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GAME DAY PREVIEW- GAME 54: CANUCKS @ CHICAGO

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Last game of the road swing brings the Canucks to the Windy City for a battle against an old foe.

NHL: Vancouver Canucks at Chicago Blackhawks Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Vancouver Canucks (24-24-6) vs Chicago Blackhawks (21-24-9)

Where: United Center, Chicago, IL

When: 5:30 pm PST

Where to Watch: SNP

SB Nation Opposition Blog: Second City Hockey

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Earlier in the week the Canucks went up against a Philadelphia team that was riding a 7 game win streak. Then, they went up against a struggling Washington Capitals squad. They lost both games by a goal. Now, they face another hot team chasing them for that last Wild Card spot: the Chicago Blackhawks.

Much like Philly, the Hawks looked very much like it was lottery time, but it’s amazing how winning a few in the West can get you right back in the race in just a couple weeks time. It’s going to make for an exciting stretch run for a lot of teams, but good lord this Conference is just bloody awful.

It’s a freakin’ miracle the Canucks have lost 2 straight and still managed to not drop in the standings, but the teams below them are inching closer (did I not tell you to watch out for St Louis a few weeks back???), so they need a win tonight if they want to head home still in the Wild Card slot.

One thing that has to change tonight is an overall better effort from the forward lines. From Elias Pettersson being a non-factor to Brock Boeser not getting a single shot attempt, the Canucks have to find ways to battle through the kind of smothering defensive coverage teams are going to throw at them.

So what’s up with Chicago? Have the rumblings of their demise been exaggerated? After spinning their tires following the firing of Joel Quennville, Jeremy Colliton’s team just might be figuring things out. We spoke to Dave Melton of Second City Hockey to get up to speed on the Hawks for tonight’s game:

1- Tuesday night’s win had to be satisfying, does it feel like the Hawks are capable of making a push for that last wild card spot?

It feels a lot more capable than it did three weeks ago after the Hawks had lost five in a row. On Jan. 16, we called the Blackhawks playoff hopes “microscopic” (link to that article here: https://www.secondcityhockey.com/2019/1/16/18184282/chicago-blackhawks-stanley-cup-playoffs-projections-reports-updates-nhl-2019). But the recent five-game winning streak, combined with the relative mediocrity of the other Western Conference teams chasing a wild card spot, has increased the odds significantly. Chicago still has an uphill climb, but the thought has gone from “almost certainly not happening” to “not totally out of the question.”

2- How do you feel Jeremy Colliton is doing as a head coach? Those are some mighty big shoes to fill, is he up to the task?

It’s still tough to tell because the sample size remains small. The early returns were incredibly discouraging, because the Hawks went 2-4-2 in his first eight games. Like the playoff hopes, though, the recent surge has brightened the views around here, and that includes the perception of Colliton. The biggest change under Colliton has been the suddenly unstoppable Blackhawks power play. Earlier this season, Chicago’s power play was ranked last in the NHL. It’s up to 11th now, riding an absurd 20-for-49 (41 percent) stretch over the last 16 games. The Blackhawks were consistently terrible with the man advantage under Joel Quenneville, which defied logic, due to the incredible offensive talent Chicago’s had. Colliton’s success elsewhere remains up for debate, most notably on the blue line, where Chicago’s in-zone defense remains suspect (that could be more of a personnel issue than a coaching one). But the recent success the power play is a major plus for Colliton.

3- With word that Brent Seabrook isn’t going to waive his NTC, what moves do you see the Hawks making as the deadline approaches?

Even if they get back into the playoff race, it’s hard to imagine they’re going to be buyers at the deadline. If the Blackhawks fall out of the playoff picture again, veterans on expiring deals like Marcus Kruger and Chris Kunitz could be on the move. It wouldn’t be surprising to see names like Artem Anisimov or John Hayden get moved, either. Unless Seabrook or Duncan Keith have a change of heart, they’re probably not going anywhere, along with the remainder of Chicago’s core players. Any trades the Blackhawks make will likely be minor ones.

4- What’s the latest on Corey Crawford? Any chance he returns this season?

If you hear anything, can you let us know? The two most recent updates on Crawford came earlier this week. On Feb. 2, Colliton said that the team remains hopeful that Crawford will return this season. On Monday, Colliton said: “it’s just a day-to-day thing. We’ll see, see how the next few weeks play out.” Crawford participates in pre-practice drills by himself for a second time that day.The answer to your question about whether or not he’ll be back in 2018-19 is ... maybe? We hope?

5- With a lot of new faces on the Hawks, who should we be watching out for tonight?

- Defenseman Erik Gustafsson has been on fire over the last few weeks, part of the resurgent Blackhawks power play. His defense remains in question but his offensive contributions have been too good to ignore.

- Center Dylan Strome, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, has been a great fit with the Blackhawks, racking up 24 points in 30 games since being traded from the Arizona Coyotes.

- In Crawford’s absence, young goaltender Collin Delia has been promoted and is making his case to be the Blackhawks goaltender of the future.

Thanks to Dave and the gang at SCH for doing this.

Here’s what we can expect to see line-wise tonight (via The Province)

CANUCKS’ LINES

LW – C – RW

Nikolay GoldobinBo HorvatBrock Boeser

Antoine Roussel – Elias Pettersson – Josh Leivo

Markus GranlundBrandon SutterJake Virtanen

Loui ErikssonJay BeagleTyler Motte

Defence pairings

Ben HuttonTroy Stecher

Chris Tanev – Erik Gudbranson

Derrick PouliotAlex Biega

Goalies: Jacob Markstrom, Mike DiPietro

SICK BAY

Alex Edler (concussion, IR), Sven Baertschi (undisclosed, IR), Thatcher Demko (knee)

BLACKHAWKS’ LINES

LW – C – RW

Drake CaggiulaJonathan ToewsPatrick Kane

Alex Debrincat – Dylan Strome – Dominik Kahn

Brandon SaadDavid Kampf – Marcus Kruger

Brendan PerliniArtem Anisimov – John Hayden

Defence pairings

Duncan KeithBrent Seabrook

Carl DahlstromConnor Murphy

Gustav Forsling – Erik Gustafsson

Goalies: Cam Ward, Collin Delia

SICK BAY

Corey Crawford (concussion, IR)

SPECIAL TEAMS

Power play

Canucks: 22nd (16.7%)

Blackhawks: 11th (21.3%)

Penalty kill

Canucks: 19th (79.4%)

Blackhawks: 31st (73.4%)

Thatcher Demko had an MRI in Vancouver yesterday, and we should be hearing the results of that today. Still no word on what’s wrong with Sven Baertschi, which is... worrisome.

GAME DAY BATTLE HYMN

A Chicago based band with a Canadian connection today in the GDBH. Immortal Bird feature former Woods Of Ypres drummer Rae Amitay. Mixing elements of black metal, grindcore, progressive and post-metal into a snarling beast, Immortal Bird can throw a number of aural curveballs at you. A challenging listen, but very much in a good way. From their album ‘Empress/Abscess’ this is ‘The Sycophant’, and make sure to check them out on Bandcamp.