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Thrash Unreal: Blackhawks at Lightning Preview

This one won’t be easy — not that any of them are, of course.

Chicago Blackhawks v Tampa Bay Lightning Photo by Mark LoMoglio/NHLI via Getty Images

There probably won’t be any games over the rest of the season that will see the Chicago Blackhawks as the favorite but Saturday brings an especially difficult test with the team playing its second game in as many nights while facing the Tampa Bay Lightning.

At least, based on reputation, this would seem to be an extremely steep challenge for the Blackhawks with the Lightning maintaining their place as one of the top franchises in the league. But it’s been a rough go of late for the Bolts, with a record of 6-6-5 since the All-Star Break.

Tampa remains locked in to an inevitable first-round meeting with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but Toronto currently owns the home-ice advantage with 86 points in 64 games, ahead of Tampa’s 82 in 65 that has the Lightning sitting in third place in the Atlantic Division.

Among the recent defeats is a 6-0 beatdown at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes last Sunday, a game that added injury to the insult when No. 1 defenseman Victor Hedman left with an injury. Hedman’s missed the last two games — including Thursday’s chippy affair with the Vegas Golden Knights that featured 146 penalty minutes. Hedman has been day-to-day since but was on the ice for Saturday’s morning skate in Tampa, so he could return for this game.

The top three scorers on the Lightning are the expected names, with each playing in all 65 of Tampa’s games: Nikita Kucherov in first with 94 points (26 G, 68 A), Brayden Point checking in at 77 (41 G, 36 A) and Steven Stamkos at 66 (27 G, 39 A). Behind that trio is old friend Brandon Hagel, who’s setting new career highs in several categories this season: assists (28), points (50) and average ice time (18:50). His 22 goals aren’t far from his career-high of 25 from last season, either. Hagel could be due for a hefty raise when he becomes a restricted free agent in the summer of 2024 — one that Tampa probably won’t be able to afford.

Tampa’s “major” trade deadline move was adding Tanner Jeannot for a boatload of draft picks, which seemed like an overpay at the time but one that will be forgiven if the Lightning can hang a third banner next fall — and the Lightning certainly seem capable of it. They still have a loaded forward group. They still have one of the game’s best blue-liners in Hedman and a few other solid bodies around him. They also have one of the best — and arguably the best — goalies in the league in Andrei Vasilevskiy with a 29-16-4 record, .914 save percentage and 2.69 goals-against average. It’ll be backup Brian Elliott in net against the Hawks, per the morning skate, but this is still a formidable foe for the Blackhawks, regardless of who the final Tampa backstop is.

As for the Blackhawks, forward Luke Philp and goaltender Anton Khudobin were recalled from Rockford early Saturday morning.

Philp should slot in for Anders Bjork, who was injured on Friday night and did not return to the game, while Khudobin’s recall became a necessity due to a stomach issue for Alex Stalock. Any other lineup changes won’t be known until coach Luke Richardson meets with the media a few hours before puckdrop.

Let’s go Hawks(?)

Projected Lineups


Reichel — Kurashev — Athanasiou

T. Johnson — Guttman — Raddysh

Philp — Dickinson — Entwistle

Katchouk — Khaira — Anderson

C. Jones — S. Jones

Tinordi — Zaitsev

Roos — Mitchell



Tale of the Tape

Blackhawks — Statistic — Lightning

42.90% (32nd) — 5-on-5 Corsi For — 51.40% (13th)

41.18% (31st) — 5-on-5 Expected goals for — 52.76% (9th)

2.49 (32nd) — Goals per game — 3.48 (6th)

3.55 (25th) — Goals against per game — 3.08 (15th)

53.9% (3rd) — Faceoffs — 52.2% (8th)

16.7% (29th) — Power play — 26.1% (2nd)

76.0% (22nd) — Penalty kill — 79.8% (14th)

How to watch

When: 6 p.m. CT

Where: Amalie Arena, Tampa

TV: NBC Sports Chicago

Radio: WGN 720