Yes, it's another supremely early edition of Today's Games to Watch, as yours truly will be making his way to the City of Brotherly Love to watch his Blackhawks takes on the Flyers, live and in-person. But don't worry, I always think of you guys, so before bed to make it up in time for a (relatively long) drive to Philly, let's talk...
About Last Night...
Devils 3-Penguins 1
(My Prediction: Devils 4-2)
Oh yeah, another really close one! Not that picking the Devils to beat the Penguins this season is really a tough pick....that's their fifth straight win over their Atlantic Division rivals, and they will play one more game next week, still in New Jersey. With the victory the Devils move within 2 points of the Penguins, still with 2 games in hand, so I'd be sweating a little bit if I was a Penguins fan. Especially now that Ilya Kovalchuk finally exploded for 3 points against the Pens- if that's a sign of things to come down the stretch for Kovy, the Devils should be looking at not just back-to-back Atlantic titles, but possibly doing some actual damage in the playoffs for the first time since the lockout (they've only been past the first-round once, and never past the second).
Predators 1-Ducks 0
(My Prediction: Ducks 4-1)
Well folks, that's officially the last time I'll make the mistake of expecting the Anaheim Ducks to show up for a hockey game. Just like they've been doing in EVERY GAME since the Olympic break ended, the Ducks showed up for about 10 minutes in the 3rd period, and it was too little, too late against a very, very good defensive-minded Nashville team. This is a Preds team that's very proud of their defense, and you could tell they came out looking to make a statement after being embarrassed giving up 6 goals to San Jose in the 3rd period the night before. The Ducks would have required someone in the rafters with an automatic rifle pointed at the Preds' defensemen in order to get anywhere near a rebound, and as a result their season is pretty much over.
Kings 2-Stars 1 (SO)
(My Prediction: Kings 4-1)
How's this for a random stat: AHL standout Jonathan Bernier (he of the 2.09 GAA and .939 save %) was 0-5 in shootouts this season. In his very first NHL start, he not only won a shootout, but was perfect in stopping all six Dallas shooters he faced before Jarrett Stoll finally finished for another LA win. And stop and look at who showed up in this game for the Kings: Bernier, AHL call-up replacing the Kings' record-setting starting netminder who went home in preparation for his wife giving birth. Stoll, second-line center who's played as low as third-line for this incredibly balanced team, wins it in the shootout. Freddy Modin, who scored his third goal in four games as King (after scoring just 2 in 24 games as a Blue Jacket). That goal was assisted by captain Dustin Brown and reinvigorated sniper Alexander Frolov. Guess who I didn't mention, at all? You guessed it, the ENTIRE TOP LINE, the reunited Smyth-Kopitar-Williams line who looked like they were still getting used to getting back to playing together again. How many NHL teams can win, consistently mind you (Williams & Smyth were injured throughout the season and Kopitar went through a LONG scoring drought), when their top line isn't producing? That's why this Kings team is so good and so exciting to watch: they are deep at almost every position, and poised to be a powerhouse for years to come. But I digress.
Wild 3-Sabres 2
(My Prediction: Sabres 3-0)
Hey, I'm happy to be wrong about a team I thought was left for dead, so good on the Wild to bounce back from their embarassment in Motown and pick up a huge win, on the road, over an Eastern Conference power. The more teams who manage to stay in it, even by the slimmest of margins, the more exciting that makes the stretch run. So I'm happy for the Wild and their fans.
Okay folks, you know the drill by now: here's the awards we'll be handing out for tonight's night (err...and day) of hockey action.
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.
Saturday March 13th
Overall: Not much compared to a normal Saturday, just 9 games and not a ton of big-time match-ups either, but that's what you have to expect now that the NHL actually has games on Sunday, too.
Marquee Match-Up: Boston Bruins (30-24-12, 72 points, 4th in Northeast, 8th in East) at Montreal Canadiens (34-29-6, 74 points, 3rd in Northeast, 7th in East)
7:00 pm EST/4:00 pm PST
National TV: CBC (Canada) & NHL Network (US)
This has all the makings of marquee: first of all, it's the Bruins and the Habs, hockey's oldest and arguably greatest rivalry. Second of all, it's Hockey Night in Canada. Finally, it's a battle of two teams sitting in 7th and 8th and seperated by just two points. While the teams sitting below them will just be praying that this one doesn't go past regulation, you have to expect both these rivals to come out looking to put a wrench in each other's playoff hopes. Both teams are aware of how many games they've played- namely, the fact that the Bruins have THREE games in hand on the Habs. This is a huge chance for the Bruins to really make the Habs sweat and sit them right off on the edge of that playoff bubble, or it's a chance for the Habs to keep moving up in the standings. Either way, something big will happen in the East playoff race, you can be sure of that.
Prediction: Habs 3-1
Runner-Up: Chicago Blackhawks (44-17-5, 93 points, 1st in Central, 2nd in West) at Philadelphia Flyers (35-27-4, 74 points, 3rd in Atlantic, 6th in East)
1:00 pm EST/11:00 am PST
I'm not picking this one just because I'm going to it: this is a game between two teams who many, many people had picked to meet in the Stanley Cup Finals before this season started. Of course, the Flyers haven't quite played up to those lofty standards for the better part of the season, but they've still shown flashes of it at times. Meanwhile, both these teams have the common fear of their goaltending not quite being good enough to make it to a Cup final. Chicago will be looking to pick up points here on the first night of a back-to-back, with a much harder game coming tomorrow at 12:30 in Washington (probably the greatest pick for an NBC game of the week I've seen all year, but that's for tomorrow's blog). Philly, meanwhile, needs to bounce back from getting embarrass at home by the Bruins 5-1, and for the most part they've been a very resilient team this season. Look for this one to get physical and go down to the wire.
