rangers-blackhawks

OK, that one felt pretty good, despite it not being a “classic” but rather a tight, disciplined effort from both sides, backed up by excellent goaltending. Could have gone either way but Brad Richards popped up late in the 3rd and clearly greatly enjoyed his goal against the team that scratched him in the playoffs ahead of buying him out last offseason (although I’m sure he enjoys cashing the checks they’ll be writing him till the sun goes supernova more), Scott Darling earned his first NHL shutout and the Hawks leave the Empire State with four points from two games against two of the East’s best.

 

That was a short recap, hey? Let’s talk more stuff, specifically how the rest of this season looks..

 

  • Remember when Patrick Kane got hurt and many thought this season was done and dusted? Well, that was 10 games ago (including the game where he got hurt) and the Hawks are 8-1-1 in that stretch. That there is the best record in the NHL over the last 10, folks. If it’s apparently mandatory to prefix the 8-2-0 Wild with “Red Hot” these days, then the Hawks are thermonuclear.  OK, there was some bumslaying being done at the time, and the Hawks made heavy weather of despatching the Oil and the Yotes, but they went 2-1-1 against three of the top four teams in the East in that stretch, on the road for 50% of it with really only the ass-kicking by Tampa to blot the record. There’s been a collective will and some returns to form (or simple market corrections) among the Hawks’ stars. Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp have lit it up, Brad Richards and Antoine Vermette have been solid and Q has finally seen sense and marshalled his lines more effectively. Corey Crawford should be in the Vezina conversation, but won’t be. Johnny Oduya has looked more effective after his injury. The D still has its moments and Kimmo Timonen is perhaps not getting there as quickly as we’d hoped but… yes, this has been a bloody good patch.
  • Conference III is a goddamn nightmare and I love it. Go over to NHL.com and look at that table. Hell, tell you what, I’ll do it for you.

Capture

 

Look at this shit. The weakest team in the Division, Dallas, has 74 goddamn points.  Central teams do not get to beat up on bums with anything like the regularity that Pacific teams do and have to play each other a heck of a lot, yet we’re currently looking at five Central teams in the postseason.  Brings a tear to me eye and also heart palpitations.

  • On that subject, let’s look at what’s above the Hawks. The Perds are in freefall, having gone 2-7-1 over the last 10. They’ve also played two more games than the Hawks and Blues (and the Wild, for that matter, but we’ll get to that). It’s now within the Hawks own hands to pass them and secure home ice for the 1st round (and potentially the WCF, as only Anaheim are likely to place higher than the Hawks in the Pacific side of the proceedings). I think the Perds have banked enough to stay in the top 3, but they’ve got to be looking over their shoulder at the onrushing Wild.
  • And then there’s the Blues.. They’re sitting pretty (well, hideously ugly) at the top of the Division and are 7-2-1 themselves.  They’re three points ahead of the Hawks with two more ROWs and, well, would you look at that.. there’s two more meetings between the teams, in Chicago on 05/04 and in Meth City on 09/04*. Those two games could be absolutely pivotal in deciding this Division. Do I think it’s worth pushing for? Yes, yes and yes. I know everyone is talking about a Division win being a poisoned chalice because the Kings and Wild are going to be the landmines in the 1st round etc etc. It’s a valid point, but, to be honest, not one that I’m too worried about. The Kings are currently 3rd,  out of the Wild Card picture, so chances are it’d be the Wild (I see Calgary and Winnipeg battling for 8th). The Wild will be tough, because they’re a good team. But any regression from Dubnyk turns them back into cannon fodder and the Hawks beat a superior Wild team while firing on about half a cylinder last year. But I really don’t freak out too much about match-ups and rounds.. to win the Cup, the Hawks are going to have to go through some scary teams. So be it.
  • And here’s the other thing.. the Western Conference has won four of the last five Cups (and Nucks-Bruins went to Game 7 in 2011) and has been the prohibitive favourite in all of them (I know some idiots decided that the Bruins were going to win in 2013, but that’s why they’re idiots). However, this year, it really doesn’t feel like the ECF winner is just going to be there to make up the numbers. The Habs are all mouth and no trousers, statistically, but they also have Drinky Price, who can steal a series (or several of them) without breaking sweat. The Lightning are flawed but terrifying when they click, as are the Islanders who also have a blue line to back it up. The Rags look like they may be the cream of the crop, though..and last night I think we got an idea of what a SCF between the sides could look like. It’ll bear a close resemblance to the knife-edge stuff of last year’s Western Conference Final, I think.

Anyway, those are some musings from my fevered brain on this lovely, sunny spring day in Ireland. Twelve games to go, including visits to Carolina and Buffalo and entertaining the Beej.. the rest is all with teams more-or-less contending (and six Conference III match-ups).

It’s getting close to the real meat and bones of the season and I can’t bloody wait.

 

* yes, i’m using the European way of abbreviating dates. Get with it, man.