RECORDS: Hawks 32-31-10 Avalanche 33-29-12
PUCK DROP(S): 2pm Saturday, 7pm Sunday
TV: NBCSN Chicago Saturday, NBCSN Sunday
BUCKWHEATS, ALL OF ‘EM: Mile High Hockey
“It’s come to this,” is a cliche, but that’s where the Hawks are. They have three games over four days to rescue whatever barely flickering light might be there for their playoff chase. Or any meaning for their season. Quite simply, the Hawks have to take all three of these–two against Colorado, one against Arizona–and they have to do it in regulation. The part that gives you pause, of course, is that every game the Hawks have had where they had a chance to really turn the season into something, they’ve stepped on a rake. At home to these Avalanche, at home to the Stars, at home to the Canucks, and last out against the Flyers. And maybe they got goalie’d in one or two, but they’ve lost the right to get goalie’d with all the points they’ve pissed away in truly bewildering and comedic fashion earlier in the season.
Good thing they’ll be seeing a goalie who’s carrying a .967 SV% in March, then.
The Avs sit four points ahead of the Hawks, and were in the last wildcard spot until Minnesota won last night, having played a game more. They’ve won three in a row, including two wins over fellow wildcard chasers Dallas and Minnesota. They had lost five of seven before that, which is why they’re in this mess. A few more wins and they may get themselves out of it. And if Phillip Grubauer keeps this up, they’ll get them.
The last time the Hawks saw the Avs at the end of February, Grubauer has watched a chance to grab the starter’s role pass over his shoulder and into the Avs’ net. It was Varlamov who stoned the Hawks that night, and it looked like the Avs plan to pass the crease from Varly to Grubauer and letting the former walk off in the summer had fallen to pieces (somebody put me together). It looked as if the Avs were at a crossroads in net, which is the last place you want one.
Grubauer got another chance a few days after, and so far he’s taken it and run with it. In his seven starts since that time, he’s given up six goals. They’ve needed it, because their forwards are starting to drop like flies. Mikko Rantanen is questionable for the weekend. Gabriel Landeskog is out until the Avs make the playoffs and maybe not even then. Matt Nieto, a reliable foot soldier, might be done for the year as well. Vladislav Kemenev has been a long-term casualty.
Which means the Avs offense is basically what Nathan MacKinnon can come up with. He’s doing just about what he can, with 10 points in his last 10 and 20 in his last 24. Carl Soderberg chips in where he can, with 22 goals. But other than that, the Avs are still a group of a lot of guys who have a little. They have a bunch of 10-goal scorers when they need 15- or 20-goal ones. Maybe Tyson Jost or J.T. Compher become that one day, but they’re not there yet.
So it’s Grubauer, it’s MacKinnon, and it’s ride or die for the Avs. Which makes the task simple in statement for the Hawks, if not action. Keep MacKinnon from going off for three or four points, and you have a real good chance. Coach Cool Youth Pastor might have to get cute and switch out lines on the fly, whether he wants Toews or Kampf dealing with MacKinnon. Or if he wants Murphy and Dahlstrom out on the back end. He might have to work to get those matchups, if that’s something he wants, on the road. It should be easier at home, but MacKinnon did whatever he wanted his last visit here.
The Hawks have won both games in Denver this year, one in overtime. Both were Collin Delia magic tricks, so the Hawks might need that from Corey Crawford. Beto O’Colliton has hinted that Crawford might take both starts, which seems a risk but these are desperate times. Whatever plays are left in the playbook have to be pulled out now.
It would be encouraging to see the Hawks actually step forth in a game with something at stake. Just to know their coach is up for it, and that players who are doing it for the first time have it in them. None of that has been shown yet. And the Hawks are going to have to get it from a new source for these three games, or likely will, because Patrick Kane appears to be getting awfully tired. He can’t keep pulling out a rabbit. Insert your “white rabbit” jokes here.
Come Tuesday night, it could all be officially done. Or maybe this empty calorie fun continues a little longer. Strap on in.
Game #74 and #75 Preview Suite