Prediction: Blackhawks 5-4 (SO)
Under the Radar: Ottawa Senators (37-26-5, 79 points, 2nd in Northeast, 5th in East) at Vancouver Canucks (41-23-3, 85 points, 1st in Northwest, 3rd in West)
10:00 pm EST/7:00 pm PST
National TV: CBC (Canada)
A meeting between the suddenly goal-starved Senators and the high-powered Canucks probably has the look and feel of a blowout at first glance, and it probably will be, but you should still watch this game. Why? Because it's the Canucks' triumphant return to Vancouver after putting up a very, very good 8-5-1 record throughout their 14-game road trip, the longest road trip in NHL history. This is a city that was already energized from the Olympics, and now they're welcoming back their Canucks as Northwest division-conquering heroes. The crowd reactions alone should be able to bring chills up and down your spine. The game, quite frankly, is secondary at best.
Prediction: Canucks 5-1
I'd Rather Watch Ice Dancing: Florida Panthers (27-29-10, 64 points, 4th in Southeast, 13th in East) at San Jose Sharks (43-14-9, 95 points, 1st in Pacific, 1st in West)
4:00 pm EST/1:00 pm PST
Woof. There's quite a few clunkers on today's schedule, but this is by FAR the clunkiest of them all. What else can you say about the Panthers that hasn't been said already? They're the only team in the NHL whose ownership actually came out and told their fanbase that they're giving up on the season (seriously, and not even the Oilers did that). If you asked your buddy to name all 30 NHL teams, this is the team they're most likely to forget, even above such luminaries as the Ohio Something-Jackets, the Other New York Team, and That Team That Traded Kovalchuk to New Jersey. So yeah, those guys are IN SAN JOSE to face the Western Conference's best team. If you needed me to tell you this game will probably be worthless, I'm not sure how you found your way to a computer to read this blog to begin with.
Prediction: Sharks 5-0
Sabres @ Red Wings, 7:00 pm EST: While it's nice that the Red Wings are healthy again, they haven't exactly been the model of consistency of late: they've only won 2 in a row once since the Olympics, as they've gone win-loss-win-loss otherwise. If they really want to not just catch the Flames & Predators, but perhaps put them in the rear-view mirror permanently and take hold of a playoff spot for themselves like everyone expects them to, they have to start beating the good teams consistently. Beating the Minnesota Wilds of the world is fine, but now if they can come out at home and beat a very good Buffalo team, it will send a message that they are finally back. Verdict: Probably Worth Your Time
Coyotes @ Hurricanes, 7:00 pm EST: The downsides to this game are that it's intra-conference and Phoenix can play a pretty boring style at times. But the upside is that both of these teams will be pretty desperate for points for entirely different reasons: the 'Yotes are expecting to win against the 14th-place Canes as they try to keep pace with Los Angeles in the (increasingly insane) race for 4th in the Western Conference. The Hurricanes, meanwhile, are coming off another huge win over the defending Cup champion Penguins and are looking to continue their magical run back towards the playoffs. If the Canes are gonna have a shot in hell, they can't afford to drop points on home ice. Verdict: Might Be Worth Your Time
Devils @ Islanders, 7:00 pm EST: Yeah, okay, I have nothing funny or witty to say about this game. You got me. It's the Devils and the Isles, it's a really good team against a really bad team, film at 11, just don't watch the game. Verdict: Not Worth Your Time
Oilers @ Maple Leafs, 7:00 pm EST: (National TV on CBC, Canada only) Normally a nice pointless battle between two teams that are out of it is automatic don't-watch material, but this game actually might be kind of interesting. I know, I'm going against pretty much everything I've ever said on this blog, but hear me out: since the trade-deadline moved out a few older bodies, both the Oilers & the Leafs have been playing pretty good hockey. It's normal this time of year for teams that are out of it to start playing better: they have nothing to play for, and with the trade deadline over they don't have to worry about who's getting moved and can just focus on showing up to the rink. So this game could either be a boring one between two teams that don't matter and play like it, or an exciting clash between two young teams who are loose as all hell. I guess we'll just have to wait and see. Verdict: Might Be Worth Your Time
Blues @ Blue Jackets, 7:00 pm EST: It's very bad when hockey games remind me of 2000 WCW wrestling angles, but the first thing I think of when I see this game is the "feud" between Booker T and the former Ahmed Johnson (now "Big T") with the winner getting the RIGHTS TO THE LETTER T~! Yes, this actually happened, and poor Booker T lost and was called just plain 'ol "Booker" for months as a result before it was mercifully forgotten. So here's my pitch: the winner of this game gets the RIGHT TO USE THE WORD BLUE for the rest of the season! Imagine, the Columbus Jackets entering battle without their prized color in their name! Are YOU ready for a world where the Jackets can no longer properly express the majesty and reverence of Columbus hockey, circa....uh....2000? Or, on the flipside, having no other word in their name to fall back on, the world is suddenly treated to the St. Louis Oranges, completely with half-peeled fruit for a logo. Okay, really dumb idea that I spent way too much time talking about, but it hopefully distracted you from the fact that I, like every single other person on the planet earth, have nothing to say about this game. Verdict: Not Worth Your Time...unless they take my idea, then MUST-SEE TV~!!!
And that's it folks. I'll be back as always, unless of course you hear about an unfortunate Blackhawks fan strangled with their own jersey and left for dead in the middle of Philly, in which case it was a pleasure to serve you all! See you around!