As the season comes to a close, the Blackhawks are looking to finish on a good note and they have only three games left to achieve that. This includes the final installment of their trilogy of games this week against the division-leading Hurricanes on Thursday night in Carolina.
Although the Blackhawks have lost two straight and are 2-4-1 in seven games with the Hurricanes this season, the Blackhawks are hungry for any positivity at this point.
The story with the Hurricanes has been consistent all season: they’re a strong, talented hockey team that could definitely contend for the Stanley Cup. Over the last two games against the Blackhawks, the young talent has been on display offensively. Sebasitan Aho leads the team with five points (3 G, 2 A) in those two games while Andrei Svechnikov has picked up four points (2 G, 2 A) and Teuvo Teravainen has three points (1 G, 2 A). Aho and Svechnikov also extended their point streaks: Aho has 17 points (6 G, 11 A) in 9 games — the longest active streak in the NHL — while Svechnikov 9 points (2 G, 7 A) in 5 games.
The only area that is questionable for the Hurricanes has been in net, but the rise of Alex Nedeljkovic — who has a .932 save percentage and 1.89 goals saved above average — and the return of Petr Mrazek — who made 27 saves to win his return after missing seven games with a lower-body injury — that position is solid as well.
For the Blackhawks, the 6-3 score from Tuesday night’s game is a bit misleading thanks to two empty-netters, and there was improvement the on-ice performance. The Blackhawks had an excellent first period, owning 55.56 percent of the shot attempt share and 66.74 percent of the expected goals share, leading a 2-0 Chicago advantage after the opening 20 minutes. Unfortunately, the Hurricanes are one of the best second-period teams in the league — they have a goal differential of +31 in second periods this season, which is tied with Colorado for best in the league — and they stormed back on schedule. Despite a late push from the Blackhawks, the better team won. Incomplete games have plagued the Blackhawks all season long, and it’s hard to distinguish if the strong periods are just a tease that will never be realized or a tantalizing look at the team’s future. Only time will tell.
The bright spot for these games is still focused on the Blackhawks young players, who are still the doing their part to keep the games at least somewhat exciting. Mike Hardman — the ninth Blackhawks rookie to debut this season — scored his first NHL goal on Tuesday while MacKenzie Entwistle — the eighth rookie to make their debut — picked up his first NHL point on the same goal. Dominik Kubalik had two points (both assists) in the two games while Riley Stillman had some impressive and Seabrook-like defensive plays in the last game. Alex DeBrincat also continues to dazzle with three points (2 G, 1 A) in the last two games against the Hurricanes. His point streak now sits at five games (5 G, 2 A) and his goal streak is up to four games.
It hasn’t been perfect from the young players: Wyatt Kalynuk and Dylan Strome have been rough defensively the last two games, Pius Suter and Philipp Kurashev have been quiet, and Kevin Lankinen has crashed back to earth. Hopefully these things can course-correct in the final three games of the season, starting Thursday against the Hurricanes. As stated above, ending on a positive note is ideal, especially for the young players that we hope can be a part of the Blackhawks future.
Speaking of ending on a good note, let’s end this preview with a look at Stillman’s helicopter pass block. Between this and Adam Boqvist’s Seabrook Slides™ seen several times this season, it makes me hope Seabrook will be with the organization in a mentor role in the near future — the young guys are already stealing his moves but he could teach them so much more.
Blackhawks — Statistic — Hurricanes
46.45% (28th) — Corsi For — 53.90% (3rd)
44.77% (31st) — Expected goals for — 54.29% (3th)
2.81 (17th) — Goals per game — 3.26 (9th)
3.32 (26th) — Goals against per game — 2.34 (3rd)
46.6% (28th) — Faceoffs — 53.9% (2nd)
22.0% (10th) — Power play — 26.6% (2nd)
76.9% (26th) — Penalty kill — 85.1% (3th)
Projected lineups (subject to change)
Gaudette — Suter — Kane
Debrincat — Kurashev — Hinostroza
Kubalik — Kampf — Hagel
Hardman — Entwistle — Connolly
Stillman — Murphy
Keith — Regula
Zadorov — Kalynuk
Svechnikov — Aho — Teravainen
Lorentz — Trocheck — Necas
Niederreiter — Staal — Foegele
McCormick — Shore — Geekie
Slavin — Hamilton
Bean — Pesce
Skjei — Hakanpaa
How to watch
When: 6 p.m.
Where: PNC Arena, Raleigh
TV: NBC Sports Chicago Plus
Live stream: NBC Sports app, NHL.TV