|Canucks, Blackhawks look to finish season strong|
CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks will play their first game since being eliminated from playoff contention when they face off against the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday night at the United Center.
Chicago (30-35-9) has not experienced a regular-season game without any hopes of the playoffs in a decade. Coach Joel Quenneville's team made the playoffs in each of the past nine seasons, winning three Stanley Cup championships in the process.
"You're always going to have key injuries, years where things go against you," Quenneville said this week to the Chicago Sun-Times. "We've always been able to overcome them and find ways to rectify some tough situations and get back on track. This year, we've been unable to do it."
Now, the Blackhawks will try to finish strong even though their fate is determined. Eight games remain before an early offseason begins -- and, with it, the possibility of significant personnel changes.
"It (stinks), and it's kind of embarrassing," defenseman Connor Murphy said to the Sun-Times.
Vancouver (25-39-9) once was a feisty postseason opponent for Chicago. Those days have passed as the Canucks will miss the postseason for the third year in a row and the fourth time in the past five years.
However, the Canucks have enjoyed success against the Blackhawks this season. They have won each of the first two matchups and are looking to sweep the regular-season series.
Vancouver will turn to Jacob Markstrom or Anders Nilsson in net. Markstrom has played more frequently, posting an 18-26-6 record with a 2.80 goals-against average and .909 save percentage in 54 games. Nilsson is 7-13-3 with a 3.50 GAA and .902 save percentage in 25 games.
Chicago will counter with Anton Forsberg or Jean-Francois Berube in net. Forsberg is 9-16-3 with a 3.08 GAA and .905 save percentage in 32 games. Berube is 2-4-1 with a 3.70 GAA and .897 save percentage.
Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews and right winger Patrick Kane each will look to continue their recent production. Toews has 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in his last 10 games, while Kane has 11 points (two goals, nine assists) over the same span.
Canucks center Bo Horvat has 19 goals and is looking to secure his second consecutive 20-goal campaign. The fourth-year player has scored nine goals on the power play this season, which is one shy of the team lead.
First-year coach Travis Green has watched his team lose seven games in a row. During that stretch, Vancouver has been outscored 23-7. The Canucks have only one victory in their past 11 contests.
The Canucks are coming off a 4-1 loss against the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday night.
Veteran forward Daniel Sedin said the game reinforced the importance for the Canucks to play well from the opening faceoff. It is a lesson that he and his teammates will try to carry into Thursday's game in Chicago.
"I thought our first wasn't good enough and we played OK for two periods, but even OK against a team like this isn't good enough," Sedin said to the Canucks' official website. "This is a very good team, and we needed to be at our best to be in this."