The Chicago Blackhawks, priced at 13/2 with bet365 to win the Stanley Cup, will take on the Toronto Maple Leafs in what might be the game of the weekend. Joel Quenneville’s men are sitting pretty at the top of the West’s Central Division, having won eight of their last ten outings – an incredible run of form to say the least.
Meanwhile, Toronto have won just four during the same spell and the Maple Leafs really need to up their game if they are to stand any chance of sneaking into the playoffs. Scoring goals hasn’t been a problem for the Canadian side but stopping their opponents from hitting the back of the net has been a different story.
We took a look at both sides ahead of this contest and provide our thoughts on who might come out on top.
Once again, the Blackhawks have been one of the most consistent sides in the National Hockey League. Offensively, Chicago are blessed with talent – the likes of Jonathan Toews, Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane are capable of winning matches more or less on their own and Quenneville knows just how important these three men will be during the postseason.
At the other end of the rink, they have conceded just 173 goals this season and goaltenders Corey Crawford and Scott Darling have both racked up plenty of game time. Chicago are very fortunate to have two capable shot stoppers on their roster and both men have played key roles for the Blackhawks throughout the campaign.
KEY MAN: Patrick Kane. An obvious one but it would be foolish to select anybody else. Kane hasn’t managed to emulate his record-breaking 2015-16 campaign but he still leads Chicago in points; his 76 (31 goals, 45 assists) have helped the Blackhawks to top the division.
While you could argue that Artemi Panarin is the future of the franchise, Kane is very much the present and Chicago will be relying on the three-time Stanley Cup champion in the next few weeks. The Blackhawks star has seven goals and four assists in his last four games and it would take a brave man to back against Chicago when Kane is in such form.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Only seven teams have scored more goals than Toronto this season – a statistic that shows just how potent their offensive lines have been. The Maple Leafs have had plenty of success on the power play this season and they may be able to take advantage if the visitors struggle to remain disciplined on Saturday night.
Unfortunately, the Maple Leafs aren’t the most reliable side at the back and Chicago will be raring to go against one of the shakiest defensive units in hockey. Six teams have conceded more points than Toronto so far this campaign but only one of those is a direct divisional rival.
KEY MAN: Auston Matthews. The 19-year-old has come of age in recent months; notching more points (55) than any of his team-mates this season. The 2016 overall number one draft pick has been simply sublime since making the step up to the NHL and Chicago will be very wary of his talent.
Matthews is a contender for the Calder Trophy and a few decent performances against the best teams in the NHL will certainly help his chances of individual recognition. Right now, a playoff spot looks unlikely but you never know.
If Kane turns up, Chicago romp to victory – it is as simple as that. The Blackhawks are in fine form right now and their main man is beginning to hit top form at the perfect time. It would be foolish to rule Toronto out completely but beating Chicago will be very difficult indeed.
BLACKHAWKS 5-2 MAPLE LEAFS