The Chicago Blackhawks clinch a playoff berth for the eighth consecutive season as they survived their Easter weekend in Canada. Powered by Andrew Ladd and the return of Marcus Kruger, they won back-to-back games against the Calgary Flames and the Vancouver Canucks.
Blackhawks Clinch Playoff Berth
With Scott Darling in net once again, it was the offence that was the driving force, and Ladd would lead the charge against the Flames, scoring two goals to defeat them 4-1. Sunday’s game against the Canucks wasn’t as easy, but Ladd helped his team secure their playoff spot by scoring his third goal of the weekend to beat the Canucks 3-2.
I once heard someone saying the Blackhawks don’t rebuild, they reload. If the Blackhawks roster is truly a “revolving door”, this statement would appear to be true. The Blackhawks have been trying to replace guys like Patrick Sharp and Brandon Saad all season. This roster reload took all the way up until the trade deadline, when the Hawks acquired Ladd, Tomas Fleischmann and Dale Weise. With Kruger’s return, and when fully healthy, the Blackhawks set of forwards is as good as ever.
However, one key piece of the team is still missing. Corey Crawford has been dealing with an upper body injury and is still not skating with the team. Crawford has been one of the best goalies in the NHL this season, posting 35 wins, a .926 save percentage, and leading all goalies with seven shutouts. Darling has filled in nicely in Crawford’s absence, and many remember his efforts against Nashville in last year’s playoffs. But let’s remember that Darling is just a back-up. Despite the recent sloppy play in front of Crawford, Chicago will need the two-time champion and his experience if they hope to retain the Cup.
The Blackhawks have also experienced one other set back. All season long, they have been trying to find a true fourth defender. Just when they thought they found it in Trevor Daley, they only found disappointment. This resulted in a cycling of defenders via trades and their AHL affiliate team to help fill this void. But Chicago has been here before. Last year, after losing defenseman Michal Rozsival, the Hawks had to rely heavily on their top four defenders throughout the Western Conference Final and the Stanley Cup Final, with former Norris-winner Duncan Keith averaging around 32 minutes of ice time per game. They will be in this situation again, but with one less competent defender.
Currently third in the division and fifth in league standings, the Blackhawks are four points or less behind the next three teams in the standings, with the Washington Capitals having clinched the Presidents Trophy. With six games left on the season for the Blackhawks, there is still plenty of hockey to be played in order to make their trip to the Finals easier. They have the right coach and plenty of talent to win again.