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NHL dartboard figured out? Think again

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks

It was a close encounter of a careful kind Tuesday night. Indeed, when good humor man Dan Aykroyd’s puck shot for charity found the net between the second and third periods, a throng of 21,851 roared over the rarity. His jersey bore the current score: double zeroes.

But the rampaging Minnnesota Wild soon changed the arithmetic, tallying twice midway through the final session to defeat the Blackhawks 2-1 in the last regular-season game at the United Center, where they finished 24-12-5. In other words, Chicago’s boys of winter left some points on the pond this winter.

Just a moment after cold-stoning Jason Pominville, Corey Crawford yielded to Mikael Granlund. About four minutes hence, Jason Zucker made it 2-0, enough for the Wild to absorb Bryan Bickell’s goal and clinch a playoff berth that seemed highly improbable a few months ago.

Minnesota has reluctantly been in the business of disposable goalies for a while, at least until they pilfered Devan Dubnyk from the Arizona Coyotes in January. He plays every game, wins almost every game and has been so outrageous, there is mention of him in National Hockey League most valuable player conversations, never mind the fact that he’s been a Wild guy for but half a season.

The Blackhawks did not exactly pelt him mercilessly. They had one power play, and it did not dethrone the Kentucky Derby as the two most exciting minutes in sports. Brad Richards was out, Joakim Nordstrom back in, and introducing Kyle Baun, a Colgate product who said he was awed by the energy in the building. Of good size, Baun joined Brandon Saad and Antoine Vermette up front, took 17 shifts and bumped a few visitors, a sight that grandfather Bobby had to cherish while watching on the tube in Florida.

Bobby Baun, as Bobby Hull likes to say, “was tougher than a night in jail.” Baun incurred a broken ankle during Game 6 of the 1964 Stanley Cup Final against the Detroit Red Wings, was carried out on a stretcher, then returned to score the winner for the Toronto Maple Leafs, who also took Game 7. Baun had a tremendous career and was one of the original expansion draft picks by the Oakland Seals in 1967.

“I’ve heard some stories,” said Kyle, proudly.

The story for the Blackhawks Tuesday night was joyless. They lost on a night when the Blues and Predators also bowed, meaning all three top teams in the Central Division simply crossed a date off the calendar. Meanwhile, Minnesota, with their 11th straight road victory, sits only four points behind the Blackhawks, who gear up for visits to St. Louis and Colorado to complete the regular schedule.

On Sunday night — Easter night, a time of peace and goodwill — the giveaway at the United Center was a Denis Savard bobblehead that actually could perform a spin-o-rama (some assembly required). It felt like a perfectly appropriate honor for the Blackhawks’ balletic Hall of Fame ambassador.

Then the Blackhawks and Blues proceeded brazenly to ignore the holiday spirit. No upset there, although it was not as grumpy as the 1991 St. Patrick’s Day bedlam at the Stadium, where Dave Manson vs. Scott Stevens comprised the main event atop a jammed undercard.

Sunday night turned out to be a heavy, close tiff like so many between the Blackhawks and Blues. Among the greatest hits were Andrew Shaw’s launch toward Barret Jackman (penalty for charging, although Head Coach Joel Quenneville suggested Shaw never touched Jackman) and Brent Seabrook’s rattling of Ryan Reaves into the boards, costing the latter a tooth. Expect more pleasantries Thursday night.

It is likely that securing of positions will not be finalized until the regular season concludes Saturday night, at which time it is a cinch that some unfortunate squadrons — including perhaps the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings — will be excluded from the playoffs despite accumulating point totals in the mid-to-high 90s.

Just when you think you have the dartboard figured out, you are compelled to think again. Consider that last year, as April took hold, it appeared virtually certain that the Blackhawks would begin the Stanley Cup playoffs against Colorado. Never happened. The Blackhawks didn’t see the Avalanche again until Thanksgiving.

The landscape is occasionally daft. Witness: the Anaheim Ducks, who lead the West with 107 points, contended for the Presidents’ Trophy until Tuesday night and are 27 games over .500, own a goal differential of merely plus-13. The Blackhawks are plus-42. Strange.

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