NHL Hockey Breakdown: Vancouver Canucks at Chicago Blackhawks

As the NHL regular season surges towards the playoffs inevitably there are a few fantastic match-ups set-up within the final 10 games of the year, and tonight’s exciting showdown between the Chicago Blackhawks (41-25-8, 90 pts) and the Vancouver Canucks (43-21-8, 94 pts) is certainly one to watch out for, with a face-off between the two Western Conference foes taking place at 8:00 PM ET at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois.

The Chicago Blackhawks ride into tonight’s home meeting with their collective hair on fire. Winners of 4 straight and going 8-1-1 in the last 10 games, there is every reason to expect that the ‘Hawks will be a serious challenger in the Stanley Cup Playoffs to come. However, while Chicago has been excelling this season by getting big production out of their talented scoring lines, led by players like points leader Marian Hossa (29 goals, 73 pts), goal scoring leader Patrick Sharp (30 goals, 64 pts) and team captain Jonathan Toews (29 goals, 57 points, however out tonight due an ongoing injury), one notable weakness has remained on the defensive side of the puck, with the Blackhawks allowing 2.8 goals per contest (22nd in the NHL) and having one of the league’s worst penalty killing percentages (%78.8, 26th in the NHL). While defense certainly hasn’t been as big an issue in March, where the Blackhawks have lost just once in regulation, it does come into question against one of the league’s top power play teams like the Canucks, who coincidentally are tied with Chicago for 4th in scoring offense with 3.0 goals/game.

Perhaps luck for the Blackhawks is the fact that Vancouver hasn’t been on their best form on either side of the puck in the past couple of weeks. Losing 5 of their last 7 games, the Canucks have allowed an appalling 4.2 goals per game in those 5 losses, and have not much found consistency in net with either Roberto Luongo or Cory Schneider, two goalies who comprise arguably one of the best tandems in the NHL. After two straight starts for Schneider, who had played reasonably well in both the win at home against Columbus and the 2-0 loss against Minnesota, Vancouver will turn back to its’ starter Roberto Luongo for this match-up, who has been simply terrible in net as of late, going 0-3-0 with a 5.28 goals against average in his last four outings. That doesn’t inspire much confidence in looking for Vancouver to nab a road win against Chicago, especially considering that Chicago has outscored its opponents 18-7 during their 4-game winning streak, behind Corey Crawford’s impressive run of 79 stopped shots in 83 attempts during that run.

For Vancouver to keep pace with a surging Chicago Blackhawks team on home ice tonight, they’ll need better efforts from their top scorers first and foremost, which starts with getting the Sedin twins back on track. The last time out in Chicago, a 6-2 drubbing by the Canucks back in November 2011, Daniel and Henrik Sedin combined for 2 goals and 5 assists, but lately neither player has been playing at their typical level. Henrik Sedin, who leads the Canucks with 70 points, has gone 11 games without netting a goal, and Daniel Sedin, leading the team with 30 goals, has just 2 goals (both coming in Saturday’s game at league punching-bag Columbus) and 1 assist in the month of March. Without better contribution from the Canucks’ top offensive producers, there’s little chance of Vancouver stealing away their 3rd win in 4 games against the Blackhawks tonight. However, there’s no mistaking that the Canucks have plenty of scoring depth, with 9 players on the team sitting on 11 goals or more for the season. Chicago will most certainly look to containing the likes of the Sedins, along with center Ryan Kessler (22 goals), and top right-winger Alex Burrows (24 goals), and if they can prevent a resurgence in scoring from the Canucks 2 top lines, they’ll have a very good chance at pulling out their 5th straight victory tonight.

Betting Lines for the Chicago Blackhawks vs. Vancouver Canucks at Intertops Sportsbook

While the Chicago Blackhawks seem to have a heavy upper hand coming into this game with the Vancouver Canucks based on recent form, the bookmakers at Intertops Sportsbook don’t seem to think the current trajectory of the two teams plays much into tonight’s showdown, as the two teams are both sitting at -110 odds to win straight up on the money line. That might be a correct bit of prognostication, as the Canucks have reached a point where a turnaround is inevitable for an otherwise talented team in a bit of a slump. Nonetheless, with good odds on both teams to win, the money line wager is a great way to bet on this high-intensity showdown tonight.

Against the spread, the closeness of this match-up is exhibited once again, with very high odds on the Canucks covering the 1.5 goals against the spread (-330), and very low ones on the Chicago Blackhawks (+270) to beat the Canucks by 1.5 goals or more at home. However, there is an advantage here for Chicago pickers especially: With Roberto Luongo struggling to find form recently, and with Corey Crawford at the top of his game in net for Chicago lately, the chances of Chicago winning by two goals seems much higher, especially with a likelihood of Chicago leading late in the game, and possibly getting another empty-net goal as Vancouver desperately tries to go 6-5 in the closing minute of the game.

For the over/under tonight, 5.5 goals, the usual mark between NHL teams, is the points total to stay under or beat out. Despite Vancouver’s recent goal scoring woes, these are two of the top scoring teams in the NHL, and two of the meetings between these two teams this season have gone over that mark already. In a game where you can expect tons of shots on goal, chances look pretty good the over bet is going to be the safest way to wager on the over/under today at Intertops Sportsbook.

Our Prediction:

With everything on the line between these two teams in a rivalry game where both sides can’t stand each other, there is going to be plenty of hard-hitting, fast-paced action that will make for an outstanding NHL hockey game. For Chicago to prevail, they are going to have to shore up their defense especially on the power play, and for Vancouver to win, they must have their top scorers step out of their current funks and put the puck in the net. With the Blackhawks holding all the momentum coming into the match-up, and confident in front of their goalie Corey Crawford who has been standing on his head lately, you have to like Chicago’s chances of a 5th straight win in this game. However, don’t discount Vancouver’s impressive road form this season, which has seen them go 22-11-4 away from home, and you can certainly expect the Canucks to be fighting in desperation mode to get a win against one of their most hated foes. We’ll look for a close finish tonight as defense plays a big role for each team in the face of talented scorers on the opposing side, expect a turnaround game for the Canucks, and take the visitors to walk out with a sneaky 3-2 win in Chicago tonight.

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