GAMETIME: 7:30pm Central
TV/RADIO: CSN, WGN Radio
Something about a big, late season game. The sun is out more, though it's still cold, but you can feel the buzz. Maybe it's just within us, most of the city is off on the Derrick Rose bandwagon (as well they should be). But for the rest of us here in Blackhawk Nation, tonight's game is about the biggest regular season game we've seen around them here parts in a couple years. Because honestly, did the Hawks play any big, regular season games after January last year? Probably the most important since March '09 when the Canucks rolled in here in a dispute over home ice advantage. That didn't go so well, with a 4-0 pasting and some Burish-initiated shenanigans that helped birth the utter embarrassment that is Alex Burrows. Didn't matter in the long run though as the Canucks went on to win their division anyway and the Flames collapsed right past us. Let's hope for better tonight.
This will be the last time the Hawks face a direct competitor for a playoff spot -- unless this division race gets interesting which it still can, but if it does it'll be a threesome with Nashville and that's not exactly the threesome we dream of -- and this particular competitor comes in wielding an unholy hockey mace of a top line. We'd like to think that Sharp-Toews-Kane is the best in hockey (when Sharp has two knees, that is), but the Ducks have the title holder now. Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Bobby Ryan have spit up 20 points between them in the last five games. They would seem to be the exact thing the Hawks have no way to deal with, that being sizable forwards who play as if they eat babies. The game plan should be pretty simple: keep this trio from caving your skull in. But that's easier said than done (what isn't, unless you're speaking in Welsh?). Sometimes this line misfired when Getzlaf gets a little pass-happy or Ryan gets a little shoosty, so you can hope for that. What Q does with this is anyone's guess, but I'll wager that FroHo Kop gets the assignment, as at least Hossa and Kopecky have the size to deal with Perry and Ryan. But we'll see how that goes.
But unlike recent times, the Ducks are more than simply one sharp end of an otherwise dull stick (snicker, snicker). I don't know how he does it at age 78, but there's Teemu Selanne with 70 points. While still mainly a power play threat, he's a bigger nuisance at even-strength than he was the past couple years. And he murders the Hawks, with 57 points in 63 career games. I still hate his face, but you can't help but respect what this guy has accomplished and is doing at this age. Lubomir Visovsky is not getting any Norris buzz (perhaps he needs to get the good shit), which is odd considering he leads all NHL d-men in points and is fourth overall in Behind the Net Rating. Running mate Toni Lydman leads the league in +/- as he searches in vain for the vowel that escaped his last name. Francois Beauchemin was brought in halfway through the year to beef up the second pairing, and I've really liked Luca Spisa since his Philly days. It also goes great with a Pinot Noir.
In goal is where things really take a twitch in Bedrock (twitch twitch!) for the Ducks. This team used lay the load right on Jonas Hiller, and he would generally carry them through. But he got a case of the dizzies, and in his return on Thursday got lit up by that firing squad Nashville. So the Ducks most likely will ride the caped duo of Dan Ellis and Ray Emery, who the Hawks will most likely see tonight. Emery is three for three in starts for the OC Mallards, with a 1.51 GAA. Helping his cause though is that the Ducks are giving up about seven less shots per game than they were when Hiller was in net, realizing that building a castle on the stability of Ellis and Emery is a Jimi Hedrix song. The Hawks will have to work hard to find shooting lanes and get pucks through, with all the big bodies the Ducks carry they can block a lot.
What is it McClure does here? "As for the Men of Four Feathers"? Right, go with that. No lineup changes, and Corey Crawford will get his whatever straight start it is because I don't feel like counting. The Hawks will have to be way better than they were against whatever that was parading around in Florida jerseys. And they'll have to go for the full 60, as the Ducks have had a nasty habit of late tying goals and furious comebacks. The Hawks can get at the bottom two pairs of this team with their speed, Cam Fowler and Andreas Lilja have quite often been bobbing for stupid apples in their own zone. But Marlboro 72 is going to have the near possible assignment of keeping RPG from filling the scoresheet. And for the love of god, no unnecessary penalties, because those three plus Selanne and Visnovsky on the power play is playing with fire on your genitals.
Let's go Hawks.