NASHVILLE — Well, it’s come down to this: Game 82, the regular-season finale for the Chicago Blackhawks, who will be heading to the postseason next week.
Oh, it’s been another memorable season for the Blackhawks, who started off strong, had some so-so results following the Olympic break but are still feeling good heading into the postseason. As far as this regular-season finale against the Nashville Predators, there will be some players sitting: Niklas Hjalmarsson, Duncan Keith, Marcus Kruger and Michal Handzus. Antti Raanta will get the start.
As for those two injured gents back home, Patrick Kane (left knee) and Jonathan Toews (left arm) continue to skate. Asked if the duo would be ready when the playoffs commence, coach Joel Quenneville said, “absolutely.”
So while we prepare for a Sunday’s worth of scoreboard watching to find out where the Blackhawks are headed in the second season, we look at the Five Things to watch for in tonight’s regular-season finale vs. the Predators.
1. For the love of God, don’t repeat last night’s game. We won’t dwell on this long; there’s no need to focus much on a game that Quenneville said should be tossed in the rubbish bin. Still, it served as a reminder: even though these games don’t count for much, not playing well is inexcusable.
2. Everyone be smart. It’s Game 82, and the Blackhawks want to close out strong. But be smart when it comes to hits and health. You’re a few days away from the season that really counts; now is not the time to be reckless.
3. Spoil Nashville’s party. OK, we get it: there are probably as many, if not more, Blackhawks fans than there are Predators ones in the stands tonight. Still, the home crowd that is here will want the Preds to close out their season — one that might have been different if goaltender Pekka Rinne had been healthy throughout — on a good note. Don’t give them the satisfaction.
4. Help out your goaltender. Oh, this was a sticking point on Friday, wasn’t it? So many defensive lapses led to the Capitals seemingly scoring at will. Granted, the Preds probably don’t have the firepower that Washington does. No matter, the Blackhawks need to be better defensively tonight.
5. Our pick to click tonight is Patrick Sharp. We’re guessing he and Marian Hossa were given the chance to take tonight off but neither did. In Sharp’s case, could being just two goals away from tying his career high be incentive to play? Probably, so we see him having a good night pursuing goals No. 35 and 36.