How do you get up for a game like tonight?
If you were the Calgary Flames, I’d imagine you’d have to make it personal. When you’re as bad as they are (19-24-4) this late in the season, you can usually pump yourself up over the fact that winning might throw a wrench in the works for your opponent. However, since the Chicago Blackhawks have already accomplished all their regular season goals, I think, in this case, you’ve got to think about you.
Perhaps a great performance against the league’s top team could boost next year’s paycheck if you’re heading into free agency? Maybe a strong night ensures that your current team keeps you around for next season? Maybe there’s a guy on the other team that you’ve been waiting to see since the last time you were touched up — the Hawks blanked Calgary 2-0 in their last meeting — and tonight’s the night for a little payback?
But what if you play for the Hawks?
You’ve got a league leading 75 points and home ice advantage all throughout the playoffs in your back pocket, and the outcome of tonight’s game is meaningless. The last thing on earth you want to do is get injured before the postseason begins and the team you’re playing against is equally uninterested.
I guess you have to tell yourself that tonight’s game is a tune-up for the big dance. The power play has slowly improved over the last few games but is by no means a strength heading into the playoffs. Patrick Sharp needs the reps with his second line mates after a long stint on the DL and the more ice time for recent acquisition Michal Handzus, the better.
Goalie Corey Crawford had a great game on Wednesday in relief of Ray Emery and should use the opportunity to continue to build confidence. In addition to making the save of the season, Crawford also saw Emery leave with 6:11 left in the first period due to injury and thus should be heading into tonight’s game with the mentality that this Stanley Cup run is squarely on his shoulders.
I suppose in this final home game of the regular season, the Hawks have the opportunity to put on a show for the fans and make any last minute tweaks before they head down to play the St. Louis Blues tomorrow and get their first dose of playoff hockey. The Blues need that game to help improve their playoff position. So regardless of how the Hawks choose to finish up, they’ll be facing a real-deal opponent.
So while tonight’s game might not look like much of a barn burner on paper, my guess is by the time Jim Cornelison finishes singing the National Anthem, the guys should be pretty well keyed-up and ready to give the fans one more taste of big-time hockey before things get real.