Endgame: Blackhawks vs. Flyers Preview

There's only one storyline here.

Endgame: Blackhawks vs. Flyers Preview
Photo by Sarah Avampato

So this is how it's all going to end?

An 82nd consecutive meaningless regular-season game at home against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night after 81 other games that were just as meaningless is going to be the final time that Jonathan Toews is going to be wearing a Chicago Blackhawks uniform?

It almost seems unfair that this irrelevant hockey game will be Toews' last in Chicago considering how many times he was the focal point of teams playing on the biggest stages the sport can offer, whether playing for club or country. His career accolades are a mile long. His No. 19 might as well start scoping out a spot in the UC rafters as soon as this game ends and they could also start clearing room in the atrium where the Toews statue is going to reside. What he's accomplished in Chicago places him alongside the city's most revered sports legends who only need a last name to be identified: Jordan, Payton, etc. Toews may have been overshadowed on ice by the wizardry of Patrick Kane or the smothering 200-foot game of Marian Hossa or the defensive prowess of Duncan Keith but there was only one player who wore the "C" for all those years, one player who was the unquestionable catalyst igniting the engine that tore through the NHL in the early-2010s.

It always felt cheesy to read farewell letters or "thank you" notes to a person who'll likely never read the words and is likely unaware of their existence. But it's also impossible to deny the emotional heartstrings being tugged since the announcement earlier on Thursday that this will be the last time that he plays in Chicago. It's felt like the end of this whole era for a very long time but it's an intangible feeling no longer: everything's coming to an end in about 11 hours from this writing. All the wins, all the parades, all the parties, all the fun – and all the inexcusable, egregious missteps, too – it's all officially in the past tense after this game is over for Toews because he's the final connection to that era.

Perhaps the biggest tribute to Toews and everyone else associated with this era of the Blackhawks is that people care enough to acknowledge the end of it. In the hour or so since that announcement was made, social media timelines have been overflowing with conversation related to a game that means absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things but now means a whole lot more to those who are still around in the fan base. Toews was drafted to a team that was irrelevant in Chicago. The home games weren't broadcast on local TV and local sporting goods stores never had team gear available for purchase. Now? The Blackhawks might be the lead story for every Chicago media outlet that exists on Thursday.

Since returning on April 1, Toews' ice time has slowly ramped up from 14:00 to 18:37 against the Minnesota Wild on Monday before going back down to 16:44 against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday. We'll see how many shifts the Captain takes in this game, given the fact that he turns THIRTY-FIVE in two weeks and that he's still just a few weeks back from a two-month layoff.

Whatever his final ice time is, it won't feel like enough. But it's all we've got left to watch in Toews' Chicago career, so we might as well use it.  

Since this is a game preview, a quick check-in on the Flyers, who are also a bad hockey team! They beat Columbus on Tuesday after losing seven in a row. Philly was also kind enough to gift the Blue Jackets a point by letting the game go to overtime. With those players likely checking for flight times to Cancun on tablets from the bench mid-game, expect a less-than-focused Philly side to skate in this one.

For the final time in Toews' career – a sentence that feels as strange to type as any assembled at this place – Let's go Hawks.  

Tale of the Tape (statistics from this season)

Blackhawks — Statistic — Flyers

43.68% (31st) — 5-on-5 Corsi For — 47.47% (24th)

42.45% (31st) — 5-on-5 Expected goals for — 47.65% (23rd)

2.44 (32nd) — Goals per game — 2.65 (29th)

3.63 (26th) — Goals against per game — 3.36 (23rd)

45.8% (30th) — Faceoffs — 52.6% (6th)

16.0% (29th) — Power play — 15.2% (32nd)

76.5% (21st) — Penalty kill — 75.0% (26th)

How to watch

When: 7:30 p.m. CT

Where: United Center, Chicago

TV: NBC Sports Chicago

Radio: WGN 720