Watching regular season hockey games in May feels about as weird as playing postseason games in August. But that whole pandemic thing isn’t over yet, so here we are on the first day of the fifth month of the calendar with the Blackhawks at home again facing the Panthers at the United Center on Saturday night for the final matchup between these two teams in the 2021 season.
The short-term picture for each team is clear, with the Panthers already assured a playoff spot and the Blackhawks all but mathematically eliminated. Despite those differences, the teams still combined for some decent entertainment on Thursday night, as a late goal from Alex DeBrincat forced an overtime session that Florida won thanks to a goal from Sam Bennett to secure a 4-3 victory.
Despite the loss, though, it was encouraging to see several of Chicago’s young/new talent providing key contributions. Adam Gaudette scored the game’s first goal, Vinnie Hinostroza continued his career revival with a tally in the second and The Everything BHagel™ set up that Hinostroza goal with as pretty of a saucer pass as you’ll see.
It wasn’t a banner night for Kevin Lankinen in net, who let his water bottle feel the extent of those frustrations after Bennett’s game-winner. Lankinen will have his chance for redemption on Saturday evening, though, as coach Jeremy Colliton confirmed Lankinen will be the starter following the morning skate. He’ll be opposed by Sergei Bobrovsky in the Florida net.
Elsewhere in the lineups, Ian Mitchell returns in place of Nicolas Beaudin and Philipp Kurashev will suit up while Pope Pius Suter XXIV will have a night of rest on the eve of the sabbath. Colliton offered this sentiment as the justification for the moves:
Jeremy Colliton with another quip. He's on a roll.— John Dietz (@johndietzdh) May 1, 2021
"When you're in a development phase for these young guys – first, second, third year in the league – you want to try and give em just the right amount. Not too little, not too much. Goldilocks."
While there is some logic to those points, it would also behoove the Hawks to use these low-stakes games as a chance to let those inexperienced skaters handle a few more shifts. On Thursday, Chicago’s top-three players in terms of ice time were, in order: Duncan Keith (25:46), Connor Murphy (22:55) and Patrick Kane (22:31). While Wyatt Kalynuk (20:30) and Kirby Dach (19:15) saw ample ice time, perhaps players with more to prove could be offered a few more minutes to keep the ice time numbers for that initial trio from soaring so high in a game that ultimately means nothing.
And there’s no better way to learn than by doing the things that result in a victory.
Let’s go Hawks!
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 — Kurashev — Kane
DeBrincat — Dach — Hagel
Kubalik — Strome — Gaudette
Hardman — Kampf — Connolly
Zadorov — Murphy
Keith — Kalynuk
Stillman — Mitchell
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