Tonight, the Chicago Blackhawks and the Carolina Hurricanes square off for the fourth time this season. It kicks off the last set of games that Chicago will have against any of the top three teams in the Central Division until April 27th.
After dropping both of their previous two games to the Nashville Predators in regulation, the Blackhawks find themselves tied with Nashville based on points, but behind them in the Divisional standings based on the regulation wins tiebreaker. Chicago is chasing a playoff spot now and getting points in this series against the Hurricanes is paramount. The Blackhawks are at a point in their schedule where they cannot afford to fall behind in the playoff chase if they are truly trying to convince us that they are a playoff team.
• Following this two-game set against the Hurricanes, the next ten games for the Blackhawks are against teams even with or below them in the standings. So the mentality needs to be that the playoffs begin now. Chicago holds a 1-1-1 record against the Hurricanes this season, with goals in favor of Carolina 13-12. After a being stifled on the powerplay in their previous two games against the Predators, the Blackhawks hope they can bounce back on their opportunities on the man-advantage against the Hurricanes. Chicago has scored five powerplay goals this season against Carolina on 11 opportunities.
• Kevin Lankinen looks to be the starter tonight for the Blackhawks. He has started each of the the previous three games against the Hurricanes this season, holding a .902 save percentage in those three games.
• Kirby Dach will also get into this third game of the season tonight. He has logged 20:08 and 21:18 minutes in his first two outings, but hasn’t found the scoresheet. That’s not to say he hasn’t looked ready to play or hasn’t been effective. Head coach Jeremy Colliton has said a few times now that the plan is to deploy him in pretty much every situation and get the most out of him for the remainder of the season, so long as his body holds up and there’s no reason to doubt it so far.
• Maybe all he needs is a change of stick tape?
Kirby Dach is back to having white tape on his stick. He had black the first two games.
— Charlie Roumeliotis (@CRoumeliotis) March 30, 2021
• As we all know, skill players get to use white tape. I expect points, plural, from Dach tonight.
• I also expect big things from a returning Dylan Strome, since he now has his “New Dad Strength.”
• Strome returns to the Blackhawks tonight after missing the last game due to the birth of his new daughter Weslie. So cute! Congratulations to the new parents, again.
• A number of reports came about yesterday surrounding the Blackhawks, first that NCAA free agent Mike Hardman is expected to sign an entry-level deal with Chicago. Hardman spent the previous two seasons with Boston College and tallied 44 points in 58 games.
• Another report coming out last night involved Blackhawks President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Stan Bowman. According to TSN’s Frank Seravalli, Bowman is expected to be named the General Manager of the 2022 Team USA Winter Olympic Men’s Hockey team. Bowman has previous international tournament team management experience having been the assistant GM for Team North America at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
• Happening around the Central Division yesterday, unfortunate news for the Florida Panthers as Aaron Ekblad messed up his knee and will miss the rest of the season. I don’t want to put the video of the injury in here because it’s not pretty. Just know it’s bad enough to end the season.
#FlaPanthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad has undergone successful surgery to repair a fracture in his lower extremities and is expected to be out of the lineup for 12 weeks.
— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) March 29, 2021
• I feel bad for Ekblad, who was having one of his best seasons of his career. Fallout from this could be that the Panthers get active in the trade market for a defensemen. The NHL trade deadline is coming up on April 12th.
• Around the league, we look at the Buffalo Sabres, oh the poor Sabres. They held a 3-0 lead over the Philadelphia Flyers heading into the third period yesterday and lost 4-3 in overtime. It just is so unfair to such a diehard hockey market like Buffalo to have to endure this train wreck of an organization.
Team Season Gms
BUF 2020-21. 18
PIT 2003-04 18
PIT 2002-03 16
PHX 2003-04 15
NSH 2002-03 15
— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) March 30, 2021
• They have not won a game since February 23rd. The good news for the Sabres is that they will probably get one of the top three picks in the NHL Draft this summer, since the new rule being implemented this year is that only the top two picks, no longer the top three, are up for grabs. At worst, they’ll pick third.
• That bodes well for the Sabres, since the 2021 NHL Draft class is wide open. As for the Blackhawks, their targets in the draft have seemed to change a bit since the beginning of the season. Chicago was looking at potential top-five prospects at the beginning of the season, but now likely are shifting their focus to mid-round players. For reference, here is the latest version of my draft prospects to keep an eye on for the Blackhawks with their first and second round picks.
• A draft pick to look out for in 2023, Connor Bedard is doing more than players like Connor McDavid and John Tavares did as 15-year-olds playing in the CHL.
Here's how the exceptional status kids fared in their 15-year-old seasons:
• John Tavares 1.18
• Shane Wright 1.14
• Jason Spezza 1.06
• Connor McDavid 1.05
• Joe Veleno 0.69
And through 9 games..
• Connor Bedard 1.89
— /Cam Robinson/ is on spring break (@Hockey_Robinson) March 30, 2021
• This is a 15-year-old playing against mostly 18 and 19-year-old players. That’s impressive.
See above. pic.twitter.com/5ThK2Y36tN
— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) March 30, 2021
• Bedard has 17 points in 9 games in the WHL, tied for second in the league in scoring. He is tied with Peyton Krebs, a 2019 first-round pick, and trails Dylan Guenther, a 2021 top-ten prospect, and Cole Clayton, who is 21-years-old.
• That’s all for today. Have yourselves a good Tuesday! We’ll see you tonight for Blackhawks and Hurricanes at 6:30 p.m. CT.