Tonight is a big night for both the Chicago Blackhawks and Rockford IceHogs.
At 7:00 p.m. CT, the Blackhawks host the Florida Panthers for the final time this season, closing their season series. It will mark the final game this season in the United Center without fans in the building. In Rockford tonight, the IceHogs take on the Grand Rapids Griffins at the BMO Harris Bank Center. It will be the first game for the IceHogs with fans in the building. It is exciting times for the fans, even if both teams won’t be competing for the postseason.
• Well, technically no one in the AHL is competing for the postseason, but the IceHogs wouldn’t be in the hunt even if there were playoffs.
• Anyway, not to be a downer: It’s been 422 days between home games for the IceHogs with in attendance (March 6th, 2020), a 4-0 win over the same Grand Rapids Griffins. For Chicago, it will have been 425 days between March 11th, 2020 and May 9th, 2021 without fans in the stands at the United Center.
Excited to welcome back our Season Ticket Holders to the BMO tonight! Is it 6 PM yet? pic.twitter.com/ASzQttteMQ
— Rockford IceHogs (@goicehogs) May 1, 2021
• Make the jokes about the team all you want, or the fact that the city waited so long to get to this point, whatever, the point is that the City feels that COVID is under enough control and that protocols in place will make it safe enough for 25% capacity of fans to return. It’s a small slice of normal in a sports world where any slice of normal is welcome at this point in the game.
Connor Murphy on fans returning to the United Center: "It's awesome. It's super-exciting. We miss them, obviously. It feels like it's been a while and we can't wait to have whatever amount it is back. A lot of new guys here don't know what it's like and have been itching."
— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) April 29, 2021
• We’ve heard from Blackhawks players this season how much they have missed the fans, missed their energy. On road games, the team says they feel more of a jump in their game because fans in away arenas give them that more “normal” game atmosphere. I don’t have to tell you how much the game atmosphere at the United Center is a benefit to the Blackhawks, so it will be awesome to see the team play with fans cheering them on and hear REAL cheers and REAL boos.
Jeremy Colliton on getting Blackhawks fans back: "I think it’s great. That extra energy will really help our guys. Everyone wants that. The impact they have at home at the United Center is well known across the league."
— Phillip Thompson (@_phil_thompson) April 29, 2021
• That extra jolt that the fans provide the players could end up being the difference if they make the playoffs or not….Ok, just checking that you’re still paying attention.
• The Blackhawks entire tonight against the Panthers with 50 points in the standings, four points behind the Dallas Stars and six points behind the Nashville Predators. Their sliver of playoff hope is still there, but with Dallas and Nashville playing each other tonight, even with a Blackhawks win, they will still be chasing either teams by, at minimum, four points.
• Tonight is the second-to-last time every team in the Central Division will be playing on the same day, with the final time happening on the final regular season day of the season for the Central Division on May 10th. With the top three spots in the Division already clinched for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it’s just down to the fourth spot and just down to Chicago, Dallas, and Nashville.
• Chicago comes into tonight’s season series finale against the Panthers with a 2-3-2 record in their previous seven meetings and an overtime loss in their last meeting on Thursday night.
Colliton: "We have backed off the practices a lot here in the 2nd half, trying to keep guys fresh. I think that's hurt us a lot. I don't know if there was another way to go. This group needs practice."
— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) April 30, 2021
• In recent days, a good number of veteran players have been taking “maintenance days” from practice as we reach the final few games of the season. With those players sitting days out, you have to wonder where the level of the gas in the tank and the health is with the Blackhawks.
• Also, in that quote from head coach Jeremy Colliton, “This group needs practice” is not what you want to be saying for a team that is still trying to keep their playoff hopes alive. Maybe he’s alluding to the amount of young players and new players in the lineup needing time to acclimate to each other still, but either way that’s not great.
• The goal for me still has not changed. Play the young players and see who and what you want tome forward with heading into 2021-22. What do you make of Vinnie Hinostroza, Riley Stillman, Adam Gaudette (who has had a wild 2021), and what do you make of the future in net?
Jeremy Colliton on whether Collin Delia could get a start or two down the stretch: “It’s definitely on the table as far as getting him in. Nothing’s nailed down yet, but it would be a good thing to give him another opportunity.” #Blackhawks
— Charlie Roumeliotis (@CRoumeliotis) April 30, 2021
• The way that the Blackhawks handled the three-goalie rotation/competition earlier this season gave a very short stick to Collin Delia, who has not played in an NHL game since January 17th and has not played since March 7th during an AHL conditioning stint. If they plan to play him before the season is over, it’ll likely not be until they are out of the playoff race, because that would be fitting for how he has been treated by the organization this season.
• When talking about looking ahead to the 2021-22 season, the name Lukas Reichel continues to come up as a possible young prospect who could make his way to North America for the Blackhawks next season. He’s played well as a teenager in Germany’s DEL with Eisbären Berlin and will be playing in the DEL Championship Series starting tomorrow against Wolfsburg.
He has four points (one goal, three assists) and 14 shots while averaging 17:42 ice time per game in six playoff games.
— Brandon Cain (@brandonmcain) April 30, 2021
• Speaking of prospects, in the NFL draft that is, this crossover tweet from Jimmy Greenfield was too good to not include today.
Teven Jenkins is the best No. 39 draft pick in Chicago since Alex DeBrincat.
— Jimmy Greenfield (@jcgreenx) April 30, 2021
• Switching gears from former Blackhawks beat writers to former Blackhawks defensemen, ya’ll remember Erik Gustafsson? The Erik Gustafsson who once scored 60 points with Chicago in the 2018-19 season? Good ol’ Gus Bus. We’ll he was at it again last night with the Montreal Canadiens.
• If the Blackhawks had pulled the trigger on Gustafsson at the trade deadline in 2019, rather than in the offseason, they could have received at least a first-round pick for him at that time. Can you imagine?
• That’s all for today. Enjoy your Saturday and we will see you later tonight for Blackhawks and Panthers at 7:00 p.m. CT!