And so it begins, the Blackhawks’ final stretch run without top players Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Both are shut down for the rest of the regular season, a smart move for a team that’s already set for the postseason and needs those two in peak form.
But this isn’t about the sidelined dynamic duo. This is about the Blackhawks and what they need to do in their final six regular-season games, starting tonight against the Minnesota Wild. Minnesota has won their last two games entering this evening, although the Wild is still 10 points behind the Blackhawks in the division race.
The Blackhawks need to start playing better, and being without two of their best may be the kick in the pants they need to finish strong. Will they get this latest message? Will we ever stop asking questions to which we don’t have the immediate answers? While we ponder these and more, we’ll also look at the Five Things to watch for in tonight’s Wild-Blackhawks game.
1. Don’t be a hero: This message goes to pretty much everyone on the Blackhawks roster, but especially their role players: keep playing your game and don’t try to single-handedly fill the Toews/Kane void. There aren’t many players who can do what both of those guys can – well, Marian Hossa’s pretty damn close but you get our point. It’s going to take a team effort to get through the final regular-season games; everyone has to do a little more, but no one guy can do everything.
[RELATED: Konroyd's keys for Blackhawks-Wild]
2. Corey Crawford needs some great games, starting tonight: Crawford’s been as up and down as the rest of the team lately, and he needs to get back to how he was playing right out of the Olympic break. The Blackhawks in front of him are going to be adjusting to their losses and also working with different power play and penalty killing units. The constant is Mr. Crawford, who needs to come through big down the stretch.
3. Andrew Shaw, don’t change: We all know when Shaw is at his best: when he’s being a pest, being a good net-front presence and staying out of the penalty box. The Blackhawks need that game from him in Toews’ absence. He’ll have Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa as his line mates. Shaw doesn’t have to do everything. Shaw just has to be Shaw.
4. Beware of Zach Parise: Here’s another no-brainer -- we’re full of them today, aren’t we? Parise’s been racking up the points lately, with 12 of them (two goals, 10 assists) and in his last eight games. The Blackhawks will have his hands full with him tonight.
5. Our pick to click is Patrick Sharp: When you lose a big player, you need another big player to step up and be a leader, in the locker room, on the ice and on the scoreboard. We see Sharp doing that this evening.