Once viewed as a floundering team that was likely more worried about June’s draft than April’s playoffs, the Chicago Blackhawks have turned the tables on their season.
Chicago sat at 12-15-6 on Dec. 14 after a 4-3 loss — its fourth straight overall — to the rival Blues in St. Louis, and the 30 points gridded them only one point above the last-place Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference.
But a steady 13-6-0 run over 19 contests has the Central Division club back in the hunt and staring at the scoreboard and standings each night with much more scrutiny.
The Blackhawks will try to claim their 14th win over 20 games when they travel to Minnesota to face the Wild on Tuesday night in St. Paul, Minn.
Going into Tuesday’s game, Chicago (56 points) is just three points out of a wild-card spot, trailing the Calgary Flames (60) and Arizona Coyotes (59) for the final two slots in the conference’s postseason.
The first encounter between the divisional foes — a Dec. 15 contest in Chicago — was a special affair because it sparked the 13-win wave on which the Blackhawks are currently cruising along. Patrick Kane tallied his eighth career hat trick to pace the Blackhawks in their 5-3 win over the Wild to start Chicago’s run.
“It’s going to be pretty tough to be in the mix if we don’t get a bunch of games over .500 here as we get closer to the end,” Chicago coach Jeremy Colliton said.
Times haven’t been as good for the Wild.
Coach Bruce Boudreau’s team has lost two of its last three in a 4-6-1 slump over the previous 11 games. As points continue to slip away and the standings look bleaker every day, Minnesota appears to be the kind of team which may be sellers rather than buyers at the trade deadline in three weeks.
Jason Zucker continues to be a player whose name is bandied about in trade rumors around the league, and the California native is a productive forward with the potential to bring scoring to a team looking to boost its offensive production.
Zucker, who has three more years on his contract, is just two seasons removed from a 33-goal campaign. The 28-year-old winger played all 82 games for Minnesota that season and contributed 31 assists for a career-high 64 points in 2017-18.
He has 28 points (14 goals, 14 assists) in 41 games so far after missing 10 games from Dec. 17 to Jan. 9. Zucker has four points (two goals, two assists) in his last four games, including the game-winning goal to break a 2-2 tie against the Detroit Red Wings in the Wild’s final game before the All-Star break on Jan. 22.
But the Boston Bruins scored on three straight power plays and routed Boudreau’s bunch 6-1 in Minnesota on Saturday, leaving the fourth-year Wild bench boss nearly at a loss for words.
“When you play like that, in a situation where, boy, what a stepping stone it would’ve been to beat these guys with three more games coming this week, it’s just very frustrating. I’m having a hard time today talking about it,” Boudreau admitted after the defeat.
Adding intrigue to the game, Chicago claimed physical defenseman Nick Seeler off waivers from the Wild on Monday morning. Seeler, 26, played in six games for Minnesota this season and didn’t register a point.
–Field Level Media