About Last Night...
Blackhawks 3-Kings 2 (OT)
(My Prediction: Hawks 5-Kings 4 (OT))
This marquee showdown between two Western Conference powers largely lived up to the hype, as the Hawks squeaked out a close overtime victory over Los Angeles in Chicago. Kopitar lead the way for the Kings with a goal and an assist while the Hawks' Patrick Sharp had 2 goals, one of which was the OT game-winner. The Hawks looked much better defensively in front of their goaltender than they did on Sunday against the Red Wings, and with Niemi still looking a little shaky in net, that's probably the way they're going to have to play from here on out. The Kings, meanwhile, had a good effort to earn a point in a tough building to play in, and remained right in the mix for the 4th spot in the West, now 2 points out but still with a game in hand on Phoenix.
Devils 6-Rangers 3
(My Prediction: Rangers 3-2)
If it isn't one thing with these New York Rangers, it's another: the anemic offense suddenly woke up, as the Prospal-Jokinen-Gaborik line looked dangerous just about everytime they were on the ice, while Erik Christensen continued his strong play since being a waiver-wire pick-up from Anaheim with a fantastic goal. However, it was the defense and goaltending that let them down last night, as Lundqvist just wasn't tracking the puck well in giving up 5 goals on 17 shots and the defense did him no help in front of him, clearly missing their coverage on many of the Devils' 6 goals. The Rangers remain 3 points back of 8th place Boston, and they've now spotted the Bruins 2 games in hand, as their playoff hopes are suddenly fading faster than ever. The Devils, meanwhile, did get the win at home, but Kovalchuck was held pointless and he still has yet to look integrated into the New Jersey line-up. He'll have to get going in a hurry down the stretch if the Devils want to have a shot at catching Pittsburgh and regaining the Atlantic division lead.
Coyotes 4-Canucks 3 (SO)
(My Prediction: Coyotes 3-1)
Another big win for Phoenix at home to continue to lead the Kings in the battle for 4th, as Phoenix managed to squeak out the shootout victory. Given the fact that this was Vancouver's final game of their epic 14-game road trip (they finished with an 8-5-1 record which has to be considered a monumental success), they had backup Andrew Raycroft in net, and it was the second night of a back-to-back for the Canucks, getting a point has to be considered a victory for them as well. The Canucks continue to get offense from up-and-down their line-up, and are looking more and more like they will be able to lock-up the Northwest division despite the strong play of the upstart Avalanche. Now that this road trip is over, the Canucks will finally return home on Saturday where they have one of the best records in the NHL (23-7-1), and their reward for making it through is a very home-heavy schedule down the stretch. It's looking like a great time to be a Canucks fan right now.
With last night in the books, let's get into tonight's 10-game schedule. As always, the awards I'm giving out are:
Marquee Match-Up: The biggest game of the night, the game you absolutely need to see, featuring the biggest stars and/or the best rivalries.
The Runner-Up: Basically the same criteria that applies to the Marquee, just not quite as big of a deal as the night's biggest game.
Under the Radar: This is a game that, for whatever reason, just wouldn't normally jump out at you if you're taking a quick glance at the day's schedule, but upon taking a closer look, this should probably be a great game.
I'd Rather Watch Ice Dancing: With the Winter Olympics fresh on everyone's mind, I'm naming this dubious "award" after the Olympics' most craptastic event that NBC tried to push off on us all in lieu of actual figure skating. Please do yourself a favor, don't watch this game.
Once those four picks are done with, I'll go through The Rest and tell you which of those games just might be worth your time as well. Even if you don't have Center Ice, I'll make sure to note which (if any) of these games are available on national TV in the US & Canada.
Thursday March 11th
Overall: Yet another example of quantity not always beating out quality, tonight's schedule has double the games of last night, but as far as marquee-quality games, there's really no contest. It's a pretty weak schedule overall (honestly, the competition for the Ice Dancing award was stronger than anything else), but hey, we gotta talk about it, so let's get into it.
