- Scott Powers, ESPN Staff Writer
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1. Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov was brilliant and the difference again. The Blackhawks may not have gotten as many looks around the net, especially the rebound variety, as they would have liked in the game, but they had some high-quality chances, and Varlamov was there to reject them. He won all four of his starts against the Blackhawks this season, stopping 168 of 175 shots for a .960 save percentage. What got goals past Varlamov on Wednesday were a special move by Patrick Kane in the second period and six attackers on the ice in the final minutes. He made 37 saves on 39 shots. The Blackhawks’ inability to figure him out in the regular season has to be a cause for some concern if they meet in the playoffs. As of now, the Avalanche would also possess home-ice advantage against the Blackhawks in the first round.
2. Blackhawks goaltender Antti Raanta made some quality saves throughout the night, but the first goal he allowed was soft. Starting Raanta was an interesting choice by Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville with it being such an important game and because Raanta hadn’t made a start since Jan. 28. Raanta was up to the task early on, but he was caught off guard when Brad Malone shot the puck from the lower left edge of the left circle. The puck deflected off Raanta’s stick and bounced through his legs with 1:36 remaining in the first period. The other two goals weren’t his fault. He finished with 26 saves on 29 shots.
3. Andrew Shaw cost the Blackhawks with his interference penalty in the third period. The Avalanches’ Marc-Andre Cliche had just passed the puck and was a few feet away from the glass when Shaw laid him out. Shaw had enough time to divert from the hit. Shortly after that, Marcus Kruger knocked the puck out of the rink while trying to clear it. The Avalanche had a 5-on-3 power play for 1:31 and capitalized on it with five seconds remaining when Ryan O'Reilly knocked in a rebound. Shaw had done a good job of staying out of the penalty box as of late and hadn’t been there for six consecutive games prior to Wednesday. He leads the team with 20 minor penalties this season.
4. Aside from starting Raanta, Quenneville’s other interesting move against the Avalanche was healthy scratching forward Peter Regin and making defenseman Sheldon Brookbank a forward. Brookbank had zero shots, one five-minute penalty for fighting, a minus-one rating and played eight shifts for 4:33 of ice time. Quenneville told reporters after the game he played Brookbank because he gave the team some energy and provided an insurance defenseman. Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said recently it wasn’t ideal for them to play defensemen as forwards. The Blackhawks will be back to having 13 forwards when Marian Hossa returns. He’s expected to begin playing again week.
5. What a difference a season has made for the Blackhawks within their division. The Blackhawks were 16-1-1 against Central opponents last season. They fell to 9-10-3 in the Central this season after Wednesday’s loss. The Blackhawks went 1-3-1 against the Avalanche in their five meetings this regular season. The Blackhawks are also 0-1-2 against the division-leading St. Louis Blues. The Blackhawks and Blues will play twice more in the coming weeks.
16dDarren Rovell and Katie Strang