Blackhawks expecting the Wild's best in Game 4


Blackhawks expecting the Wild's best in Game 4

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Backs against the wall, in a must-win situation and facing the most desperate situation.

Insert whatever cliché you’d like: the Minnesota Wild is experiencing it right now. The Blackhawks could sweep them out of the postseason, so it’s the Wild’s (potential) last stand.

[MORE - Wild ready to 'attack' Blackhawks' game plan]

Will this be it or will the Wild force a Game 5? The Blackhawks know they’ll have to bring their best effort – a la Game 2, if you will – to finish this off tonight.

“Obviously this will be the toughest one,” Bryan Bickell said. “Their backs are to the wall and they have nothing to lose. They’ll give it all every shift to get one [victory]. We expect a high-pace game again. Last game we kind of handled the storm early, stuck to our systems. We got a couple good bounces on the power play to get that goal and just held them off from there.”

With the Wild facing elimination, it’s not a big surprise that it made some lineup changes. Star Tribune reporter Michael Russo chronicles them here – hey, it’s easier to have the Wild guru explain it to you. Coach Mike Yeo joked that he went to scientific lengths to come up with the new combinations.

“Dice, BINGO balls,” he told the media. “Obviously you’ve got to make some changes.”

Additionally, Nate Prosser will make his postseason debut tonight. He comes in on defense, replacing Jordan Leopold. Prosser, who hails from nearby Elk River, Minn., is excited to get back into the lineup after sitting the last month. Oh, and it’s also his 29th birthday today.

“It’s at an all-time high. How can you beat this?” Prosser said of the anticipation tonight brings. “At home, in front of my family and friends at the Xcel playing against the Blackhawks. You can’t beat that, you can’t even write that up. On top of that, it’s my birthday today so it all kind of boiled into one today. I’m really excited for tonight and just want to bring my game.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans]

The Blackhawks didn’t expect to be up 3-0 in this series. They’ve done it with a combination of timely goals, stronger defense and goaltending. It would be easy for them to look ahead to the Western Conference Finals, where they seem destined to go for the third consecutive season. But they’ve gotten to this point looking no further than the next game, and they’re not changing now.

“They went on an amazing run to get to the playoffs. We know what they’re capable of doing and they have a structured team game as well,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Every game has been tight, close. We expect that same tonight and we want to make sure we even raise our level of play.”

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. One big reunion.

The Blackhawks will square off with the Blue Jackets for the first time since Oct. 7, which was the second game of the season. In that game, they won 5-1 led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, each of whom scored a goal and added an assist.

Of course, that was the first game since the offseason trade that sent Artemi Panarin to Columbus and Saad back to Chicago, along with Anton Forsberg. Artem Anisimov, of course, was part of the original deal that sent Saad to Columbus in 2015, so there are a lot of emotional ties between the two teams.

Forsberg didn't get a chance to face the Blue Jackets in the first meeting, but there's a chance he will this time with it being the second of a back-to-back and Jean-Francois Berube getting the start in Friday's 3-1 win over San Jose.

2. Panarin and Kane bromance.

The emotions of a difficult break-up have probably died down by now, but Panarin and Kane gave us this moment at center ice during pregame warmups in their first game against each other and it hit Chicago right in the feels:

Panarin has spent enough time apart from Kane for people to realize how big of a star he is in his own right, leading the Blue Jackets in all three scoring categories: goals (17), assists (32) and points (49).

He hasn't gone more than three games this season without recording a point, and is looking to extend his point streak to four games, which would tie a season high.

3. Struggling Blue Jackets special teams.

The Blue Jackets got off to a great start but are barely clinging onto a wild card spot going into Saturday's game, and a big reason for that slide is their lack of success on special teams. Usually one can pick up the slack for the other, but they've been brutal in both departments.

The Blue Jackets are 0-for-9 on the power play in their past five games and are ranked 31st overall, converting on only 14.1 percent of their opportunities. They also have own the 27th-ranked penalty kill with a 76.3 percent success rate.

So if there's an area the Blackhawks can exploit, it's that. But, you know, still be mindful of that Russian winger's one-timer from the faceoff circle.

Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start


Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start

Jean-Francois Berube got his first start of the season on Friday night, and it couldn't have gone any better.

The 26-year-old goaltender stopped 42 of 43 shots, a career-high for him in saves, in the Blackhawks' 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks at the United Center.

Since Corey Crawford went down with a head injury last December, the Blackhawks have been searching for consistency in the crease. 

The pair of Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass — who was assigned to Rockford on Feb. 15 and replaced with Berube — have had their ups and downs since then. With the Blackhawks out of the playoff picture, Berube had an opportunity showcase his skills, and he didn't disappoint.

"We were very happy with him," said coach Joel Quenneville. "I thought he did a great job. He was comfortable. I thought he was very patient in his net. Absorbing a lot of pucks with people in front of him was good. Closed some gaps and got … of the top of the paint. Rebound control was effective. Nice response from a long absence."

Berube's last — and only — appearance with the Blackhawks prior to Friday's game came on Dec. 6, relieving Forsberg in a game against the Washington Capitals. He recorded 12 saves of 14 shots. 

When Crawford got injured, Berube was the primary candidate to become the team's backup goaltender. The only problem? He was injured too, so the Blackhawks promoted Glass.

"I didn't want to sit and think about it," Berube said of his injury. "At the same time, it was great for Glasser. He was one of those guys that probably deserved it earlier in his career and he finally got his chance. Sometimes you need a guy to go down to have your chance. So I was mostly happy for him.

On Friday night, he got his chance.

"You always want to have a good impression for your first game," Berube said. "I know what I can do at this level, so it was just a matter of getting the opportunity to play and showing people what I can do."

Celebrating his 22nd birthday, Nick Schmaltz also had a goal and an assist. Artem Anisimov scored an empty-netter.

"It's a lot more fun coming to the rink when you're winning, enjoying each other, playing well as a team," Schmaltz said of the Blackhawks' win, which have now won three of their last four games. "Hopefully we can keep that good energy and bring it to the rink every day, and build off of that.

"You never know where this team can go, a lot of great players, lots of guys that have had a lot of success. Hopefully we can continue to put together solid efforts."