Blackhawks, Wild excited about outdoor game, but focused on points


Blackhawks, Wild excited about outdoor game, but focused on points

MINNEAPOLIS — It’s time for another outdoor game, another day filled with pomp and circumstance and yes, hockey.

But this game has a little bit more riding on it than some of the Blackhawks’ last few outdoor games. This one is also a divisional game, so as much as they and the Minnesota Wild will be taking in all the pageantry, they’ll also be focused on those critical two points.

The Blackhawks enter this Stadium Series game against the Wild in first place in the Central Division. The Dallas Stars remain one point back after a 7-3 loss to the Boston Bruins on Saturday night. With the division race so tight near the top, the Blackhawks want to maintain as much of an edge as possible.

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“It’s an important game for both teams,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “They’re coming off a great trip. We had an interesting week ourselves: big win in New York, trip to the White House and being on this stage is a privilege. But at the end of the day you have to be playing for keeps. You want to have fun in this setting, and you have more fun by playing the right way.”

The Blackhawks have played the right way more in recent games. Their power play has fueled them to two consecutive victories and they’re looking to maintain solid play down the stretch.

The Wild, however, are in a very different situation. Much like last season, the Wild struggled out of the gate. Unlike last season, it didn’t experience a great turnaround in mid-January. Minnesota is trying to get things going now — the Wild have won three in a row since replacing coach Mike Yeo with interim coach John Torchetti. But even if the Wild go on a great run it could be too little too late. They are currently in sixth place in the Central Division with 62 points.

This weekend is a big one for the Wild with this Stadium Series game, the first one Minnesota has hosted. But the Wild know they can’t get caught up in the entertainment part of the event.

[MORE: Blackhawks, John Torchetti (sort of) together again]

“We know they’re a good team and we’ve played them a lot,” Justin Fontaine said. “We’re familiar with each other, and we know what we need to bring to beat them.”

There will be plenty of fun surrounding this weekend but division points are also on the line. The Blackhawks have been here, done this before when it comes to the outdoor game. They’re going to be facing a hungry Wild team that’s trying, once again, for a late-season turnaround and trip to the playoffs. They know where their focus has to be.

“It looks like they’re motivated and they have some confidence back in their game,” Corey Crawford said. “They almost had the same sort of streak last year. I don’t know if it was as bad, but they were able to come back and play strong and get into the playoffs. It almost seems like the same scenario this year. But we have to be ready for them. They’re a well-rounded team that may have just lost their way a little bit there.”

Blackhawks edge out Senators in shootout: 'It was really nice to get a win'

Blackhawks edge out Senators in shootout: 'It was really nice to get a win'

It was a rare sight to see the Blackhawks in a shootout on Wednesday night.

It was just the second time this season — and first time at the United Center — that the Blackhawks made it past 3-on-3 overtime. 

The last came on Dec. 2, 2017, a 3-2 shootout loss to the Stars in Dallas. On Wednesday night, the Blackhawks were on the other end, beating the Ottawa Senators 3-2 in a seven-round shootout. Nick Schmaltz netted the game-winner.

"We'll take it," coach Joel Quenneville said. "I thought we had a decent game tonight. Overtime not so good, I liked the shootout victory, Fors made some big saves for us particularly as the game got deeper. Our third was OK, I thought our first two were way better, and overtime we gave up some high quality, some bells were rings for a bit there. But it was nice to see the shootout win."

Patrick Kane had a goal and an assist, recording another multi-point game, his 16th of the season.

"I mean we need every point we can get at this point," Kane said. "There's still belief in this locker room. Obviously we need to go on quite a run and have a big record here down the stretch. But take it a game at a time and nice to get two points."

Anton Forsberg was a big reason the Blackhawks even recorded those two points. The 25-year-old netminder stopped 34 of 36 shots and made a handful of big saves down the stretch.

"It was really nice to get a win for sure," Forsberg said. "I would love to have a lot more wins, but right now just gotta look forward and get as many wins as possible."

Added Quenneville: "I think it was good for him to win a game the way he did. Lot of shots were on the line, as we progressed, got deeper, hitting the point first was big for him and for us and then finding a way to get the extra one was a good win."

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?