[Edit: In a spirit of tit-for-tat reciprocity, my answers to Stone Cutter's questions are now up on the enemy blog.]
The Stars beat a division rival in the final game of a season series last night, and they take on another division rival in the final game of a season series tonight. 2-1 last night over the Winnipeg Jets, and it's anyone's guess how they'll fare tonight against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Seeing as how I've written about the Blackhawks multiple times already this season, I'm going to put you in the capable hands of Michael Stonecutter, blogger over at our sister site Second City Hockey. He's wrong about everything, of course, but humor him.
My questions, his answers:
1) After being tabbed by many early in the season to win the Central Division, or at least be in a dogfight for top spot with the Blues, it would appear St. Louis have taken a stranglehold on Conference III. Looking forward to your first-round matchup with the Avs? Or do you still hold out hope of winning the division and facing the ‘Wild Dallas Coyotes' in the first round?
The six point lead, the game in hand, and the loss of Patrick Kane on our side doesn't lend much hope. Still the Blues are facing some tough teams that have reasons to play down the stretch. Is it completely out of the realm of possibility that the Blackhawks make a run if STL falters? Of course not, this is the NHL. But I've succumbed to the notion that St. Louis is going to win The Trois.
Despite the Hawks dismal regular season record against the Avs (1-3-1), I'm pretty confident in a matchup against them. The Blackhawks worst possession game against Colorado was March 12th when they only managed a 55.2% Fenwick. Again, 55.2% was their WORST game.
The X Factor is goalie Semyon Varlamov. His save percentage against the Blackhawks is a ridonkulous 96%. I'm familiar with the fact that a goalie can steal a series (shoves a middle finger in Mike Smith's face), but the Blackhawks playoff experience and offensive onslaught should propel them past Roy and the Avalanche.
2) The Finnish Patrick Kane may be debuting against Dallas tonight, in place of the Patrick Kane Patrick Kane. Believe it or not, there are a few of us here who don't follow Chicago prospects. For our benefit, tell us more about your new super rookie.
Ah, the Prince that was Promised. At this point I wager half of Chicago would let Teuvo make flowers on them. Teuvo Teravainen is the Blackhawks first round selection from the 2012 draft. Coming in to the draft, he was the 2nd ranked international skater and the 7th overall prospect according to TSN. A hot run on defensemen opened the door for the rich to get richer, and the Blackhawks snagged the Finnish center with the 18th pick.
The Finnish Flash is having quite the year. After a good showing in Blackhawks training camp, he put team Finland on his back to win the World Junior Championships. Then he dominated the Finnish league by putting up a point per game for Jokerit. The Kane comparison is pretty apt. Both have slight builds and are pure playmakers. He's young, so his defense at the NHL level can't possible be where it needs to be. You can see some highlights of Teuvo Teravainen on Second City Hockey.
Teuvo is the source of much excitement among Hawks nation right now. You always want to see your top prospect ply his trade with the big squad, and Teravainen is no different. For a team that has won two cups with a rotating door of capable, but not extraordinary second line centers, having a true 2L pivot man is a very exciting proposition. Do I expect him to be the eater of worlds we like to bill him as? Eventually maybe, but right now it's just going to be damn fun to watch.
3) And speaking of Patrick Kane, it would appear he'll be out for the remainder of the regular season. How much is that gonna hurt?
You're never happy about losing a guy like Humpty Hump for any period of time, and any sort of knee injury always raises a brow. There just aren't many pairs of hands like his in the league, and what he does for the Hawks is irreplaceable. The pessimist sees a difficult task to fend off Colorado in the division, and worries about lingering mobility and speed issues in the playoffs. The rose colored glasses wearers will point out that a guy who has played A LOT of hockey in the last calendar year is going to get a chance to heal up and go into the postseason at 100%. It's somewhere in the middle I bet, and the Blackhawks are capable enough without him to fend off the Avs.
The strength of this team has always been the depth, and it's going to be tested night in and night out. Guys like Bickell, Versteeg, Saad, and Shaw need to get on the scoreboard. As weird as it sounds, if 30 goal scorer Patrick Sharp can heat up (2G in his last 16 games) he is capable of carrying a team offensively. We are the worst, I know.
4) Brandon Bollig. Discuss.
Never have I seen a fourth liner be the source of so much derision. The Bollig argument isn't if he has improved from face puncher status. Despite what people may think, he's proven to be a capable NHL 4th liner. Bollig, Ben Smith, and Marcus Kruger is the most consistent Blackhawks line this season.
The frustration stems from his career arc. He's had the opportunity to grow at NHL while more talented prospects (Jeremy Morin, Jimmy Olsen, Brandon Pirri) are/were given the shortest leash.
The extension handed out for his grititude was perplexing to say the least. Stan Bowman is one of the best asset managers in the league. To extend a marginal fourth line guy whose value will never be higher for THREE years boggled some noggins.
I worry about his game in the playoffs, as last year he got his manhandled any time he saw the ice. He is a different player now, but I wonder if Q has the gumption to put him in the press box should things go awry. If he proves to be not a detriment, I might have to change my tune.
5) And lastly, what are your predictions for tonight? And, be honest. We know ya'll lost to Nashville on Sunday.
It's been a bit of a bumpy road as the Blackhawks have been battling the injury bug as of late. Kane, Hossa, Saad, Bickell, and Rozsival have all missed time as of late. But as the band gets back together the Blackhawks will be looking for a bounceback. I think the injection of Teuvo and his dragon blood will bring some excitement. A healthy Bryan Bickell (no word yet on his availability) would be nice as well.
The Blackhawks know that it's going to be a fight to the end for the second spot in Conference III, and they will be hungry after the disappointing loss to the Preds. Is it going to be a 6-2 wiping like in December? Probably not, but I wouldn't want to be the Stars tonight. I'll take Blackhawks 3-1.
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Ladies and gentlemen, the delusional Michael Stonecutter.
Seriously though, a big thanks to him for his time. Also thanks to the incomparable Ali Lawrence, who created the Nichushkin-Teravainen artwork specifically for this article.
Turns out Blackhawks fans aren't all bad.
* * *
Tim Thomas talks of the adjustments that he, and the team, will need to make. [Sports Day DFW]
The Phoenix Coyotes coughed up a lead with 3 minutes remaining in their game against the Rangers, eventually losing in overtime. A more important loss though may have been that of Mike Smith, who left the game in the third period. [NHL.com]
James Neal has a reputation? Curious. [Puck Daddy]
Down Goes Brown talks the playoff picture. You thought the Stars 0-3-1 stretch was bad? Try being a Maple Leafs fan. [Grantland]
And lastly, the [Redacted] Week in Review, from Obscene Alex. Someday I'd like to get my hands on a copy of the unedited transcript. Just for [rubber ducks] and giggles. [III Communication]