There are certain games that you circle on the calendar for obvious reasons: a particular team, division rival, etc. And then there are games that are not just about rivalries, but a test of where your team is at in that quest for Lord Stanley's mug. This afternoon in Chicago is one of those games. The Blackhawks are 9 points ahead of the Canucks right now, but the two teams actually match up pretty closely. More after the jump...
The Canucks managed to get through the first half of the Road Trip From Hell (tm) with a .500 record, but have won the last two outings, an OT come from behind effort in Columbus and then a 6-3 Wednesday in Detroit. Tonight however begins a stretch of 4 games in 6 nights, all against playoff bound teams in the Western Conference before returning home.
The first 2 games of the series were tight, hard fought one goal games, each team winning on the road. The last visit of the Hawks to Vancouver however was a blowout, 5-1. The game was even more remarkable with Salo, Mitchell and Bieksa all out of the lineup. Salo has returned fortunately, but the Canucks will still need an effort akin to the one they got that night from players like Christian Ehrhoff, Shane O'Brien and the newest Canuck, Andrew Alberts.
The great thing about these games are the interesting little sub plots: Luongo not only going head to head with Patrick Kane again (did you find that book, by the way? I suggest calling the cab company you rode to CHP in, they might have hung onto it for you), Kane versus his Team USA linemate Ryan Kesler as well as Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith trying to score on the goalie that helped them to gold. Add in the Andrew Ladd/ Ryan Kesler feud and this one has all the makings of a classic.
It's amazing how a playoff series can develop a rivalry, and since that tilt last year, the Canucks and Hawks have developed a serious hate for one another that leads to some great hockey for the fans. There's been a lot of discussion about the Hawks and whether they should have tried to upgrade their goaltending situation. Kind of weird to be saying that when you are the team that's let in the least amount of goals in the NHL, but as we all know, the playoffs are a much different beast. Huet has little playoff experience, and Niemi's a rookie, so people are bound to ponder if this will hamper the Hawks in their quest this year.
As much as I think the Canucks will battle hard tonight, Chicago is tough at hime, and even though we already won a game at the United Center this year, I see a loss coming tonight. The fatigue factor on the last part of this trip is going to be huge, especially the last 3 games over a 4 night span. For tonight anyways, we will look forward to what should be a great game between two of the Western Conference's best teams.
Ray Ferraro: Wagon Repair Technician
Last night's Habs/Sharks game featured a pretty gutless hit from Maxime Lapierre of the Canadiens on Scott Nichol of the Sharks, which led TSN's Ray Ferraro to mutter something about someone 'fixing his wagon'. Watch the hit (hat tip to Kukla's Corner) and then decide for yourself if this is suspendable.
I am stunned that the referee watched the hit in its entirety and didn't even flinch. Then again, Evgeni Malkin went unpunished for his hit on Willie Michell, who is still suffering from post-concussion syndrome, so I am not holding my breath on this one.
So a quick look at the Western Standings shows that Detroit, Calgary, St. Louis, Dallas, Anaheim and Minnesota are all fighting for one playoff spot. Gotta give credit to the Blues, they looked out of it not too long ago, the Ducks and Wild have also done well to stay in the hunt. My guess who comes out on top of all of this? Anaheim, because they have better goaltending than these other teams (including Calgary, Kiprusoff is fading again and the team has nothing in the tank). I won't be surprised if the Predators fade though. If that happens, expect either Dallas or St. Louis to squeak in.