1. BACK ON TRACK
Chicago got exactly what it needed out of the first two games of a four-game road trip: four points. And in the process the Blackhawks clinched a playoff spot for the eighth straight season. Prior to picking up back-to-back wins in Western Canada—their first since Feb. 28 and March 2—the Blackhawks had lost six of seven and were in serious danger of falling into a wild card spot and a potential date with Pacific Division powerhouse Los Angeles. Two games later, the Blackhawks are just as close to first place as they are to the top wild card spot, as just four points separate Chicago from Dallas and St. Louis atop the division and fourth-place Nashville.
2. MINNESOTA NICE
The Minnesota Wild have turned things around at the right time. In 21 games under interim head coach John Torchetti, the Wild have posted 14-6-1 record, including five straight wins, which is the longest active winning streak in the league. During that stretch, the Wild have outscored their opponents 18-7. In their last outing, Devan Dubnyk, who was in net for each game of the streak, pitched a 29-save shutout over Colorado. The win was crucially important as the Avalanche were just three points behind Minnesota in the race for the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. Gaining two points on Tuesday against the team that knocked them out of the playoffs in each of the last three seasons may just help them return to postseason play again this year.
3. ZACH ATTACK
As is always the case when playing Minnesota, the Blackhawks will have to keep a keen eye on Zach Parise. The 31-year-old Minnesota native leads the Wild with 24 goals and is finding the net with extreme frequency in recent weeks. Parise, who has seven points over the past three games, has scored five goals in the past two tilts and was named the NHL’s First Star of the Week ending March 27 for his offensive outburst. He netted his fifth career hat trick and second of the season last Thursday in a 6-2 win over Calgary. He followed that up by scoring half of his team’s goals in a 4-0 win over Colorado. The 10-year pro is two goals shy of 300 in his career. He leads the team with 220 shots on goal this season, including 20 over his last four games.
4. IN A FLASH
Tomas Fleischmann has proven to be a huge asset to the Blackhawks in his short time with the club. He’s shown glimpses of high skill and plays a sound defensive game in addition to being a valuable addition to the penalty kill. In 13 games wearing a Blackhawks sweater, the former Canadien has scored four goals to go along with one helper. Combined with his work in Montreal, Fleischmann has 14 goals on the year, the most he’s had since tallying 27 with the Florida Panthers during the 2011-12 season.
“I like the way he plays,” Head Coach Joel Quenneville said after Sunday’s tilt. “He’s pretty neat with the puck as well. All of a sudden, in a lot of shifts something’s happening with him, which is good.”
5. CLIMBING THE LADDER
Another trade deadline acquisition, Andrew Ladd, has made an impact similar to Fleischmann’s. Ladd immediately joined the top line and has stayed there outside of a couple games, and he’s starting to reignite chemistry with his old teammates and new linemates, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa.
“It’s getting better each and every game, Ladd said. ”I think we’re just starting to figure out exactly the way we need to play as a threesome. Hopefully it will only get better.” Ladd scored the game-winning goal late in Sunday’s 3-2 win in Vancouver just a day after lighting the lamp twice in Calgary. He’s now up to five goals and three assists in 12 games back with the team that got him his second Stanley Cup in 2010.
THE FINAL WORD
While the wins in Western Canada were much needed, they were also expected, as both Calgary and Vancouver are playing out the string as they’ve been eliminated from playoff contention. The Blackhawks will take the ice in St. Paul against a much different team, one that is making a strong push in the playoff race. As Coach Q said in Vancouver, his team needs to build off the last two wins and do something in Minnesota they haven’t done all year: beat the Wild. The Blackhawks are winless in four meetings with the Central Division rival, and with only six games remaining and the playoff picture still taking shape, the Blackhawks should be focused to reverse that trend.