Blackhawks make first return to Boston since Cup win
The last time that the Blackhawks skated on Boston ice, it was a hot day in late June, hoisting the Stanley Cup triumphantly over their heads.
Perhaps there is no better time for the Blackhawks to return to TD Bank Garden for the first time this season. Those memories will be as strong and fresh as they were nine months ago. Most of those Cup-winning players returned to the team; although a few are now gone. For example, Dave Bolland, the "17 seconds" game-winning scorer, was traded to Toronto.
While the Blackhawks returned from the summer mostly intact, the Bruins underwent more than a face lift. Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverly, and with Ryan Button, were sent to Dallas in exchange for Loui Eriksson, Matt Fraser, Reilly Smith, and Joe Morrow. Jarome Iginla signed with Boston; Andrew Ference departed for the Oilers.
Boston and Chicago have already faced each other once this season, in January, at the United Center. It was one of the Blackhawks' best games of the season: intense, hard-fought, and it felt more like a playoff game than a mid-season contest. Chicago won 3-2 in the third round of the shootout due to a Patrick Kane goal.
But as the Blackhawks players get settled in the TD Bank Garden small visitor's locker room, and take the ice for the morning skate, they'll certainly remember that Game 6, and it's something that should give them mental fuel, not only for Thursday night's game, but the weeks ahead as well, as the Blackhawks hope to keep their hold on second place in the Central to ensure home ice advantage for at least the opening round of the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Boston sits comfortably atop the East with 104 points - and the first team in the league to clinch their playoff berth. Not much surprise there, as the Bruins and Penguins battled it out for first in the East all season; but heading down the stretch, the Bruins went on a lengthy win streak that put them firmly in first place. It puts Boston firmly on home ice for at least the first three rounds of the playoffs.
The Blackhawks sit at 99 points, and will be able to clinch a playoff berth with at least one point in Thursday's game.
Rookie phenom Teuvo Teräväinen has joined the Blackhawks now that his Finnish season is done. He played Tuesday night versus the Dallas Stars and looked pretty comfortable on the ice with his new teammates.
Per a tweet from @ExtraSkater, "In his first game, Teravainen played 11:39 (1:29 PP), 7-0 in faceoffs, 36% 5v5 CF% (-21% rel), 67% O-zone starts, faced easy competition".
Fans have every reason to be excited about Teräväinen's arrival, although the concern has been that the 19-year old might have gotten lionized if he was anything less than perfection. The team has repeatedly stressed that Teräväinen's role is "not to be Superman".
Coach Joel Quenneville was clearly impressed with Teräväinen's debut, praising his awareness on the ice and strength in the playoff circle. For the famously understated coach, his blantant compliments of "I liked him ... He did a nice job. Good start," is high praise indeed.
It's worth noting that the Blackhawks have signed two solid NCAA hockey players this week. One of them, Matt Carey, has stated that one of the main reasons he signed with Chicago is their ability to develop players. Young prospects understand they may not easily crack the Blackhawks lineup - not with so many core players signed to multi-year deals - but there is a lot to be learned from a team that has won the Cup twice in four years, and is led by one of the top players in the game, Jonathan Toews.
After Tuesday's game, it's hard not to salivate over Teräväinen's potential. But a recent article by Chris Block on TheThirdManIn.com indicated that unless the young Finn absolutely blows the team away in whatever starts he gets prior to the playoffs, fans shouldn't expect Stan Bowman to be eager to burn the first year on his ELC.
Teräväinen's season has already been quite lengthy. He came over for prospect camp mid-summer, then returned for the regular Blackhawks training camp. He played in a couple pre-season games before returning to Finland's Liiga for the season. At the holidays, he led Finland's U-20 team to gold at the World Championships. Now he is adjusting to the Blackhawks' system and the North American ice.
There has been some fan grumbling that Teräväinen didn't get enough ice time in his regular-season debut. Teräväinen said in post-game interviews that he felt his legs weren't fully there and that he felt he could do better, though his coach and teammates had nothing but praise for his performance. The Finn did everything right to gain Coach Quenneville's trust as a player from the start; it would be surprising if Teräväinen doesn't see more TOI on subsequent starts. Fans shouldn't get hung up on the numbers from his first game; the game was more about the team getting a good look at him to see how his development has progressed since his two preseason games.
With nine games left, the Blackhawks face teams like Pittsburgh, Montréal, St. Louis, and Washington. No doubt that Teräväinen fans will get more opportunities to examine the rookie's potential prior to the playoffs.
In the meantime, the Blackhawks prepare for their return to Boston, and hope to take two points out of the same arena where they earned the Stanley Cup in June.