Points now become increasingly precious as the NHL season hits its home stretch.
Playoff positioning and home-ice advantage are on the line, and nowhere will that be more in evidence than at the Pepsi Center in Denver, where the Blackhawks will take on the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday night.
Blackhawks game dayBlackhawks vs. Colorado Avalance at the Pepsi Center, 8:30 p.m. Wednesday
TV: Comcast SportsNet
Radio: WGN-AM 720
The skinny: The Avs (42-18-5) are coming off a 3-2 overtime victory Monday at home against Winnipeg. They trail the Hawks (38-13-14) by 1 point in the Central Division as both teams chase the division-leading Blues. Paul Stastny (back) and P.A. Parenteau (knee) are out for the Avs. Goalie Antti Raanta starts for the Hawks as he sees his first game action since Jan. 28. Raanta is 12-2-3 with a 2.40 goals-against average and a .904 save percentage. Avs goalie Semyon Varlamov entered Tuesday third in the NHL in victories (32). Matt Duchene leads the Colorado offense with 21 goals and 60 points.
Next: Nashville Predators at the United Center, 7 p.m. Friday
-- Bruce Miles
"I would imagine most games are going to be like that from here on out, with that type of playoff-type atmosphere," Blackhawks forward Brandon Bollig said Tuesday after the team practiced at Johnny's Icehouse West. "Obviously, there's a real good chance we're going to be in the playoffs, but we still want to continue to get better, and we want the top spot in our conference.
"I think every game is a playoff atmosphere for us from here on out, and every point is crucial."
With 90 points, the Blackhawks lead the Avalanche by 1 in the Western Conference's Central Division. St. Louis sits atop the division, and the Blues took 94 points into Tuesday night's home game against Dallas.
If things wind up this way, the Hawks and Avs would meet in the first round of the NHL's newly aligned playoff format.
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville issued one minor surprise Tuesday, saying that backup goaltender Antti Raanta will start in place of Corey Crawford. The Avs have beaten the Hawks three of four times this year. Raanta was in goal for the only Hawks victory, Dec. 27 at the United Center while Crawford was injured.
"We haven't played him in awhile, and he's beaten them," Quenneville said of Raanta. "That's part of it."
Crawford said the Hawks are more worried about their own position than they are about the Avs.
"It's more of we're chasing home ice and we're chasing points rather than beating them and trying to put something in their head," Crawford said.
Forward Marian Hossa and defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson sat out practice. Hossa is nursing an upper-body injury, but he's expected to skate Wednesday in Chicago while the team is in Denver.
Hjalmarsson had a big night blocking shots in Sunday's victory at Buffalo and no doubt was still feeling sore.
"Hammer is fine," said Joel Quenneville. "That (the shot blocks) probably had something to do with it."
So happy together:
Brandon Saad was on a line with Jonathan Toews and Andrew Shaw again Tuesday. The Hawks like what they see with Saad teamed with Toews.
"It's a big-bodied guy, kind of like Jonny," Joel Quenneville said of Saad. "He's strong on the puck and can protect it well. They've got a lot of similar traits, but their strength in controlling and containing pucks is as good as it gets in the game. Shawsie gives it a little dash now and then, as well."
Toews agreed with his coach's assessment of Saad.
"Needless to say, he's got a lot of skill," Toews said. "He's got a lot of speed. He's able to protect the puck and just get his head up when guys are checking him. The more we can have the puck, the more plays we're going to make, the more goals we're going to score."
Time for Teravainen?
It's possible the Hawks will see top prospect Tuevo Teravainen before the season is out. Teravainen, a forward taken with the Hawks' top draft pick in 2012, currently is playing professionally in Finland.
"I'm expecting him to come here when his season's done," Joel Quenneville said. "We'll see after that."