Blackhawks take on lowly Avalanche in playoff prep
DENVER — The Chicago Blackhawks have clinched the Central Division and the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, so the only thing left to accomplish in the regular season is winning the Presidents’ Trophy for the most points in the NHL.
With 107 points and three games left, they have a shot but not a good one. The most the Blackhawks can earn in the final five days of the season is 113, but with the Washington Capitals sitting at 112, all it would take is a win by the Metropolitan Division leaders to relegate Chicago’s final games to merely warmups for the playoffs.
The Blackhawks (50-22-7) surged in the last leg of the season to pass the Minnesota Wild and win the division. They can keep their hopes alive for the Presidents’ Trophy with a win at the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday, a team they’ve gone 3-0-1 against this season.
More important than trying to get six points in the final three road games is staying healthy and sharp for the postseason.
In fact, that philosophy took hold in Sunday’s 3-2 home loss to the Boston Bruins. They fell behind 2-0 early and played like a team with nothing at stake.
Coach Joel Quenneville rested players and tinkered with his line combinations Sunday.
“You go in with the best possible lineup. The score dictates some of the decisions you make and the way the game’s being played,” Quenneville told the Chicago Tribune.
“You go into it with a balanced approach, knowing you want to make sure everyone’s getting some ice time and you get to see how the lines are playing. … Going into the game and forecasting that, we play it a little by ear.”
The Avalanche (21-54-3) haven’t had anything to play for but pride since January. With 45 points, Colorado has clinched last place in the NHL this season. That distinction came awhile before Sunday’s 5-2 loss at Minnesota, and the only excitement lately for Avalanche fans has been the introduction of rookies.
J.T. Compher has played 17 games, Anton Lindholm has now been in 10 and highly-touted center Tyler Jost has two games under his belt. Lindholm left Sunday’s game with a leg injury, but coach Jared Bednar said he didn’t think it was serious. Colorado didn’t practice Monday.
“He banged his leg when he went into the end boards there hard,” Bednar said after the loss to the Wild. “I haven’t talked to the trainers yet, but I don’t think it’s anything major that’s going to keep him out long term or anything, he just was unable to finish the game.”
The Avalanche are getting another look at a couple of more youngsters. On Monday, they recalled defenseman Duncan Siemens and center Rocco Grimaldi from San Antonio of the AHL.
Siemens, 23, was the 11th overall pick in the 2011 draft but has played just one NHL game in his career. This is the second recall for Grimaldi, whom Colorado acquired from Florida last summer. He played one game on Dec. 3 against Dallas, but he has 29 goals and 22 assists in 68 games for the Rampage this year.
Colorado is assessing its roster heading into what could be an active offseason. After winning 52 games in 2013-14, the Avalanche have slid to the bottom of the league and changes to the personnel are likely.
If Colorado loses its final four games — at home against Minnesota on Thursday and at Dallas and St. Louis this weekend — it would finish with one win in its last 13 games.
A win over the Blackhawks won’t change the season, but it could give them a boost as they play out the string.
“It’s been an absolute terrible year, to put it mildly,” center Matt Duchene, who has one point in his past 21 games, told the Denver Post. “For everybody. It looked so promising a few years back and now it’s become this way this year. It’s been really hard on all of us, myself included.”