Hockey

Swamp Things – Panthers @ Blackhawks, Games 50 & 51

VS.

 

Records: Panthers 32-74-5 (69) (Nice) Hawks 22-22-5 (49)

Puck Drop: 7:00 Thurs/Sat

TV/Radio: NBCSN / WGN720

Mouth Of The South: Litter Box Cats

 

Welp. We’ve reached the point of the season that seemed unthinkable 6 weeks ago, yet suddenly seemed inevitable 3 weeks later. The Hawks are all but eliminated from playoff contention, and now will be looking with an eye to the horizon to next season and beyond. The next few weeks, however, will be without the services of Adam Boqvist who had his wrist broken in a collision with human meat tree Erik Cernak in the loss to Tampa on Tuesday night. As former maven of the program Sam Fels pointed out on twitter:

While this is not a great development, Boqvist made progress enough this season and his loss should be the gain of people like Ian Mitchell, Nicholas Beaudin and Riley Stillman. Playing time should be plentiful for all of the younger players here on out, as the Hawks need to decide which of these guys will be pieces for future playoff runs. In a perfect world, these tryouts would also include Nikita Zadorov being stapled to a recliner in the press box, but I doubt we will be so lucky.

As for the Swamp Cats, they currently sit one point ahead of the Bolts for 2nd in the division with Tampa having 2 games in hand. The Panth have managed to go 6-3-1 in their last 10, despite losing their best defenceman in Aaron Ekblad to a fairly disgusting-looking knee injury approximately a month ago.

In response, Panthers GM Bill Zito went out and got Brandon Montour from Buffalo for a middling return (which seems to be the motto of the Buffalo Sabres front office). On the surface, Montour doesn’t seem like he would be able to fill the gaping hole left by Ekblad, but Montour’s numbers are probably better than you’d think. He’s racked up 6 goals and 9 assists, and played solid defense on the PK to boot on an absolutely moribund Sabers team. He’s not Ekblad, but with the way the rest of the D has been playing he doesn’t have to be.

On the forward end, Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau continue to punch a hole in the universe offensively with 18 points between the two of them in the last 5 games alone. They score at evens, they score on the powerplay, and they score shorthanded. The team as a whole has scored 36 goals in the last 10, and have owned the possession edge at a 54% clip up to this point. They push the play up the ice like it was tilted at a 45 degree angle, and will put constant pressure on opposing defenders in their own zone, which we know the Hawks don’t handle well at all.

In net, the Panthers big acquisition of Sergi Bobrovsky has very slowly started to pay off the last month. After a terrible January and February, Bob has gotten his save percentage above .900 and his goals against below 3. That being said, he’s had a couple rough outings against Nashville this week which didn’t help his case to keep those numbers there. He’s had issues with his groin in the past, and seems to be having difficulty going post to post this season, which Kane and DeBrincat could definitely take advantage of.

In the Hawks net, Kevin Lankinen seems to be running on empty as evidenced by his getting yanked before the 2nd period Tuesday night against the Bolts after giving up 3 in the first. Unfortunately Malcom Suban didn’t fare much better, as the Bolts dropped 4 on him in the 2nd and 3rd combined. It’s probably a toss-up as to who gets the starts here on out, but it wouldn’t be the worst idea to give a few of them to Colin Delia. With the possibility of Subban being sniped by Seattle in the expansion draft, Delia’s services may be needed going forward unless Stan has an idea of maybe signing a 1A to have Lankinen’s back next year. Perhaps someone along the lines of a Devan Dubnyk or James Reimer could fit the bill if the price was right. Though these games don’t statistically matter for the Hawks anymore, they will go a long way to see how Coach Smoothbrain handles giving playing time to audition the kids for next year.

At the end of the day, while expectations for the Hawks this season were low, we allowed ourselves to feel a little hope and were inevitably let down by this team’s inability to win a game with any type of playoff implications. We’re back to square one, waiting to see what some of these admittedly intriguing pieces might be able to bring to the table. While it’s enough to pique my interest, it’s just not what it could’ve been…and that kinda sucks.

Let’s Go Hawks?

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