PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 18: Marcus Kruger #16 of the Chicago Blackhawks gets checked by Mark Streit #32 of the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on March 18, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
The Chicago Blackhawks will get their third opportunity to clinch a spot in the Western Conference playoffs when they take on the Ottawa Senators on Friday night in Canada’s capital city.
The Hawks, losers of a 3-0 decision to the Boston Bruins on Thursday night, had an opportunity to clinch a spot with a win in that game, but the loss, coupled with a Phoenix Coyotes victory over the New Jersey Devils, kept their inevitable qualification for the playoffs at bay for another day.
On Friday, a new wrinkle will be added to the mix for the Hawks to qualify for the playoffs. A win against the Senators would still get them into the postseason, but a Dallas Stars loss to the Nashville Predators would also do the trick. The Stars, who dropped a 4-2 decision to the Blackhawks earlier this week, are currently engaged in a fierce battle with the Coyotes for the second wildcard spot in the West.
As for the Blackhawks, they will be facing a Senators team that is currently fighting an uphill battle on multiple fronts. Not only are they eight points out of a playoff spot, but they also will be without star forward Bobby Ryan for the remainder of the season as the American-born winger had hernia surgery this week. The 243 goals the Senators have surrendered this season are the second-most allowed by an Eastern Conference team this season (behind only the New York Islanders), and despite the comical pratfall that the Toronto Maple Leafs are making right now in losing six consecutive games, the Senators haven’t been able to gain much ground.
The Hawks will need to look a lot more fluid on offense against a lowly Senators’ defense than they did Thursday against a potent Bruins attack. Guys like Marian Hossa and Brandon Saad were still creating chances for the defending champions, but there was little push elsewhere in the lineup as Tuukka Rask and company kept Chicago at bay. Joel Quenneville tried to tinker with the lineup throughout the game, but very little seemed to work on Thursday evening as the Blackhawks continued their offensive struggles without Patrick Kane in the lineup.
Blackhawk to Watch: Marcus Kruger
He has been given back his linemates as he was reunited with Ben Smith and Brandon Bollig on Thursday night, and he’ll need to take that as a jumpstart to his game. Over the past four contests, Kruger has had just four shots on goal and has been a minus-3 in those games, and he hasn’t picked up any points since he scored a goal against the St. Louis Blues earlier this month.
If Kruger can re-find his game with Bollig and Smith alongside him, then the Hawks could potentially get more favorable matchups for their top line guys, and that has to be something that Quenneville will be watching for.