With the top seed in the Western Conference locked up, and the President’s Trophy all but in a glass case at the United Center, the Chicago Blackhawks will head into Monday night’s game with the Vancouver Canucks with a lot more to lose than they could hope to gain.
Yes, according to Scott Powers of ESPN Chicago the team is going to wait until at least the top seed in the league is clinched before they will begin to rest guys, but this game provides a unique opportunity for the team as they head into the season’s final week.
With the Canucks still trying to lock down the top spot in the Northwest Division, this is probably the last chance that the Blackhawks have to test themselves against a team that is a legitimate threat to their Stanley Cup chances.
The Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames are both out of the playoff picture, and the St. Louis Blues, the Hawks’ final opponent of the season, are comfortably in the playoffs and could simply be playing for seeding when the two teams meet.
The Canucks, however, are a different story. Along with the mutual distaste that the two clubs have for one another, Vancouver’s aggressive style of play, coupled with their ability to present matchup difficulties, is a big test for the Blackhawks. Along with teams like the Ducks and Kings, it is the Canucks that play the type of physical game that Chicago has a tough time matching up with, and that could be an issue as the calendar turns toward playoff time.
What fans should keep an eye on during this game is who head coach Joel Quenneville matches up with the Sedin twins in tonight’s contest. During the Hawks’ previous Cup run, it was largely guys like Dave Bolland who were expected to do the dirty work in slowing down the Canucks’ top line, but with Bolland now on the second line, Quenneville has a decision to make. Does he put out one of his better defensive centers against that group, and thereby minimize the impact offensively that Patrick Kane can hope to have, or will he have enough trust in this third line guys like Andrew Shaw and Bryan Bickell to do the job?
Monday night’s game may not be a playoff tilt, but it is going to provide a good glimpse into what strategy the Hawks will use when facing off against solid offensive teams.