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 generalfanager.com 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.