Game time: 7:30 PM
TV/Radio: CSN PLUS, WGN-AM 720
Take Your Shirt Off, Twist It Round Your Head, Spin It Like A Helicopter: Canes Country
The NHL schedule makers are an odd bunch. In the early part of the year, it felt like the Hawks were playing every other night for the first two months of the season, leaving every other team in the west with games in hand. Now, in March when divisional and conference races are reaching their boiling points, the Hawks will play 5 straight games against the Eastern Conference, with four more on top of that scattered throughout the remaining 18 games. The first of which happens tonight at 1901 W Madison with the Carolina Hurricanes in town for their only meeting this year. The 'Canes are in a similar situation, just hanging on the final spot in the East by the hair on their balls, going 6-6-3 since the All Star break was held in their building and not really gaining any ground. Paul Maurice's men come into tonight having won 2 straight, however, the first time they've done so since the two games prior to the break. As expected, the Hurricanes are led offensively by captain Eric Staal with 28G and 33A, both of which lead the team. The big surprise on Tobacco Road, however, has been the contributions of rookie Jeff Skinner, who figured to make the team, but is turning heads with his 48 points (22G, 26A) to lead all rookies. Old friend Tuomo Ruutu and cannonball Erik Cole are also contributing with 45 and 40 points a piece, and Jussi Jokinen is showing that he's more than just a shootout specialist with 44 points in 53 games. At the deadline the Hurricanes reacquired Cory Stillman who helped them to their only Cup 5 years ago, and he's already chipped in 3 points in 4 games.
On the back end for the Hurricanes is still a non-descript group, though Tim Gleason is a solid physical presence, and Caniacs have been pleased with what rookie Jamie McBain has been able to do on the offensive side of things, though he has work to do in his own end. Ladies' Man Joe Corvo is also back for another tour of duty, and still has a booming shot from the point that needs to be accounted for. The Canes like to run and gun, but they give up slightly more goals than they score on average (2.9 (23rd) to 2.8 (8th)), which explains why they find themselves where they do. Cam Ward remains the workhorse in the crease for the Hurricanes, having last gotten a night off on January 9th. Ward has a sparkling .920 save percentage but a GAA of 2.69, which tells you that he faces a lot of shots (32.2 per, to be exact), so the blueliners in front of him don't seem terribly concerned about keeping the puck away from their netminder, and it's something the Hawks will need to take advantage of.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, they find themselves still in 4th in the west by virtue of tiebreakers over the Kings going into tonight, but can claim it for their very own with 2 points any way they're sliced. With a six game win streak coming into tonight, including the last 4 (in which they only gave 1 charity point) over teams fighting for the same playoff spots as the Hawks, don't look for too much to change. Which means Daydream Nation and Patrick Sharp will be asked to set the pace with the other two "scoring" lines asked to keep up. That the Hawks got goals from 3 lines on Wednesday and managed to put up 5 (or 6, depending) shouldn't surprise anyone, especially if Marian Hossa and Michael Frolik can both keep contributing. Frolik in particular will be interesting to monitor, as we'll get to see how much more confidence he plays with having finally broken through since the trade (and a long time before that) with a 3 point night. Once again the defensive pairings will remain the same, and if we have to go another game having to squint to notice the contributions of Chris Campoli one way or the other, that's just fine. Corey Crawford mans the cage for the 10th straight outing tonight, though look for that streak to be broken tomorrow night with the Hawks on the road for the back half of a back-to-back in Toronto.
Carolina's style should play right into the game the Hawks are playing at the moment, it's just a matter of keeping the foot on the gas and getting vulcanized rubber at Cam Ward. Whether it's 60 minutes, 65 minutes, or beyond, the two points are still key even though the Hawks have improved their position within the conference. Seven is better than six. Let's go Hawks.