Marquee Match-Up: Pittsburgh Penguins (40-22-4, 84 points, 1st in Atlantic, 2nd in East) at Carolina Hurricanes (27-31-8, 62 points, 5th in Southeast, 13th in East)
7:00 pm EST/4:00 pm PST
I know, looking at the records of these two teams doesn't exactly scream "marquee", but like I said, it's a pretty weak night for the NHL overall. The Marquee award goes to this game for a couple of reasons: first of all, it's a battle of two of the hottest teams in the Eastern Conference. The Pens are 6-1-3 in their last 10 while the Canes have put up an even better mark at 8-1-1 as their improbable march towards playoff contention continues. Secondly, it's a re-match from last year's Eastern Conference Finals, where the Pens man-handled the Canes en route to a 4-game sweep (and of course, eventually the Stanley Cup). Nothing gets a rivalry going like a playoff series, and the Canes are of course going to be out for a little bit of payback in front of their home fans. Also of note is both these teams should be relatively desperate for points: the Canes are of course trying to keep their slim playoff hopes alive, while the Pens have a 3-point lead over the Devils in the Atlantic (with the Devils still holding a game in hand), and will in fact head into New Jersey tomorrow night for an Atlantic showdown. Given the fact that the Devils will spend today resting while the Pens are in action, getting points tonight should be considered a matter of great urgency for the Pens, as losses tonight & tomorrow will allow the Devils to retake the Atlantic lead.
Prediction: Pens 5-2
Runner-Up: Ottawa Senators (37-25-5, 79 points, 2nd in Northeast, 5th in East) at Calgary Flames (33-24-9, 75 points, 3rd in Northwest, 8th in West)
9:30 pm EST/6:30 pm PST
Eastern vs. Western Canada match-ups tend to be exciting games, and tonight's game between the Sens & Flames should (hopefully) be no exception. Going into this year, the Flames were a team expected to be challenging for the Northwest crown, but instead they're hanging on to a playoff spot by the skin of their teeth. A big reason for that? Their awful home record (16-15-3), something they will have to turn around in a hurry down the stretch if they expect to hold off the Red Wings and whoever else emerges from the 10th-13th logjam as a playoff contender. Meanwhile, the Sens have been average on the road (16-14-1), again something they will look to turn around down the stretch if they plan on catching the Buffalo Sabres for the Northeast crown. A bad home team vs. an average away team, something has to give here.
Prediction: Sens 3-2
Under the Radar: Minnesota Wild (31-28-6, 68 points, 4th in Northwest, 12th in West) at Detroit Red Wings (31-23-12, 74 points, 3rd in Central, 9th in West)
7:30 pm EST/4:30 pm PST
National TV: NHL Network (US Only)
This is a classic example of an under the radar game, as you just don't get anymore under that there radar than the Minnesota Wild. There was a poll last year the NHL conducted to find out which team has the least interest outside of their home market, and Minnesota shockingly "won" that poll. Yes, Virgina, that means there's more displaced Florida Panther fans out there than Minnesota Wild fan, that surprised the hell out of me, too. But then when I got to thinking about it, I'm exactly the type of person they were asking about on that poll (i.e. has the Center Ice package and watches a ton of hockey), and how many times have I watched a Minnesota Wild game this season? A couple times when they played the Kings or Hawks, and that's about it. So I guess I see their point. Anyway, with that bit of backstory out of the way, tonight's game involving the Wild might just be one to watch. I mentioned already of the 10th-13th logjam in the West, and the Wild are right there in it, 7 points back of 8th place Calgary with a game in hand. They've got a game in hand on 9th place Detroit as well, and if they can pull out a big win in regulation tonight in the Joe Louis Arena, that will put them just 4 points back of the Wings, still with that game in hand. A loss tonight, however, would all but erase the Wild's playoff hopes. This is the very definition of a four-point game.
