blackhawks have, let's send the UC faithful out on a regular season high note, eh? Let's go Hawks!