The Chicago Blackhawks fell to the San Jose Sharks in the 4th round of a shootout, capping a spirited game between a team headed for a playoff berth and a team as replete with youth as with questions about their future.
With the last five games of the season at hand, this Blackhawks team will still go through the motions of saying how important each game is, playoffs-bound or not. In reality, it may not mean much for players like Patrick Kane or Jonathan Toews. They’re already penciled in for next season.
But for most of the guys in this roster, the next five games are an opportunity to make a mark with the brass. It’s an opportunity for them to maybe get a leg up in securing a roster spot for next season.
This team was exceptionally young last night. Erik Gustafsson just turned 26. Jordan Oesterle, Tomas Jurco are 25 (so are Brandon Saad and Connor Murphy, for that matter). Vinnie Hinostroza, David Kampf and John Hayden are 23. Matthew Highmore (who was re-assigned to Rockford this morning), along with rookie Victor Ejdsell, is 22. So is the injured Anthony Duclair.
These kids still have a lot to prove. And the next five games will be telling as to whether they will be part of how Joel Quenneville and the coaching staff will mold this team into a top contender once again.
Speaking of Victor Ejdsell, he was solid in his NHL debut. Acquired in the trade deadline deal that sent Ryan Hartman to the Nashville Predators, Ejdsell had a pretty whirlwind week. He just made his AHL debut with Rockford last Friday, earning an assist in a 5-3 loss to the Milwaukee Admirals. By all accounts, last night was only his third game in North American ice. He even said that he was still adjusting to the time difference (it was 3:30 AM in his native Sweden at puck drop last night).
If he was struggling, it certainly didn’t show. He centered the top line last night, between Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad. He made is presence felt on the ice, winning 55% of all the faceoffs he took, as well as having three shots on goal. The kid has a monster release, evidenced by a slapper that Sharks goalie Martin Jones had to fight off during a power-play for the Hawks in the second frame.
Forsberg’s strong showing
Anton Forsberg had a pretty good night, considering he went away with the loss. He stopped 35 shots in regulation and overtime. There was still soft goal that he probably would like back, like the Evander Kane breakaway goal in the second frame. But he acquitted himself from that by matching Martin Jones save for save during overtime.
The fact that Forsberg, or JF Berube for that matter, cannot string even a two-game winning streak is one of the main reasons why the Blackhawks are in the outside looking in right now. When all is said and done about this year, it will be safe to say that the position of Corey Crawford’s backup will be up for grabs once training camp starts in September.
Alex DeBrincat scored his 26th goal of the year last night, tying him with Patrick Kane for the team lead. While the next five games will be moot, the race for who would end up with the team lead for the year between these two talented players would still make for great TV for Blackhawks fans.
Patrick Sharp scored the game tying goal last night that took the game into overtime. It was his 10th of the year. The past few years have been real tough on Sharpy, with the injuries and the diminished production. Time will only tell if this year is indeed the Sharp-shooter’s swan song, but the way league is going right now, with it’s emphasis on speed, it’s not looking good for him.
The Blackhawks are back at it Thursday night against the Winnipeg Jets, which will also serve as the debut of newly-minted Blackhawk Dylan Sikura.