Prediction: Red Wings 5-Wild 2
I'd Rather Watch Ice Dancing: Tampa Bay Lightning (27-27-11, 65 points, 3rd in Southeast, 11th in East) at Toronto Maple Leafs (21-33-12, 54 points, 5th in Northeast, 15th in East)
7:00 pm EST/4:00 pm PST
Like I said before, the competition for this "award" was pretty brutal, with a lot of teams in playoff position vs. teams that couldn't be farther out of it. But this game is the first I can recall seeing of the hockey fan's greatest enemy down the stretch: the utterly and completely meaningless game. You'll see it plenty from now until the end of the season, battles between two teams with absolutely nothing to play for, and for the love of God don't you dare watch them, lest you be bored completely out of your skull. One could argue, I guess, that the Lightning are still technically "in" the playoff race in the East, which speaks to just how mediocre the Eastern Conference is this season when a team that's been as bad as Tampa Bay has been of late can still be in a playoff race. But, realistically, the Lightning don't have much of a shot. A win over the Maple Leafs would still put them 3 points back, and while that may not sound like a lot does anyone really think they can get it done down the stretch against teams that AREN'T from Toronto with the way they've been playing? The Lightning's playoff hopes realistically ended when they lost to the Habs on Tuesday, and until they're actually beating teams above them in the standings I'm officially considering them out of it. The Maple Leafs, of course, are really, really bad. To top it off, the Lightning always seem to play really well against Toronto, as in, major ass-kicking well. So yeah, don't watch this game.
Prediction: Lightning 5-Maple Leafs 1
Oilers @ Habs, 7:00 pm EST: (National TV on RDS, French only) Should I really even bother putting any Oilers games in this listing from now until the end of the season? If you don't see the Oilers' name in the listing and immediately know what the verdict's going to be, well, congratulations, you're the immediate relative of one of the players on the roster. I say "immediate" because there's no way that, say, Mike Comrie's second- or third-cousin could want to watch this game. Welcome to the club. Verdict: Not Worth Your Time
Blues @ Islanders, 7:00 pm EST: Tonight's Ice Dancing competition was almost certainly stiffer than the actual Olympic event was this year, as you can see here. The Blues are okay, the Islanders are pretty bad. FEEL THE EXCITEMENT~! Verdict: Not Worth Your Time
Bruins @ Flyers, 7:00 pm EST: See kids, a game doesn't have to feature non-playoff teams to be completely uninteresting! Yeah, okay, this is a Winter Classic re-match. Put their "thrilling" 2-1 game into the Garden instead of outside and I guarantee you not a single person would remember it today. Oh yeah, and thanks Matt Cooke for taking the only exciting offensive player out of the Boston line-up. They were boring as hell WITH Marc Savard. And now they don't have him. Woof. Verdict: Not Worth Your Time
Thrashers @ Blue Jackets, 7:00 pm EST: Okay, seriously, was tonight's NHL schedule some kind of giant prank on me? The THRASHERS at the BLUE JACKETS?! Really? Like you have to ask what this game gets. Verdict: Not Worth Your Time
Panthers @ Avalanche, 9:00 pm EST: You know, on just about any other night, a re-match of the 1996 Stanley Cup Final (that was swept by the Avs, by the way) would probably be an Ice Dancing contender, but not tonight. Compared to those last games I just listed, this game looks positively interesting. Of course, that's kind of like saying a knife wound sounds like a good time when compared to being infected with flesh-eating bacteria. Verdict: Not Worth Your Time
Predators @ Sharks, 10:30 pm EST: Oh my god! Is it a mirage? Can it be real? A game....involving two GOOD teams....that might actually be a little bit exciting?! The last time the Preds were in San Jose, it took a very late third-period goal to put the Sharks on top. And while the Preds can be a little boring and trap-happy at times, they also have a lot of young talent that's fun to watch (especially on the back-end). On another night, that might not be enough to be worth your time, but just compared to the rest of tonight's craptastic schedule, this game should be like a long gulp of fresh water from a spring in the middle of a desert. Verdict: Probably Worth Your Time
Yeah, okay, not exactly the greatest night of hockey I've ever seen. Might be a good night to go and visit your grandmother or something. But hey, if you get home in time, Preds-Sharks might be decent. Other than that, you're on your own folks. Good night, and good luck.