GLENDALE, Ariz. – Finally, the finish line is in sight. The multi-day (we admit it: we’ve lost count), seven-game circus trip is reaching its inevitable conclusion.
The Chicago Blackhawks have done a little bit of everything on this trip. They’ve won big. They’ve lost big. They’ve had a few third-period comebacks. And like us, they’ve probably forgotten their home addresses.
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So now we reach the finale, an early-evening tilt against the Phoenix Coyotes, in which Antti Raanta makes his second start in the past three games. As the Blackhawks attempt to reach down for one more victory on a back-to-back – because that’s how you want to end a two-week trip, after all – we’ll look at the Five Things to watch for in tonight’s game.
1. Use whatever energy you have left. This has been a long trip, and it was showing a bit in the Blackhawks’ first period in Dallas on Friday night. Uncharacteristic turnovers were present, a byproduct of a long, energy-draining trip like this. But the Blackhawks didn’t give too much, and Corey Crawford was stellar in keeping the damage minimal. The Blackhawks want to be careful about that again tonight. The Coyotes last played on Wednesday, a 3-1 victory in Minnesota, so they’re rested. Knowing the end is in sight, the Blackhawks need to use every last drop of energy tonight.
2. Rinse and repeat for Raanta. The young goaltender gets his second start on this road trip, and he needs to play much like he did on Wednesday night against the Calgary Flames. He was cool and calm, despite nightmares that hampered his pregame nap that day. The Blackhawks were strong defensively around him, too. If that combination is in place again tonight, Raanta could be getting his second NHL victory.
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3. Don’t settle for the current road success. I asked coach Joel Quenneville if he needed a victory tonight for this road trip to be deemed a success. In the typical high-standard mode the Blackhawks have developed in recent years, Quenneville will definitely take a few more points. “We like going into this game thinking, ‘Let’s win it,’ and go from there,” Quenneville said prior to the game. “But we’re pleased with how we responded to a tough game in Colorado and, progressively, the consistency of our road game as been in place. We want to play the same way and hopefully we salvage something tonight.”
4. Beware of Vrbata. Coyotes right wing Radim Vrbata has been productive as of late, recording points in five of his last six games (two goals, six assists). The Blackhawks will want to keep an eye on him to ensure he doesn’t add more to that total.
5. Click time! We were kinda-sorta right on our Patrick Sharp call on Friday night, but we’re going in a different direction this evening. Let’s go with defenseman Duncan Keith, who’s had as sharp a road trip of any of the Blackhawks.