TAMPA, Fla. — And now, the end is near ... the end of the Blackhawks’ Florida (and moms’) trip, that is. It’s reminiscing night for Nikolai Khabibulin, who will start against his former club in the building in which he won the Stanley Cup 10 seasons ago.
So as we enjoy a few more hours in the warm weather, here are Five Things to Watch for in tonight’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
1. A third-period goal? Yes, we’ve been harping on the Blackhawks’ lack of third-period goals quite a bit in the early going. It’s just too hard (and bizarre) to ignore. The Blackhawks have now gone eight games without a goal in the third period, and they want to bust out of that trend ASAP. It’s only a matter of time; a team with this much skill can’t be silent late for much longer. We say the third-period drought ends tonight.
2. Solving Bishop. Ben Bishop was stellar when the Lightning beat the Blackhawks in a shootout earlier this month. He’s big (6-foot-7) and, save a rough outing against Boston, he’s been good this season. With his size, he’s another one of those goaltenders who's tough to beat low. The Blackhawks will need lift, as well as traffic, to beat him. “If he sees pucks, he’s going to be tougher. Get traffic, bodies and second opportunities and create confusion there,” coach Joel Quenneville said.
3.Keep rolling. The Blackhawks switched their lines up prior to their victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs, and there’s no doubt this is the balance they were hoping to get from them. It’s most noticeable with how Bryan Bickell’s come out of his shell, now that he’s back on that third line. Wouldn’t be surprised if that line (with Andrew Shaw and Marcus Kruger) makes an impact tonight.
4. Khabibulin factor. It’ll only be Khabibulin’s second start of the season, so there’s always the question of how rusty a backup goaltender could be. But playing back where he won it all will probably be a good motivator for Khabibulin, who was in very good spirits following today’s morning skate.
5. Breakout time? Yes, I said before the Toronto game that it was about time the Blackhawks bust out of their two-goals-a-game rut. Technically, they did (they scored three). Still, they’re due to just unleash an offensive display. Could it be tonight?