Five Things to watch for in Blackhawks' regular-season finale


Five Things to watch for in Blackhawks' regular-season finale

We have reached it, boys and girls: the regular-season finale is upon us.

The Blackhawks will look kind of/sort of like the Blackhawks Saturday night when they face the Columbus Blue Jackets. We’ll explain that in a second, although we’re guessing you get it.

Obviously for the Blackhawks this won’t be the end. This is just the final dress rehearsal, if you want to call it that, before they head to the postseason. But they don’t know where they’re headed yet and it’s hard to write a postseason preview when you don’t know the opponent. So with that in mind, let’s look at Five Things to watch for in the Blackhawks’ regular-season finale against the Blue Jackets.

1. How will Corey Crawford respond? Coach Joel Quenneville reiterated again that Crawford is expected to play against Columbus. It’ll be Crawford’s first game since March 14; he’s been sidelined by an upper-body injury since March 17. It’s good for Crawford to get this game in before the playoffs begin later this week. Will he be rusty? Chances are, yes. Crawford has skated for about a week now and taken shots from teammates for a couple of days. But as forwards and defensemen tell you practices are nothing like game action, the same goes for goaltenders.

2. Who’s out? Here’s what we know for sure: Andrew Shaw and Artem Anisimov (upper body), Marian Hossa (lower body) and Duncan Keith (suspended) are not playing because they’re not even making the trip to Columbus. The Blackhawks don’t have a ton of reserves so some stars will still play. Patrick Kane would prefer that. “I don’t think playoffs start until Wednesday, so you’re kind of sitting around for a while,” he said Thursday night. “For me personally, I’d like to get some game action and then you can rest for those few days leading up to playoffs.

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3. Will Artemi Panarin hit his bonuses? Refer to this link for Artemi Panarin’s potential bonuses. In summary, he rakes in some nice cash if he’s a top 10 forward in goals, assists, points or points per game. It’s highly likely he’s going to rake in some nice cash. No, the Blackhawks are not going to sit him. Quenneville, asked that the other day about the forward being on the bonus bubble, said, “no chance.”

4. How much can you really take out of the finale? You take game No. 82 with a grain of salt. If the Blackhawks win, great. If they don’t, so be it. As Quenneville said regarding Thursday’s overtime loss, they’re missing a few guys who are expected to play once the postseason begins. If anything, it may be one final audition for some such as Richard Panik, who may have coaches thinking about finding a spot for him in the playoff lineup

5. How much will we all scoreboard watch on Saturday night? Oh, plenty. The Blackhawks should be finished with their game while St. Louis and Dallas are still playing their respective contests to find out who wins the Central Division and who finishes second. Once we all know how that settles, the real fun begins.

Blackhawks assign Anton Forsberg to Rockford after clearing waivers

Blackhawks assign Anton Forsberg to Rockford after clearing waivers

Anton Forsberg cleared waivers on Tuesday morning and was assigned to the Rockford IceHogs in the American Hockey League.

That's good news for the Blackhawks organizational depth chart, with Forsberg as the No. 3 in goal. But it also complicates things in Rockford, where Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen have been sharing the duties.

Delia is 3-1-0 with a 3.26 goals against average and .910 save percentage while Lankinen is 0-1-1 with a 3.39 GAA and .825 save percentage. Perhaps the most likely scenario is Lankinen gets sent to the ECHL with the Indy Fuel while Delia and Forsberg split the load in Rockford.

It's certainly a good problem to have, but it's still unclear how that dynamic will play out.

"We haven’t talked about that," coach Joel Quenneville said. "But we expect [Forsberg] to play."

Luke Johnson recalled

With a spot opening up on the 23-man roster, Johnson is being brought back up after he was squeezed out by Corey Crawford's return. He had a goal and an assist in two games with Rockford.

Brandon Saad returns to top-six role

After turning in arguably his best performance of the season on Sunday, Saad is back playing on the second line with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane. He had seven shot attempts (three on goal) against Tampa Bay and led the team in 5-on-5 possession numbers.

"[Saad] is coming off a game where we liked what we saw," Quenneville said. "Playing with Kaner can help him get going."

Nick Schmaltz to play right side for first time in NHL career

Eight games into the season and Schmaltz has spent time at both center and left wing. Now he'll get a look on the right side with Alexandre Fortin on the left and David Kampf centering the third line.

Part of the reason for Schmaltz’s move to the right side was because Quenneville said they like Fortin on the left. It's not unfamiliar territory for Schmaltz, but could take some time getting used to.

"I played a little while back, not sure when," Schmaltz said "Just a little bit different. Catching pucks on your forehand now instead of your backhand. It's not a huge adjustment, just play with speed and compete hard and hopefully the skill on our line will take over."

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers


Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

The Blackhawks have said all along that they don't plan on carrying three goaltenders, but wanted to do so during the three games in four days stretch just in case, with Corey Crawford coming back from a 10-month layoff because of a concussion.

After being encouraged by how Crawford has responded to his return, the Blackhawks placed goaltender Anton Forsberg on waivers Monday morning. Teams have 24 hours to put in a claim for the 25-year-old goaltender and would have to keep him on their NHL roster for 10 games and/or 30 days before he's eligible to go through the waiver process again.

His chances of getting claimed by any of the other 30 teams essentially depends on which teams believe Forsberg would be an immediate upgrade over their current backup — or starter, for that matter — or whether there's an injury to one of the team's two goaltenders that requires a placeholder, like we saw the Carolina Hurricanes do by claiming Curtis McElhinney from the Toronto Maple Leafs after Scott Darling's injury in the preseason.

If Forsberg goes unclaimed, the Blackhawks can assign him to the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs. With Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen sharing the goaltending duties in Rockford, it's possible Lankinen gets sent to the Indy Fuel in the ECHL to get consistent starts under his belt.

A third option, one that isn't very common but we've seen in the past as recently as last October with Maple Leafs goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo, is that Forsberg can be loaned to any AHL team while still being a part of the Blackhawks organization. This would allow the Blackhawks to keep Delia and Lankinen in Rockford while Forsberg gets his starts in the AHL, too.

Or, the Blackhawks could simply trade Forsberg to another NHL team that could stash him in the AHL, as long as he clears waivers. They did it last season with Chris DiDomenico, who cleared waivers as a member of the Ottawa Senators but was then traded to Chicago for Ville Pokka days later. Had DiDomenico been claimed by the Blackhawks, he would have had to stay on the NHL roster as noted above.

Forsberg was 10-16-4 with a 2.97 goals against average and .908 save percentage in 35 appearances last season but has not appeared in a game yet this year. He was acquired as part of the Brandon Saad package for Artemi Panarin in June 2017.