The Colorado Avalanche were briefly triumphant this past week, clawing their way back out of the pit forged by horrendous January goaltending to return to a playoff position following their win over Dallas.
With a win for the Minnesota Wild on Friday, though, they were pushed back to the outside looking in — and they’ll need to win their game on Saturday to put themselves back where they were in the middle of the week.
The good news is that the team is on a three-game win streak, flying high after Philipp Grubauer finally started to show why the team shelled out for him last summer at the draft. And the Blackhawks are heading into the Saturday matinee game on the heels of a loss to the hapless Philadelphia Flyers, who look like they’ll be on the outside looking in once again.
The bad news, though, is that the Blackhawks are a fairly successful 6-3-1 in their last 10 games, have gotten Corey Crawford back from injury, and have outscored all but seven of the teams in the league this year. It’s a bad time for Colorado to need two points against this year’s Blackhawks squad.
The Avalanche have finally figured things out a bit, but they’re going to need to show that their current bout of success is sustainable long-term without Gabriel Landeskog — who is out, well, long-term. The loss of him up top is still being gauged, especially with the team winning five of their last eight games, but it’s hard to feel like it isn’t tough to replace him in the lineup.
Now the team might have to play the biggest games of the season without a second member fore their big-3 as Mikko Rantanen is questionable for the games this weekend - and beyond. Coach Bednar wouldn’t elaborate on Mikko’s status beyond “he’s getting treatment, we’ll see”. He didn’t skate yesterday but the team hasn’t recalled anyone from the Eagles, so it seems like they’re hopeful the big Finn can play this weekend.
Luckily the team’s best players are proving to be just that. Nathan MacKinnon, Tyson Barrie and Erik Johnson seem to have taken it upon themselves to drag this team into the playoffs by any means necessary.
Derick Brassard - Nathan MacKinnon - J.T. Compher
Colin Wilson - Carl Soderberg - Mikko Rantanen (hopefully!)
Alex Kerfoot - Tyson Jost - Matt Calvert
Sven Andrighetto - ———— - Gabriel Bourque
Sam Girard - Erik Johnson
Ian Cole - Tyson Barrie
Nikita Zadorov - Patrik Nemeth
It’s hard not to be impressed with how things have turned around in Chicago, starting with the return of Corey Crawford and extending into their impressive scoring depth.
Dylan Strome has looked like the player Arizona once hoped he was, finding immediate chemistry with former Erie Otters teammate Alex DeBrincat in Chicago’s top six. Then there’s Brendan Perlini, who’s on a hot streak, and a career-best season for Jonathan Toews — who had been all but written off after a poor showing last year. Add in that Patrick Kane is still one of the league’s most dazzling scoring threats, and they’re a tough team to beat right now.
The biggest weakness for Chicago is their defensive corps. All of it. The whole lineup. The bad news for Colorado, of course, is that behind that garbage pit of a blue line is one of the league’s most consistent goaltenders over the last decade — and he’s looked exactly like the Blackhawks expect him to since returning from yet another concussion.
Dylan Sikura - Jonathan Toews - Patrick Kane
Alex DeBrincat - Dylan Strome - Brendan Perlini
Brandon Saad - Artem Anisimov - Dominik Kahun
Chris Kunitz - David Kampf - Marcus Kruger
Duncan Keith - Erik Gustafsson
Gustav Forsling - Brent Seabrook
Carl Dahlstrom - Connor Murphy
With the team playing a back-to-back, we are likely to see both goaltenders this weekend — but expect Philipp Grubauer to be the more probable option in the Avalanche net this afternoon. He’s put up an incredible .945 sv% since the beginning of February, and is a big part of the reason why the Avalanche are back in the playoff hunt.
For the Blackhawks, the expectation is that their own hot-streak goaltender will get the nod on Saturday afternoon, as Corey Crawford will be the probable option to get tagged for his own team. Despite missing a chunk of the season with his second major concussion in two years, the veteran goaltender has been driving Chicago’s push back into relevance since February; his worst performance in his last five games has been a .912 save percentage that saw him still turn away three of 34 shots faced on the 18th.