As a playoff berth has sailed so far out of focus that even the rosiest shade of glasses can no longer see it, the Blackhawks remain home at the United Center on Thursday night for the first of two games in three days against the Panthers.
Florida enters this game with a nice 69 points in 51 games, good for second place in the Central Division in terms of overall points. However, Tampa sits one game behind with 68 points and Carolina is two points ahead, and each of those teams have played only 49 games, which means that the Panthers are more accurately labeled as the third-place team in the Central. That top trio continues to battle it out for the No. 1 seed in the division and the right to face either Nashville or Dallas in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs — a less difficult path to the second round than ending up in the No. 2 or No. 3 seed.
The Panthers enter this game with a playoff spot clinched in their last outing, a 7-4 win over the Predators that saw Florida throw a ridiculous 55 shots on goal towards Nashville, the team that the Blackhawks could only beat once this season, somehow. That win is part of a 6-2-1 stretch for the surging Panthers, who continue to thrive even without No. 1 defenseman Aaron Ekblad, who was lost for the reason with a broken left leg in late March.
No. 1 center Aleksander Barkov was also sidelined briefly in late March but returned on April 3 and has been on fire of late, notching 15 points (11 G, 4 A) in 14 games this month. Leading scorer Jonathan Huberdeau has also been stellar with a 5-point game against Nashville on Tuesday as part of a 9-game stretch with 15 points (4 G, 11 A). Florida is still handicapped by the continued absences of No. 3 scorer Carter Verhaeghe (17 G, 18 A) and No. 4 scorer Patric Hornqvist (14 G, 18 A), but that hasn’t slowed them down much.
Word from the morning skate is that 20-year-old goalie Spencer Knight will be in net, the No. 13 overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. Knight made his first career NHL start last Tuesday, stopping 33 of 34 shots in a 5-1 win over Columbus.
Playing young players: a novel concept, isn’t it?
Someone should pass that idea along to the Blackhawks, who are sitting Philipp Kurashev this evening to get Adam Gaudette back into the lineup, according to the press assembled at the morning skate:
Lankinen officially starting, says Colliton.— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) April 29, 2021
Beaudin in for Boqvist. Gaudette in for Kurashev.
Putting Gaudette in the lineup makes plenty of sense, given that he’s just 24 and the Blackhawks have only had one game to evaluate the recently acquired Gaudette up close. But sending Kurashev to the press box makes zero sense. There are several veterans who are known commodities at this point (David Kampf, Brett Connolly, etc.) that could be swapped out of the lineup instead while giving Chicago’s young players more opportunities to develop at the NHL level. And that development was supposed be the point of this season, wasn’t it?
Let’s go Hawks or whatever.
Blackhawks — Statistic — Panthers
47.24% (26th) — Corsi For — 53.06% (6th)
45.28% (31st) — Expected goals for — 53.72% (4th)
2.80 (17th) — Goals per game — 3.24 (9th)
3.18 (23rd) — Goals against per game — 2.73 (12th)
46.8% (28th) — Faceoffs — 50.3% (14th)
22.4% (9th) — Power play — 21.2% (t-13th)
76.5% (27th) — Penalty kill — 79.3% (18th)
Projected lineups (subject to change)
Hinostroza — Suter — Kane
DeBrincat — Dach — Hagel
Kubalik — Strome — Gaudette
Hardman — Kampf — Connolly
Zadorov — Murphy
Keith — Kalynuk
Stillman — Beaudin
Denisenko — Barkov — Duclair
Huberdeau — Bennett — Tippett
Heponiemi — Wennberg — Vatrano
Acciari — Lammikko — Gusev
Forsling — Weegar
Kiersted — Montour
Yandle — Nutivaara
How to watch
When: 7 p.m.
Where: United Center, Chicago
TV: NBC Sports Chicago, NBC Sports Network
Live stream: NBC Sports app, NHL.TV