Hawks, Oilers set for final showdown
BLACKHAWKS (27-22-4) at OILERS (16-29-8)
-- CSN-CH (HD),SNET-W (HD)
-- Chicago 5-4-1; Edmonton 2-7-1.
-- The Oilers have taken two of three from Chicago this season, but the Blackhawks took the most recent meeting 5-0 on Nov. 17, 2010 at Rexall Place.
-- It might be a sign of how inconsistent the defending champs have been this season that as the Hawks play their finale against last-place Edmonton they're looking to salvage a tie in the season series. While Edmonton's concerns revolve entirely around developing its talented young core, Wednesday's showdown in Alberta could prove crucial as Chicago battles to stay relevant in the clogged West playoff race.
-- Chicago coach Joel Quenneville has warned of the complacency Chicago's fanbase might have with last year's Stanley Cup title in its back pocket, but as the season wears on a recent stretch in which the Hawks have lost four of five is putting a serious question mark on their chances of defending their title. Chicago has fallen to three points behind eighth-place Calgary in the West after losing two straight games, including a 3-1 defeat to the Flames Monday night.
If there is a silver lining it's that the Hawks have two games in hand on those Flames, but the clock is running out on how long Chicago can comfortably feel as though a third consecutive playoff berth is inevitable. Several teams are tightly packed together at the bottom of the West's top eight and with at least one quality team certain to spend the spring at home anxiety and intensity have been notched up just about everywhere. Halfway through their six-game road trip, the offense has struggled in the last two games and Wednesday's starter Corey Crawford
has lost three straight outings. After an impressive first half of the season, Crawford, and the Blackhawks, need to start winning again, and soon.
-- With a stellar group of young players that includes Jordan Eberle, Sam Gagner and 2010 No. 1 overall pick Taylor Hall, some day Edmonton will be among the most talented teams in the League. But that day is not Wednesday. As the baby Oilers endure the lessons and severe learning curves of the world's top hockey league, there have been some flashes of greatness, most notably Eberle's highlight goal the first night of the season and Hall's impressive rookie campaing. But the gaps in experience that are all-too-evident with the young roster has left Edmonton last in the League, and the only team in the West that appears to be completely out of the playoff race.
That said, Tom Renney's crew knows 2010-11 will be a learning process, and with an impressive 4-0 win Monday night in Nashville, the Oilers appear to be absorbing the lesson plan. That win did come after a four-game losing streak, but the Oil has shown an ability to perform impressively on any given night, something that could give the struggling Blackhawks trouble Wednesday. Another win against a squad expected to make the postseason field will help build confidence for the young team as it looks to the future, and with Wednesday the first of six straight games in front of a friendly home crowd, the Oilers could patch together a few wins before they leave town again.
-- Eberle and Andrew Cogliano have been leading the charge for the Oilers, combining for eight points in the last three games. ... Despite his team's struggles, Chicago captain Jonathan Toews
has tallied eight points in the last four games.
-- Winger John Scott
(flu-like symptoms) and center Ryan Johnson
(lower-body injury) are both considered questionable for Chicago Wednesday. Edmonton recently lost Gilbert Brule to IR with a bruised abdomen and an ankle injury.
-- If there is a place for Chicago to stem the negative tide and get a hot streak started for the season's home stretch, it just might be Edmonton. The Blackhawks have won five straight at Rexall Place.
-- The Oilers seem likely to give the Hawks a stiff challenge Wednesday with a confidence-building win in their back pockets and relatively little pressure given the expectations of growth rather than success. Those factors make them a dangerous opponent for any team that has its season up in the air. Chicago is certainly that, but a strong end to the current road trip, starting Wednesday in Edmonton, could put the Hawks back on solid ground.