CHICAGO -- A week ago, the Chicago Blackhawks got a scare after two losses in a row to the Philadelphia Flyers and Columbus Blue Jackets dropped them out of third place in the Central Division.
They were passed by the Minnesota Wild by a point and concern was brewing that Chicago might fall out of a Stanley Cup Playoff spot altogether. Back-to-back wins at the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday, and at home against the Los Angeles Kings on Monday, eased those fears, but the Blackhawks know they can’t let up just yet.
They’re on the verge of clinching a playoff spot with a win against the Vancouver Canucks at United Center on Thursday (8:30 p.m. ET; SNP, CSN-CH), but they’re not assuming anything is a given.
"I think this game is the same meaning as the last couple of games," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "It’s very important for both teams. There’s still a lot to be sorted out and you want to move ahead. There’s a lot of [teams] around us, as well, so I don’t think anything’s been decided."
The Canucks are in the same situation. They’re second in the Pacific Division, but only four points ahead of the Calgary Flames. Each has five games left, including games Thursday.
"With the way this League is, anybody can beat anybody," Canucks center Linden Vey said. "If we don’t show up the next five games, we could find ourselves even outside the playoffs. So, we need to keep pushing. This is the time of year when you need to start peaking and finding your game going into the playoffs."
Vancouver coach Willie Desjardins would also like the Canucks to be more disciplined. They’ve won five straight games on the road, including a 5-4 shootout victory at the Nashville Predators on Tuesday, but Nashville had seven power plays in that game. The Predators scored on two, including a game-tying goal by Mike Fisher at 14:57 of the third period.
The Canucks were shorthanded for 13:59 in the game, including the final 3:54 of regulation and 1:06 of overtime after Alexandre Burrows was assessed a major penalty and game misconduct for interference late in the third.
"We’ve talked about it," Desjardins said. "We talked about it with our captains and with our group. If we don’t have more discipline than that, we’re not going to win. We were fortunate last game to find a way to win that game and we won’t win [that way]. If I said they were going to get just about 15 minutes on the power play going into the game, you wouldn’t give us much chance to win. We know that. It’s us that has to be better."
The Blackhawks, meanwhile, need to bring the same effort they had from start to finish against the Kings. That game was the best they’ve played in a long time and they’d like to keep the momentum rolling with the playoffs quickly approaching.
"We’ve got some momentum here right now and we’ve got to continue to harness that and get better every day," Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook said. "It’s been a long year, as every year is, but the best part of the year is coming up [in the] playoffs."
Here are the projected lineups:
Daniel Sedin – Henrik Sedin – Alexandre Burrows
Chris Higgins – Nick Bonino – Radim Vrbata
Shawn Matthias – Linden Vey – Derek Dorsett
Ronalds Kenins – Bo Horvat – Jannik Hansen
Alexander Edler – Christopher Tanev
Dan Hamhuis – Yannick Weber
Luca Sbisa – Kevin Bieksa
Scratched: Brandon McMillan, Ryan Stanton
Injured: Ryan Miller (knee), Brad Richardson (ankle), Zack Kassian (back).
Kris Versteeg – Jonathan Toews – Marian Hossa
Patrick Sharp – Brad Richards – Antoine Vermette
Bryan Bickell – Andrew Shaw – Brandon Saad
Andrew Desjardins – Marcus Kruger – Teuvo Teravainen
Johnny Oduya – Niklas Hjalmarsson
Duncan Keith – Michal Rozsival
Kimmo Timonen – Brent Seabrook
Scratched: David Rundblad, Kyle Baun, Michael Paliotta
Injured: Patrick Kane (left clavicle), Daniel Carcillo (upper body), Joakim Nordstrom (upper body)
Status update: Richards and Hossa didn’t participate in the morning skate, but both are expected to play. … Kane, who practiced Wednesday, went through his first morning skate since being injured Feb. 24 against the Florida Panthers.
Who’s hot: Oduya has four assists and is plus-11 in 10 games since returning from an upper-body injury that sidelined him for two weeks. … Bonino has points in three straight games (two goals, three assists) and in six of the past 10.