Welcome back to Center Ice Addict, as we really get ready to get rolling on towards the playoffs! Tonight, we've got a huge 11-game schedule to preview, so let's not waste anytime and get right into it. As always, these are the awards we'll be handing out:
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.
Tuesday, April 6th
Overall: 11 games, headlined by the ever-popular battle of this sport's two biggest stars. But don't look past the rest of this schedule: there's some other big games mixed in with the usual clunkers.
Marquee Match-Up: Washington Capitals (52-15-12, 116 points, 1st in Southeast, 1st in East) at Pittsburgh Penguins (45-26-7, 97 points, 2nd in Atlantic, 4th in East)
7:30 pm EST/4:30 pm PST
National TV: Versus (US) & TSN (Canada)
Like I need to explain why this is the marquee game? It's Ovechkin vs. Crosby, people. It's the Pens and the Caps, by far the NHL's most exciting rivalry. The only thing you might argue that could take away from it is the fact that the Caps really don't need anymore points, having wrapped up the Eastern Conference lead AND the President's Trophy already, while the Pens are in the middle of a dogfight for top spot in the Atlantic with the suddenly hot New Jersey Devils. But if there's any game that Ovie & the Caps can still get up for, it has to be the Penguins, and putting a kibosh on the Pens' division winning hopes has to have them salivating. Of course there's still the Rocket Richard trophy sidestory, too, as Crosby is trying to hold onto a slim one-goal lead over the two-time defending champion Alex the Great. How many more storylines do you need, folks? Watch. This. Game.
Prediction: Pens 5-4 (OT)
Runner-Up: San Jose Sharks (48-20-11, 107 points, 1st in Pacific, 1st in West) at Calgary Flames (40-30-9, 89 points, 3rd in Northwest, 9th in West)
9:30 pm EST/6:30 pm PST
National TV: TSN (Canada)
This is a big game for both of these teams, as the Sharks can clinch the Pacific division title with a win here, while the Flames MUST win this game to keep their already-slim playoff hopes alive. A loss by Calgary tonight in regulation and a win for Colorado in their game against Vancouver would offically eliminated Calgary from the playoff race. This is a game that, to be quite frank, they have to have. Unfortunately for Calgary, the team they're playing isn't exactly taking those 2 points lightly. Besides the Pacific clinching possibilities, the Sharks clearly want to finish first in the conference for the second year in a row, and they have just a 2-point lead over the Chicago Blackhawks (with the Hawks having a game in hand). This game will be a big test for both teams, and if Calgary can find a way to battle back into 8th place, it could very well be a playoff preview, as well.
Prediction: Flames 3-2
Under the Radar: Los Angeles Kings (44-27-7, 95 points, 3rd in Pacific, 7th in West) at Anaheim Ducks (38-31-9, 85 points, 4th in Pacific, 11th in West)
10:00 pm EST/7:00 pm PST
At first glance you might not expect much of this game, but there's a few things to keep in mind, other than the obvious SoCal/Freeway Face-Off rivalry between these two teams. First of all, the Kings were NOT at all happy with how they played at home against the Ducks on Saturday, ultimately losing 2-1 in overtime. They want to come out with a much better effort against their crosstown rivals to wrap up the season series tonight. Second of all, the Kings have the chance to officially eliminate the Ducks and end their admittedly beyond-slim playoff chances. Don't underestimate what that might mean to this team, especially those of them who have been around for a while and remember how the Ducks dominated the hockey scene in the wake of their 2007 Cup win (and all those years when, at the same time, the Kings were out of the playoffs). The Kings are still looking to move up in the Western conference standings despite having already clinched a playoff spot, as they're just 3 points back of 5th place Nashville with 2 games in hand. This should be a typically nasty game between these two rivals.
