With only two games left to go, the Chicago Blackhawks 2021-21 season is winding down. They were officially eliminated from the postseason this past Monday night with their loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. But most gave up hope few weeks before that. The writing was on the wall when the Blackhawks couldn’t muster much of a fight against the Nashville Predators in late April, who at the time were their direct competition in the standings. Nonetheless, a few players are doing their best to end the season on a high note. Here’s a look at three such players who stood out in this latest three-game series against the division-leading Hurricanes.
Blackhawks Game Results
@ Carolina Hurricane, Mon. May 3, Loss 5-2
@ Carolina Hurricanes, Tues. May 4, Loss 6-3
@Carolina Hurricanes, Thurs. May 6, Win 2-1 (OT)
Head coach Jeremy Colliton continues to assess his younger players, and former Florida Panther Riley Stillman was scratched Monday in favor of Nicolas Beaudin cracking the lineup again. But the 23-year-old defenseman returned for both Tuesday’s and Thursday’s matchups, and did his best to make it hard for Colliton to sit him again. He was slotted onto the top defensive pairing alongside Connor Murphy. This position was previously held by Nikita Zadorov, and Calvin de Haan before he was injured.
On Tuesday Stillman was the only member of the team with a plus-2 rating, and finished the night with three hits and two blocked shots in 18:26 minutes of ice time. On Thursday, the Blackhawks were down to only five defensemen after Duncan Keith left the game in the first period due to concussion protocol. Stillman’s 24:26 minutes was third on the team, with only Zadorov and Murphy ahead of him. He was credited with two hits, one blocked shot and four shots on goal; one of them being his first NHL goal!
Stillman has suited up for 11 games thus far with the Blackhawks since he was acquired from the Panthers on April 8, and signed a three-year contract extension with a $1.35 million salary cap hit on April 25. He’s gotten off to a good start with his new team, and looks to be a solid contributor moving forward.
Adversity really does breed success, and Delia had to deal with his fair share of hardship this season. After a rocky start in two games at the beginning of the 2020-21 campaign, Delia was relegated to the taxi squad for most of the season. He did have a short conditioning assignment of four games with the Rockford IceHogs, but other than that the 26-year-old wasn’t playing.
Of course nobody likes to sit, and it certainly doesn’t help a player’s timing. Especially that of a goaltender, who must be sharp with their movements and tracking the puck at all times. Yet Delia had to deal with all that when he was finally thrown a bone. He got his chance when the Blackhawks were out of playoff contention and it didn’t matter anymore.
Well, it mattered to Delia. And while quite the challenge considering his circumstances, the 26-year-old made the most of it. After Malcolm Subban allowed four goals on 18 shots Monday night against the Hurricanes, Delia relieved him in the second period. He stopped all 19 shots he faced. He was already scheduled to start on Tuesday, but that game didn’t go as well for him. The defense in front of him certainly didn’t do him any favors, and he allowed four goals for a .846 save percentage.
Nevertheless, Colliton gave Delia the net again on Thursday, and this is where he put it all together. Besides a fluke play where the referee got in the way of defenseman Duncan Keith (allowing a Martin Necas breakaway goal), Delia stopped 36-of-37 shots for a .973 SV% and the win. Colliton acknowledged how Delia kept them in the game.
If they (the Hurricanes) get the second one, it’s going to be tough. He did a very good job and gave us the chance to win. Mostly just happy for him to have this stretch of games where he’s gotten the chance and to his credit, he prepared very well and he’s given all we can ask for.
Who knows what will happen with the netminder position in the offseason. But with his performance in the Hurricane’s series, Delia has put himself back into the conversation.
Was there ever a question DeBrincat would be on this list? Duh!
The Cat certainly has bounced back from a low-production 2019-20 season. He currently leads the Blackhawks with 29 goals, which is also third in the NHL behind Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid. Thursday marked his fifth straight game with a goal, including a two-goal game Tuesday night. But besides his scoring prowess, the feisty five-foot-seven winger has also worked hard to round out his game. He’s become much more responsible defensively; using his stick and his body positioning to win puck battles.
So much so, DeBrincat has recently been added as an option to kill penalties. As an integral member of the Blackhawks’ power play, he understands how to read the opposing team’s power play options and use it to his advantage. Since he’s joined the penalty kill, DeBrincat’s had numerous breakaway chances the other way. It finally paid off with a shorthanded tally Tuesday night.
Add DeBrincat’s intense and competitive character, and the Blackhawks have a leader and a core player in the making. When the “younger” players see this 23-year-old (I see the irony here) playing hard and finding success even at the tail end of a lost season, it inspires them to do the same. DeBrincat is the real deal, and he appears to have a long and successful career ahead of him.
Thursday’s 2-1 overtime win must have felt good for the Blackhawks after losing six straight contests before that. They will close out their season with two tilts against the Dallas Stars at the United Center; the only two contests where fans will be allowed in the building. This should provide some extra motivation for the team to close out their campaign strong. Let’s see who else can join the above three players and stand out in a positive way.
Avid Chicago Blackhawks fan and follower! Would much rather be reading and writing about hockey than cooking and cleaning. Otherwise known as The Hockey Housewife.