The Chicago Blackhawks can see the holiday break in sight. It’s a beautiful one for them, a three-day break of no games and no practices for a team that’s had plenty of the former and dwindling slate of the latter.
But before all the jolly fun and rest, the Blackhawks have two games remaining. And tonight, it’s that Pacific Northwest foe that Blackhawks fans love to hate. While the Blackhawks’ last game against the Vancouver Canucks lacked the drama and melodrama of previous contests, there’s always the potential it returns.
Whether or not it does, it should be an entertaining game. It always is between these two. So while you make your last-minute holiday travel plans or brace for the family visit — good luck with all that, by the way — we look at the Five Things to watch for in tonight’s Canucks-Blackhawks game.
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1. Don’t get sidetracked. The Blackhawks are feeling the holiday season like everyone else right now. They had their family skate on the United Center ice on Thursday. And while it’s tempting for them to eye the holiday hiatus, they need to stay focused tonight. The Blackhawks haven’t lost that focus much this season but when they have, they’ve had some trainwreck games. They need to stay the course, stay disciplined and stay smart against the Canucks.
2. Beware the Canucks’ ire. This isn’t so much about the Canucks’ dislike of the Blackhawks. It’s about Vancouver’s likely ticked-off level after the Dallas Stars blistered them on Thursday night. The Blackhawks know as well as any team how it feels to get clocked — please see Toronto last Saturday. They also know how to respond off a back-to-back — please see their game against Los Angeles on Sunday. They should expect the Canucks to have that same pushback on the second half of their trip. They’ll be angry, they’ll be motivated and they’ll be looking to erase a lousy Thursday night loss.
3. Get to their goaltender. If it’s Roberto Luongo, the Blackhawks have experience in knowing how to push his buttons. He was pulled on Thursday night, so if he starts this evening the Blackhawks need to get to him quickly. It took them some time to crack him when they were in Vancouver in November. If it’s Eddie Lack, who relieved Luongo on Friday night, the same applies. If Lack starts it would be his first against the Chicago Blackhawks, although no doubt he knows the history between the clubs. Make him uncomfortable.
4. Score first, but don’t get too comfortable if you do. Yes, the Blackhawks have a great record when scoring first (19-0-3). But the Canucks are a solid 8-8-3 when opponents score first on them, those eight victories in this category tying them for tops in the league (with Anaheim and Buffalo). So if any team’s going to come back from an early deficit, it’s the Canucks.
5. Who’s our pick to click tonight? We could’ve thrown Patrick Kane in here just about every night the past month or so, but that seems too easy. So we’ll go with Bryan Bickell. He had Tuesday’s tilt vs. Nashville to get his legs under him, and tonight will be his type of game.