Prediction: Kings 4-2
I'd Rather Watch Ice Dancing: Ottawa Senators (43-31-5, 91 points, 2nd in Northeast, 5th in East) at Florida Panthers (31-35-12, 74 points, 4th in Southeast, 13th in East)
7:30 pm EST/4:30 pm PST
Of the few games involving playoff teams vs. non-playoff teams, this game strikes me as by far the most skippable. It certainly doesn't help that it starts at the same time as the Caps and the Pens, while the Sens are probably the team playing for the least. While they aren't officially eliminated from the Northeast crown, it's really almost impossible for them to catch Buffalo at this point. At the same time, they're probably not going up or down in the standings, either; they're not catching 4th place Pittsburgh and 6th place Montreal isn't catching them. They know where they're going to finish. Of all the non-playoff teams, Florida has come out with the least passion on most nights, so add it all up and you've got the potential for two teams coming out flat. Or, on the other hand, maybe the Sens just feel like pounding the Panthers into submission like the Rangers did in the 3rd period last Saturday. Either way, not an entertaining game.
Prediction: Sens 2-1
Rangers @ Sabres, 7:00 pm EST: The Rangers are of course still desperate for every point they can get as they try to chase down the Flyers and Bruins for one of the last two play9off spots, and they've gone 5-0-1 in their last 6 games. They'll try to keep that momentum going against a Buffalo team that's lost their last 2 in a row, and yet can still clinch the Northeast division with a win tonight. These two teams always have a tendency to play each other tough, and tonight should be no exception. Verdict: Probably Worth Your Time
Canadiens @ Islanders, 7:00 pm EST: (National TV: RDS, French only) The Habs can clinch a playoff spot with a win and a loss by either the Rangers or Flyers tonight. That should give them all the motivation they need to pound the Islanders, who were officially eliminated from the playoffs earlier in the week. Verdict: Not Worth Your Time
Flyers @ Maple Leafs, 7:00 pm EST: Obviously this is a huge game in that race for 8th in the East, and it's funny how things work out sometimes with the Leafs having a huge say in which one of these two teams will finish above the other (they head into MSG tomorrow night to take on the Rangers). A loss here for the Flyers would be devastating to their playoff chances, especially if the Rangers can get at least a point out of Buffalo. The Leafs continue to play fantastic hockey; now let's see how they do against a team far more desperate than they are.. Verdict: Might Be Worth Your Time
Devils @ Thrashers, 7:00 pm EST: The Devils are playing good hockey right now, bouncing back from giving up another last-minute goal against the Blackhawks in losing in a shootout on Friday by pounding the Hurricanes 3-0 in Carolina the very next night. They're neck-and-neck with the Penguins for the all-important Atlantic division crown, and a win here over the Thrashers would go a long way towards cementing that, since they have the tiebreaker. The Thrashers, meanwhile, are fading back a bit and watching the Rangers overtake them in the race for 8th. A loss here would all but end their playoff chances, so if they can come out playing desperate they might have a shot. Of course, it might be worth watching this game just to see Ilya Kovalchuck (who's suddenly playing really, really well for the first time in Jersey) back in Atlanta....in another uniform, for the first time ever. Verdict: Probably Worth Your Time
Hurricanes @ Lightning, 7:30 pm EST: Our only game of the night between two teams already eliminated from the playoffs, this game could be a fun one just because they'll both be playing super-loose and wiling to trade chances up-and-down the ice. However, the downside is of course that this game means virtually nothing. So your choice on whether or not that's worth watching, I guess. Probably not when it's up against the Caps and Pens head-to-head, but hey, that's your call. Verdict: Might Be Worth Your Time
Blackhawks @ Stars, 8:30 pm EST: Chicago needs these two points to catch the Sharks, and they've been playing much better hockey on their 3-game win streak. Dallas is officially eliminated and looked like a team that knew that in their last outing. Yeah, this one might not be pretty. Verdict: Not Worth Your Time
Avalanche @ Canucks, 10:00 pm EST: (National TV: Versus) The Avalanche are suddenly back in control of their own destiny, bouncing back from their loss to Calgary last Friday with a huge overtime win over the Sharks on Sunday, while those same Flames were losing to the Blackhawks for the eighth-straight game. A win by the Avs would give them a chance to clinch tonight should Calgary lose to the Sharks, and even if Calgary manages to pull that game out, a win here from Colorado would definitely put them in a great position to get the playoff spot locked-down by virtue of their tie-breaker (and having an additional game left doesn't hurt, either). The Canucks aren't playing for much and are playing like it, so if the Avs are going to take advantage, this is the time to do it. Verdict: Might Be Worth Your Time
As always folks, enjoy the hockey as we gear up for the post-season! This is the time of year we all wait for!