Game preview: Blackhawks hope to break loss streak vs Avalanche

Ray Emery's back plate

The positioning for playoff berths in the Western Conference continue jockeying tonight, with several teams facing off tonight.

In Denver, that means the slumping Chicago Blackhawks taking the ice against the Colorado Avalanche. The Avs sit at 55 points, the Blackhawks at 65. Chicago should sit solidly somewhere in the middle of the top 8 by the playoffs; Colorado's current trajectory should see them finish at 12th in the West. That doesn't mean, however, that the Avs cannot play spoiler against teams like the Hawks.

Tonight is the fourth and final time these two teams will meet up this season. Chicago won their first game, 3-1, in Colorado, but the Avalanche won both matches at the United Center, including shutting out the Hawks 4-0 on January 6th. If the Blackhawks can keep their focus on the fact they need to win, and not think about the game as a "revenge" win or similar, then they should have a good chance to pull a win out of Denver.

The Hawks haven't won on the road since December 14th in Minneapolis. Granted, the majority of the games they've played since then have been at home; but they're currently on a 7-game road loss streak - and a 5-game current losing skid. With a slate of tough games ahead of them in the next two weeks - including the Sharks, Coyotes, Predators, Rangers - Chicago needs to be in "must win" mode tonight, particularly after last week's embarassing 8-4 loss in Edmonton. No doubt the Blackhawks are glad to be finished with western Canada for the season, where they have struggled in most of their matchups this year.

Chicago will go with Ray Emery in goal; Emery is currently 11-4-2 with 2.73 GAA. While Emery couldn't get a win for the Hawks on Friday - a 3-1 loss at Calgary - he looked mostly solid, and Coach Quenneville said he'd earned another start. The post-practice buzz this week has been that Emery is being given a chance to grab the #1 position in the stretch run, echoing an issue that has plagued the Blackhawks for the past three seasons (Khabibulin/Huet; Huet/Niemi; Turco/Crawford). However, Crawford always seems to respond well when the pressure is on; don't expect him to easily give up the position he had to wait far too long too earn.

The Avalanche also comes into tonight's game riding a 5-game losing streak; Jean-Sebastien Giguere (12-9-2, .923%, 2.09 GAA) will be getting the start in goal for Colorado. Despite the losing streak, Colorado's 5-game losing streak has all been 1-goal losses (2-3 vs ANA; 2-3 vs MN; 2-3 vs EDM; 0-1 vs MN; and 2-3 SO loss vs VAN). One of the biggest concerns for Chicago as of late has been the number of goals given up in games, but especially in losses.

KEYS TO THE GAME

Chicago's top 3 keys to the game tonight:

1. Defense, defense, defense. The team spent a lot of time this week in practice working on defense and puck battles; their defense has struggled with consistency all season. With one of the worst goals allowed totals in the league, the Blackhawks cannot hope to make a deep playoff run without fixing their defense immediately.

2. Support the goaltender - and each other. Instead of forcing the goaltender to constantly bail out the defensive gaps, help the goalie (in this case, Emery) out. Block, clear rebounds, whatever it takes.

3. Play the game one shift at a time, and keep those feet moving. In the loss at Vancouver, Chicago lost mainly because they got caught flat-footed in overtime. It's always a challenge to play at altitude without a few days to acclimate, but Colorado is good at taking advantage of other teams' defensive lapses. Every shift must count.

WHERE TO WATCH

CSN-Chicago (TV) or WGN 720 AM radio (phone app available), 8pm CST