Mid-January feels like ages ago.
The Chicago Blackhawks have not seen the Tampa Bay Lightning since the first two games of the season back on January 13th (5-1 loss) and 15th (5-2 loss). The Lightning have been exactly as expected this season, playing some of the best hockey in the league while leading a modified Central Division. The Blackhawks, however, have grown by leaps and bounds since the opening series of the season. Sitting fourth in the Central Division on points (28) and points percentage (.609), the Blackhawks are a different team than the Lightning faced at the beginning of the year.
Chicago holds the NHL’s third-best record base on points percentage (.711) since January 22, with Tampa Bay having the second best (.735) in that same span. Tonight’s matchup will be the first of five meetings between these two teams in the month of March, a month that sees the Blackhawks play teams above them in the Divisional standings 10 times out of 14 games. The outcomes this month will do much to demonstrate where the Blackhawks stand (in terms of playoff contenders or pretenders) as the season hits the half-way point.
Puck Drop: 7:00 p.m. CT
TV: NBCSCH, SUN, ESPN+
Radio: WGN 720 AM / TUDN 1200-AM
Blackhawks (12-7-4, 28 pts)
DeBrincat – Suter – Kane
Kubalík – Wallmark – Hagel
Janmark – Söderberg – Kurashev
Highmore – Kämpf – Carpenter
Keith – Mitchell
Zadorov – Murphy
de Haan – Boqvist
Lightning (15-4-1, 31 pts)
Palat – Point – Johnson
Killorn – Cirelli – Stamkos
Goodrow – Gourde – Coleman
Maroon –Colton – Joseph
Hedman – Rutta
McDonagh – Cernak
Sergachev – Foote
Brent Seabrook (IR – Lower Back)
Zack Smith (IR – Back)
Andrew Shaw (IR – Concussion)
Kirby Dach (LTIR – Wrist)
Alex Nylander (LTIR – Knee)
Jonathan Toews (LTIR – Illness)
Dylan Strome (Day-to-day – Concussion)
Nikita Kucherov (LTIR – Hip Surgery)
Anders Nilsson (LTIR – Concussion)
Marián Gáborík (LTIR – Indefinite)
Mitchell Stephens (LTIR – Indefinite)
The Blackhawks are +1.5 point underdogs against the Lightning tonight, and find themselves at +175 on the moneyline according to the DraftKings Illinois Sportsbook. You can go right here to sign up and make a bet.
What To Watch For
• Andrei Vasilevskiy is coming off of three-straight shutout appearances and is two minutes and one second away from setting Lightning franchise history for longest game time between goals allowed. He is the Vezina Trophy front-runner as the league’s best goalie this season, leading the league in wins (13), save percentage (.942), and GAA (1.65). He also leads the NHL in goal saved above average (15.79) and high-danger save percentage (.882). The Lightning have outscored their opponents 13-1 over their last four games.
• Patrick Kane was the Central Division Star of the Month for February. He led the league in points in the month (24), tying his highest point total for a single month in his career. Kane is third in the NHL in points with 34 and leads the league in even-strength points with 24 this season. His 1.48 points per game pace is his highest pace in his career, and is on track to finish with 83 points this season.
• Kevin Lankinen gets the start tonight for the Blackhawks after posting an NHL career-high 44 saves in his last outing on Sunday against the Detroit Red Wings. Lankinen finished the month of February with six wins, only Vasilevskiy had more wins (8) in February. Lankinen holds a 9-3-3 record this season and ranks sixth in the league in save percentage (.924), 13th in GAA (2.55), fourth in goals saved above average (8.37), and fifth in high-danger save percentage (.848). He leads all rookie goalies in save percentage, goals saved above average, and high-danger save percentage.
Get Caught Up …
A three-game series between the teams starts tonight at the UC.
— Brandon Cain (@brandonmcain) March 4, 2021
Jeremy Colliton says the Blackhawks have shown they can play with good teams, but "If it doesn't go perfect here, it doesn't mean all is lost. … If we sweep (Tampa), it doesn't mean we're going to plan the parade. If they sweep us, it doesn't mean we're going to pack it in."
— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) March 4, 2021
"After they went through that Florida swing, they were taking a little bit of undue criticism. Clearly Chicago knew what they were doing."
— John Dietz (@johndietzdh) March 4, 2021
Tonight starts a three-game home “series” for @NHLBlackhawks vs TBL. It marks the 7th time all-time in regular season that the Blackhawks played a team three straight games vs. same team. Last time they played three straight at home vs. same opponent was Feb. 1953 (!) vs. BOS. pic.twitter.com/fmVPGdIzMh
— John H. Steinmiller (@jstein1981) March 4, 2021
Andrei Vasilevskiy has three straight shutouts and a shutout streak of 200:45. The Lightning shutout streak record is 202:46, set by John Grahame in the 2005-06 season.
— Dan Rosen (@drosennhl) March 3, 2021