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Blackhawks Buzz: March 18, 2014 at Philadelphia Flyers

by Brad Boron / Chicago Blackhawks

Tuesday’s matchup in Philadelphia closes out the Blackhawks’ 2013-14 season series against the Flyers; Chicago bested Philly 7-2 at the United Center on Dec. 11. Despite some success in Philadelphia during the 2010 Stanley Cup Final—when the Blackhawks clinched the championship in Game 6 of that series at Wells Fargo Center—Chicago has not won a regular-season game in the City of Brotherly Love since Dec. 26, 1996, a span of nine games. Philadelphia enters the game after a weekend home-and-home sweep against their hated rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins, outscoring the East’s best team by a total of 8-3 over those two games. The Blackhawks arrive having soundly bested Detroit 4-1 on Sunday, behind a three-point night from Marian Hossa.

After sitting out for five games with an upper-body injury, Marian Hossa put on a clinic against Detroit, scoring an impressive tally after an explosive burst of speed from the Red Wings’ blue line, while also assisting on two goals, including Jonathan Toews’ shorthanded effort. Hossa has recorded 34 points (13G, 21A) in 42 career matchups against Philadelphia, including a three-assist night in the Dec. 11.

No single player has come on stronger in the back half of the season than Flyers captain Claude Giroux , and the 26-year-old Ontario native has keyed his team’s turnaround. Giroux began the 2013-14 season slowly, registering only seven assists in his first 15 games as the Flyers sank to the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. Since December, Giroux has led all NHL players in points (51) and assists (32), and the Flyers have risen to second place in the Metropolitan Division. The Flyers are eight games under .500 when Giroux doesn’t record a point and 28-12-3 when he does.

Duncan Keith’s campaign for the Norris Trophy continued in Sunday’s win, as the defenseman recorded a pair of assists to go with his +2 plus/minus rating in the victory over Detroit. With his two helpers, Keith reached the 50-assist plateau for the second time in his career; the only other Blackhawks blueliners with multiple 50-assist seasons were Chris Chelios and Doug Wilson. Keith also became one of five defensemen to record 300 assists with Chicago. The British Columbia native leads all NHL defensemen in assists, and his 53 points are second only to Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson.

After five up-and-down seasons with Columbus, goaltender Steve Mason has landed with Philadelphia and taken on the role of their top goaltender over former Blackhawk Ray Emery. Only five goalies have more than Mason’s 28 wins this year, and he has four shutouts this season to go with a .914 save percentage and 2.57 goals-against average. Mason has gotten the job done lately, going 9-3-1 since Jan. 28 with three shutouts, but his performances have been inconsistent; he’s posted save percentages below .900 in six of his last 12 games.

Although the Blackhawks dominated in their first meeting with Philadelphia this year, this is not the same Flyers team they faced in December; Philly is 22-9-4 since then, and their offense and goaltending have been reinvigorated under the watch of first-year head coach Craig Berube. Philadelphia is a team that can frustrate with their physicality and will finish all of their checks; the Blackhawks’ speed and puck control, however, is one of the best ways to counteract that game plan. Philadelphia ranks in the league’s bottom third in terms of winning percentage when outshot by an opponent; if the Blackhawks can keep the puck on their sticks and contain the Flyers forwards, led by Giroux, Wayne Simmonds and Scott Hartnell, they should have a good chance at bringing home their first win from Philly since “Macarena” was on the Billboard charts.

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