Photo: Official Scorpions Web Site

“Hear about the Hurricanes?” Ask this question, even in Raleigh, and the answer usually comes back, “No! Was anybody hurt? Are they coming here? Do I need to board up the house?” Ask 100 random people on the streets of Chicago who Eric Staal is, about 3 will know he’s the Captain of the Hurricanes. I doubt you’ll find more than 2 who can answer that question correctly within a 10 block radius of the RBC Center.

Carolina’s about chitterlings, NASCAR, basketball and good ol’ Southern hospitality. Not exactly hockey country. Easy to explain why, like most teams south of the Mason-Dixon line, the ‘Canes are in the bottom half of the league for nightly attendance, filling only 17 out of every 20 seats on average. Shame, too: because even with a team put together with a $10 million salary cap cushion, they are in 7th place in the Eastern Conference and will likely make the playoffs.

The Hurricanes were active at the trade deadline, sending perpetually-underperforming winger Sergei Samsonov to the Florida Panthers in exchange for hulking defenseman Bryan Allen. At 6′ 4″ and 220 lbs. he can best be described as a bridge abutment: not hard to avoid, but punishing when you don’t.

Offensively it’s all about Staal, baby. Captain Eric Staal leads the team with 28 goals and 61 points, but the competition for the team scoring title is not fierce. The 40+ point club consists of four other forwards: Jeff Skinner, former Blackhawk Tuomo Ruutu, Jussi Jokinen and Eric Cole. Beyond that the numbers drop off significantly. Also surprising are the plus-minus numbers for this squad, with barely anyone above a +5 and more than half the team in the negative. The ‘Canes don’t qualify as ‘powerhouses’ for offense or defense, it would seem.

The last meeting between these two clubs was a year ago January, when the ‘Canes squeaked out a 4 – 2 win on the back of goaltender Cam Ward and his 39 saves. He’ll probably face another barrage tonight, but this is the second half of back-to-back games for Carolina, and last night’s contest went into overtime. Ward will be tired. Heh heh heh…

For the Blackhawks, hey: what can you say? Six-game winning streak; Captain Jonathan Toews is performing like an MVP; we’re getting contributions from all four lines; Viktor Stalberg got into his first fight; Michael Frolik finally got on the board; the new guy Chris Campoli is fitting in nicely; and rookie netminder Corey Crawford has 21 wins and some of the best goals-against and save percentage stats in the league. What’s not to like?

Head Coach Joel Quenneville knows you don’t mess with success, and I would be shocked to see a single change to either the lineup or the game plan going into tonight. The Blackhawks currently sit in fourth place in the Western Conference Standings, a position we’d like them to hold on to as the end of the regular season approaches. Games against non-conference teams are low-risk propositions, kind of like free chips at a poker game. Let’s go all in.

Hobbled and afflicted: Carolina reports nobody even running a temperature, though I think somebody should shove a thermometer up Troy Bodie’s ass just to see if he’s still breathing; Fernando Pisani and John Scott were the healthy scratches against Calgary, I think we can expect the same tonight. Jordan Hendry will miss the rest of the season, so we’re going to stop mentioning him. Sorry, J-Bomb.

7:30pm puck drop at the United Center this evening. TV coverage on Comcast SportsNet, broadcast radio is WGN AM-720, and XM subscribers should look for the game on channel 206.

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