With just five games remaining in the 2021 NHL season, including tonight’s contest against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Chicago Blackhawks will most likely miss the playoffs with next-to-nothing to play for in the final handful of games.
Heading into tonight, they’ve already lost four in-a-row, and are just 5-8-1 since the beginning of April. What do they have to play for? Who should be playing? Here’s five things I have on my wishlist to see from the Blackhawks over their fain five games.
#1: More Brandon Hagel
Averaging 13:45 minutes per game this season, Hagel has been getting above his average ice-time in the last handful of starts and I would want to see that continue. One of the more effective forwards the Blackhawks have on the roster, Hagel has averaged 14:59 per game since April 8th and has eight points over his last eight games, with a three-game point streak heading into Monday night. I’d love to see him continue to get used on both the powerplay and penalty-kill in the final five games and be given more responsibilities as a rookie making his final impact of the season.
#2: Power-killing ’em softly
Kirby Dach and Alex DeBrincat have been paired together on the penalty-kill ever since the trade deadline where the Blackhawks lost Mattias Janmark and Carl Söderberg. Since the deadline on April 12th, the Blackhawks are fourth in the NHL on the penalty-kill with a 92.0% kill-rate and much of that can be attributed to the work of Dach and DeBrincat. Behind David Kämpf and Ryan Carpenter, Dach and DeBrincat are the most used forwards on the penalty-kill since April 12th. I could see the pair being used like this morning forward into next season, and much like Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa before them, could become full-time players on both the powerplay and penalty-kill.
#3: Collin Delia
We’ve been over this plenty this season, since he hasn’t made an appearance for the Blackhawks since January 17th. Head coach Jeremy Colliton said on Monday morning he plans to get Delia into at least one of the final five games for Chicago. Too little, too late in my opinion. Delia’s two starts are tied for the fewest of any “third goalie” for a team that used only three this season along with Christopher Gibson with the Lightning and Cayden Primeau with the Montreal Canadiens.
#4 Showcase the new guys
Another point I’ve brought up before, but I want any and every rookie and young player conceivable to play as much as possible over these final five games. We’ve seen Wyatt Kalynuk make a big impression on the Blackhawks in the latter half of this season, as well as Riley Stillman since coming over from the Panthers at the trade deadline. Players like Hagel, Kalynuk, Stillman, Pius Suter, Adam Gaudette, Philipp Kurashev, Nicolas Beaudin, Ian Mitchell, and newly recalled MacKenzie Entwistle and Alec Regula should be getting as much ice-time as possible to have a final or first showcase of their talents at the NHL level.
#5 Keep fighting
Not so literally, as the last two fights the Blackhawks have had were lost by Connor Murphy and Nikita Zadorov, but not giving up in the final five games even though there is almost nothing to play for. In the last two outings for the Blackhawks, they have displayed come back efforts against a quality team in the Florida Panthers, fighting back to force overtime on Thursday night and coming back from down 2-0 and 5-2 on Saturday night. Paired with a 7-4 loss to the Lightning, which went as well as it could have against a stacked Tampa Bay team, the Blackhawks haven’t played as if they were looking for the exit door. It’s what you want to see out of a team that you hope will be playoff contenders next season.
Three games against the Hurricanes on the road and two home games, with fans in the stands for the first time, against the Dallas Stars and that’s all she’ll write on the shortened 2021 season. If the Blackhawks can make all of these five things come true over the final stretch of the season, I’ll be very satisfied with the finish to games that didn’t matter. At the same time, having playoff hopes still alive with five games left to play is a much better deal than most Chicago fans would have expected this season. At the end of the day, there really is no way to look at this season as a disappointment for the Blackhawks.