Despite all of their struggles and despite all of the injuries they’ve been dealing with, the Chicago Blackhawks enter Sunday’s game against the New York Rangers in position to gain some ground on their Central Division rivals.
That’s because the Nashville Predators, who jumped out to a huge lead and looked to be world-beaters when they made some savvy moves before the NHL trade deadline, have lost their last six games in a row, and their lead over the Blackhawks has shrunk to just six points. The St. Louis Blues are also in Chicago’s sights, with a four-point lead and two games remaining against the Blackhawks in the regular season.
Unfortunately for the Blackhawks, they have competition quickly pursuing them for the third seed in the Central Division as the Minnesota Wild have been rocking and rolling in recent weeks. The Blackhawks currently only lead Minnesota by four points in the standings, and if they fall behind the surging Wild, they would have to likely deal with the Predators in the first round of the playoffs, with Nashville holding home ice advantage.
It is with that tenuous spot in the Central in mind that the Blackhawks approach their game with the Rangers. New York is in a dog-fight of its own, currently trailing the New York Islanders by just three points in the Metropolitan Division race. The Rangers have taken at least one point in the standings in 15 of their last 17 games, and with one of the league’s best offenses buoying them, they are looking to gain ground in the division and secure home-ice advantage come postseason time.
Sunday’s game provides the Blackhawks with a rare opportunity to play their Original Six rivals from the Eastern Conference, but the task won’t be easy. The Rangers currently have the second-best goal differential in the NHL, trailing only the Tampa Bay Lightning, and their solid defense and smoking-hot offense will pose a big test for a Blackhawks’ defense that looked shaky in giving up 47 shots on goal to the Edmonton Oilers on Friday night.
The Blackhawks will look to counter the Rangers’ attack with some changes of their own on the forward lines, as Bryan Bickell sits out the game as a healthy scratch. Andrew Desjardins will also be sitting out after making his Blackhawks debut on Friday night, and it looks as though Teuvo Teravainen will slot back into the rotation and play some heavy minutes on the second line and potentially the power play unit in the game.
If the Blackhawks are going to win this game, they will need Teravainen to provide a similar effort to the one he put forth against the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday night at the United Center. In that game, Teravainen was a terror all over the ice, back-checking aggressively and playing some of his best offensive hockey of the season as he drove play all night long. Joel Quenneville benched him for Friday’s game to give Desjardins a look, but Teravainen will once again have a chance to prove his mettle against a very good Rangers team in this one.
In addition to Teravainen making some strides in his game, the Blackhawks will need their defense to step up in a big way. So far this season, the Blackhawks have been allowing 29.8 shots per game, which is tied for 17th in the NHL. The Rangers meanwhile are ranked fourth in the league in shots per game, taking 31.7 of them per contest. The Hawks will have to do a better job of containing quality players like Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis in this game if they’re going to have a chance to help Corey Crawford steer them to a critical two points in the Central Division race.
The puck drops at 6:30pm Central time, and the contest can be seen on NBCSN.