The Chicago Blackhawks visit an Eastern Conference foe tonight, but one with a familiar face among its ranks
Who’s the first person you think of when you hear about the Boston Bruins, as a Chicago Blackhawks fan? Patrice Bergeron? Brad Marchand? Zdeno Chara? Tuukka Rask? Heck, maybe even coach Claude Julien?
How about David Backes? Kind of crazy to think he isn’t with the St. Louis Blues anymore. Well, if you were missing your more-regular does of terribly misguided leadership and “gritty play,” you’ll get it back tonight as Backes and the Bruins host the Blackhawks at TD Garden.
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These two teams haven’t met since last April, when the Blackhawks put a big dent in Boston’s playoff chances by posting a 6-4 win at the United Center at the start of the regular season’s final week. The Bruins went on to miss the postseason by a tiebreak, finishing with the same number of points as Atlantic 3 seed Detroit.
So perhaps the Bruins are still a little grumpy with the Blackhawks. And even if they aren’t, Backes’ inclusion into the mix will certainly shake things up. He loves to get in the faces of guys like Jonathan Toews, and his response to pretty much every Chicago goal against St. Louis was trying to fight someone in the very next shift.
Let’s see which guys are likely to dot the ice for both sides tonight, starting with Chicago.
Ryan Hartman-Jonathan Toews-Richard Panik
Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane
Vincent Hinostroza-Tanner Kero-Marian Hossa
Dennis Rasmussen-Nick Schmaltz-Jordin Tootoo
So the fourth line, after having a nice little push in which Schmaltz scored a goal and added an assist and Andrew Desjardins almost scored a goal, will go back to deploying Tootoo. Fair guess here is it’s because of the Fathers’ Trip.
The defensive pairings aren’t known, but the Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus seems to think Michal Rozsival will be the blueline scratch tonight. That would make the likely pairings:
Duncan Keith-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Michal Kempny-Brent Seabrook
Trevor van Riemsdyk-Brian Campbell
Scott Darling will get the start in net tonight, as announced earlier this week. Corey Crawford has struggled his last few games, and Darling has played well enough to get some run. Hopefully, the defense wakes up in front of Darling and lends him a hand when he needs it.
It’s OK if you don’t know a few of these guys. Frank Vatrano sounds like the most positively Boston-like player in existence, for example.
There are threatening pieces on this team, though. Marchand leads the squad far and away with 45 points, while Pastrnak got off to a hot start but has settled in with 33 points. No one else has more than 30, though Krejci and Krug are on the doorstep with 29 apiece.
Backes would be considered disappointing if he wasn’t playing third-line minutes, as he has 22 points. Bergeron is considered disappointing, points-wise, as he has just 21 on the season.
Rask is capable of stealing many a game, as he has five shutouts this season. But this Bruins team won’t do him a ton of favors, as it’s a slow-ish group that thrives on physicality. There are plenty of areas for the Blackhawks to exploit if they can simply hang on to the puck.
It will be interesting to see if Julien, with last change, actually deploys the Bergeron line against the Toews line. This Blackhawks top line isn’t so much of a threat as some in the past, and Toews has been struggling mightily at the faceoff dot regardless of who he faces. Perhaps the Bergeron line will meet the Anisimov line instead.
TV listings and prediction
Game time: 6 p.m.
TV: Comcast SportsNet, NHL Network
Radio: WGN 720-AM
Live streaming: CSN Chicago Live
Radio streaming: WGN Radio App
Prediction: I think this will be a tight, closely contested game, though it may get sloppy at times. The Blackhawks are coming off what was ultimately an unimpressive win against the league’s worst team in Colorado (though one shouldn’t discount three third-period goals). Boston is coming off a bad loss to Detroit in which it blew a three-goal advantage.
I’ll say the Blackhawks take a 3-2 decision. I think the Blackhawks will actually outshoot the Bruins, something like 25-23, and the other lines will pick up the slack as the Bergeron line stalls the Anisimov line. Toews, Rasmussen and Hossa will net markers tonight for Chicago.