Going into the previous game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, I had a sense that the Chicago Blackhawks were dead in the water (as far as their playoff hopes were concerned). I didn’t have much faith that any kind of miraculous run was about to begin, and when they gave up the first two goals of the game rather quickly, I was still shocked and sad, even though in my mind and my heart, there was no realistic reason to be that mad. This was the end for the 2021 postseason hopes. But it still sucked to watch. It still sucks to see them compete and be close to making the postseason and fizzle out with just a handful of games to go. It’s sports. It’s why we watch and why we care.
So as they turn their attentions to the Florida Panthers for the next two games, against a team that already clinched a playoff spot, what is left to play for? Why do we need to care?
• First off, let me not bury the lede here: the Chicago Blackhawks and Chicago Bulls will have fans back in the stands effective immediately. A solid 25% capacity, or just over 5,000 fans, will be allowed at the United Center for the final few weeks of the NHL and NBA seasons.
— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) April 29, 2021
• The Blackhawks are at home tonight and Saturday, but will not be hosting fans that quickly. The team announced that the final two home games of the season, May 9th and 10th against the Dallas Stars, will house fans for the first and last times of the 2021 schedule. Better late than never.
Our progress since COVID-19 first hit our city makes this smart, safe reopening possible. @ChicagoBulls and @NHLBlackhawks fans, welcome back to the @UnitedCenter! Let’s go. #OpenChicago🏀🏒 pic.twitter.com/qZZRD4mN8K
— Mayor Lori Lightfoot (@chicagosmayor) April 29, 2021
• This is great news because it is a signal that the City of Chicago’s COVID-19 restrictions are getting to the point where things can get eased a bit more, because people are getting better and the virus is getting more under control. Those are all good things, whether the teams are playing well or not, that doesn’t matter in this case.
• Now, to what I’d like to care about as a fan for the final two weeks of the season.
• I’d like to care about how the defense, specifically the young defenders, look against top competition and team’s that are better and faster than Chicago.
• I’d like to care about whether or not Dylan Strome is going to finish his season strong and if he’s going to be part of the long-term future of the team.
• I’d like to care about the players who may be exposed in this summer’s Seattle Expansion Draft, guys like Brett Connolly, Calvin de Haan, and Malcolm Subban play down the stretch to see if any of them put together a final stretch of games that makes them intriguing to Seattle.
• I’d like to care about the future in net for the Blackhawks. I’d like to see if Kevin Lankinen can bounce back from his recent poor performances, if Malcolm Subban is going to be worth of the backup spot again next year, and if the organization even cares about Collin Delia anymore.
• I’d like to care about Patrick Kane finishing one of his best season’s in his career as one of the top three point-producers in the NHL. He’s not going to catch Leon Draisaitl or Connor McDavid, but finish strong and finish third.
• Quickly, speaking of McDavid, this guy is unmatched in hockey right now. Just playing on another planet.
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) April 29, 2021
• We truly need to take some more time to appreciate what he is doing in this shortened season.
— Eric Friesen 🏒 (@EricJFriesen) April 29, 2021
• Ok, back to the Blackhawks.
• I’d like to care about Chicago starting games the right way and keeping that effort through a full 60 minutes. I can count on one hand the amount of times we’ve seen that this season. Part of it is coaching, part is on the players.
• I’d like to care about Brandon Hagel, Philipp Kurashev, Pius Suter and the other rookies finishing the year strong and getting more ice-time and opportunities in the final seven games.
• I’d like to care about MORE young players getting into the lineup. Let’s see MacKenzie Entwistle, Evan Barratt, Alec Regula, Andrei Altybarmakyan, or Isaak Phillips.
• I’d like to care about Alex DeBrincat and Dominik Kubalík finishing their seasons strong as they make their cases as legitimate stars in the NHL.
• Mostly, I’d like to care that this organization is heading in the right direction. I want to believe that what we have seen so far, is a glimpse of the future and a building block to getting back to the top of the NHL and competing for Stanley Cups.
• That’s why I’d like to care about in the next two weeks.
• In other news, today is Blackhawks Captain Jonathan Toews’ 33rd Birthday!
— Bleacher Nation Blackhawks (@BN_Blackhawks) April 29, 2021
• 33…where has the time gone?
• The news of Toews’ health being on the right track and that the hope/expectation now is that he will return to the Blackhawks next season was an incredible report last week. We may never know what kept him away from the team this season, and that’s fine. The bottom line remains that Toews is able to lead a healthy and happy life now and after hockey. If he doesn’t come back, that will be sad news for Blackhawks fans and for Toews, that he wouldn’t be able to go out the way he probably wanted to, but the most important factor is his health. We’ve seen it with Corey Crawford, Brent Seabrook, and Andrew Shaw ending their playing careers this year. The health and well-being of these guys supersede anything they “owe” to us as fans or to the sport.
• That’s all for today. Enjoy your Thursday! We will see you tonight for Blackhawks and Panthers at 7:00 p.m. CT!