Blackhawks-Blue Jackets Preview
The Chicago Blackhawks' title defense will begin on the road, and they're banking on having two-time Stanley Cup-winning goaltender Corey Crawford in their net.
Crawford is not expected to go into the postseason cold and will likely get his chance to prepare Saturday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets, his first start in nearly a month.
Chicago (47-26-8) ended its pursuit of home-ice advantage for the opening round when it blew a late lead in a 2-1 overtime loss to St. Louis on Thursday. In his 11th consecutive start, Scott Darling yielded the tying goal with 1:16 remaining in regulation.
The Blackhawks will head to Dallas or St. Louis to begin their quest for a second straight Cup and their fourth in seven years. The Stars and Blues, who both play their regular-season finales Saturday night, each have 107 points with Dallas owning the non-shootout wins tiebreaker.
It's unclear how short-handed Chicago will be for that playoff opener, aside from Duncan Keith wrapping up his six-game suspension. Artem Anisimov (upper body), Marian Hossa (lower body) and Andrew Shaw (upper body) won't play in Columbus, but Hossa appears the closest to returning as he participate in a morning skate Thursday.
Crawford also took part and could make his first start since March 14. He has missed the past 11 games because of an upper-body injury.
"We got him targeted for Saturday," coach Joel Quenneville said.
Crawford was in net for the Blackhawks' 4-1 victory over Columbus on Oct. 17, making 22 saves in the team's 14th win in 16 matchups. Chicago is 9-0-1 in its last 10 at Nationwide Arena.
Patrick Kane will likely get the chance to finish off his first NHL scoring crown and make his final case for league MVP. Kane, who has 103 points, is also still in faint contention for the goal-scoring title, but Washington's Alex Ovechkin has 47 to Kane's 44 and two games left to play.
Kane scored an empty-net goal in the victory in October and has a five-game point streak against the Blue Jackets (33-40-8).
Linemate Artemi Panarin can claim a $1.725 million bonus if he finishes in the top-10 forwards in goals, assists, points or points per game. He is currently ninth with 74 points, tied for 11th with 0.94 ppg (0.01 behind the top 10) and tied for 11th with 46 assists (one behind the top 10).
Panarin had two assists against the Blue Jackets.
Columbus is set to finish last in the Metropolitan Division, but it can end its campaign with its first three-game win streak since Nov. 13-17 and second this season. The Blue Jackets have beaten a pair of eliminated teams by a combined 9-2 in back-to-back road victories.
Ex-Blackhawks forward Brandon Saad capped the scoring in Friday's 4-1 win against Buffalo with his career-best 30th goal and sixth in five games. The Blue Jackets have a pair of 30-goal scorers for the first time with Boone Jenner reaching that mark April 2.
"(Saad is) a huge part of our team and I'm glad," coach John Tortorella said. "Although we're done after (Saturday), it's nice for those guys to have those types of milestones. And we expect more of it when we get going next year."
Saad didn't register a point in his only matchup with his former club.