The Chicago Blackhawks have three pivotal games coming up against Nashville next week, but their more immediate concern is taking care of business in Detroit. (Blackhawks at Detroit, Thursday April 15, 6pm and Saturday, April 17, 5:30pm, WGN Radio 720 and our digital streams https://wgnradio.com/on-air/)
Chicago plays a two-game set against the last-place Red Wings on Thursday and Saturday. The Blackhawks trail the Predators by four points for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Central Division. They’ll have three consecutive showdowns after their trip to Detroit.
The Blackhawks were one of the busiest teams prior to the trade deadline, as they executed four deals. One of their pickups, Brett Connolly, scored a third-period goal in a 4-3 overtime win over Columbus on Monday.
Connolly needed a change of scenery. He scored 19 goals in 69 regular-season games for Florida last season but only appeared in 21 games this season, tallying two goals, before the Blackhawks acquired the 28-year-old wing in a multi-player trade.
“It wasn’t working, but that’s in the past,” Connolly said. “I knew I was going to go somewhere else, and I’ve been working hard to be ready for that opportunity. Here I am. I’m ready to be a big factor on this team, as I know I can. I’ve proven it in the past. I’ve won before.”
Coach Jeremy Colliton views Connolly as a key piece in the team’s playoff push.
“He gave us some good shifts,” Colliton said. “(He’s a) big body who is comfortable on the puck and not afraid to go into traffic. He has a heavy shot. It’s easy to see why he’s produced in the past.”
Chicago needed to shake things up. It had lost nine of 13 games prior to sweeping a two-game set from the Blue Jackets.
Connolly has been a threat against the Red Wings, scoring seven goals against them over the last five seasons, including one this year. He played three seasons with Washington before joining Florida last season.
“If I can get my game going like it was the start of last year and in Washington, when I was playing my best hockey, I feel like I can help out,” he said. “Just looking to help the depth and score some timely goals.”
The Blackhawks and Red Wings are wrapping up their eight-game series this week. Chicago has won five of the first six meetings.
Detroit has also won its last two games, collecting road wins over Carolina on Saturday and Monday.
The Red Wings made a big splash on Monday, trading one of their top offensive players, Anthony Mantha, to Washington. They acquired forwards Jakub Vrana and Richard Panik and two draft picks.
Vrana and Panik could make their Wings debut on Thursday.
“We’re trying to improve our team; we’re trying to become more competitive, but also add assets to assist in the rebuild,” GM Steve Yzerman said.
The team’s top goaltender, Jonathan Bernier, was the subject of trade rumors but stayed put. He held the Hurricanes to one goal on Monday.
“He was stressed, and he wants to be a Red Wing and he showed it (Monday),” center Dylan Larkin said. “Incredible performance. (He) showed how professional he is, how he prepares no matter what he’s facing, and he was our rock.”
–Field Level Media