Test Of Mettle: Canucks Visit UC For Potential Playoff Preview

Photo: 2010Vancouver.ca

The last 3 years the Blackhawks have faced the Canucks in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Why should this year be any different? The way it’s shaping up right now, it’s a decent possibility that Vancouver will be the Blackhawks’ first-round opponent. Tonight’s game will give us a preview of what we can expect.

Tonight will also be a test of the Blackhawks’ mettle: can they continue their first period dominance? Can they beat teams that are ahead of them in the standings the way they have beaten teams below them? And can they continue their recent solid play in the absence of Captain Jonathan Toews?

Buckle up, people. This game’s going to be close: either be a hard-fought win, or a very disappointing loss. No blowout in sight this evening.

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Blackhawks and Blue Jackets Preview: Just Avoid a Let Down

Nothing New Here. Move Along.

This is really quite simple. The Columbus Blue Jackets, albeit lately playing well, are the worst professional hockey team among the 30 that make up the National Hockey League. They score the 2nd fewest goals in the NHL, give up the 2nd most goals in the NHL, have the 26th ranked powerplay, the worst penalty kill, generally don’t score first and might have the single worst general manager since Mike Milbury turned the Islanders into the Pirates of this league. In short, the Columbus Blue Jackets are absolutely terrible and probably should be competing for the Calder Cup instead of the Stanley Cup.

We got that covered? Great.

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For Starters, a W: Boxing with ‘Hawks and Capitals

Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune

It’s not some sort of state secret. Every coach in the NHL will tell you getting the first goal can change the complexion of game. If a team is lucky enough to get the first two, then you can pretty much focus on burying the opposition.

For the third straight game – all wins, by the way – the Blackhawks scored first, and for the second consecutive contest they got the first two goals before their opponent had a shot on net. No more fucking around, they seem to be saying.

The ‘Hawks scored early and finished late, beating Washington 5-2 on Sunday at the United Center. For a team most were writing off without a healthy Jonathan Toews, the ‘Hawks are 7-1-1 since the Leap Day win over Toronto and are within four points of Detroit and Nashville for the No. 4 seed and home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs with nine games to go.

If Washington wants to get back on track, it can start Monday by knocking off the slumping Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena and doing the ‘Hawks a favor.

Stuff before Boxing…

♦   Remember when most figured Coach Q had given the crease to Ray Emery for the duration of the season? Nakis and I never were convinced of that, and Q is being as predictable as ever and riding the hot hand. Corey Crawford wasn’t tested much Sunday, but his 16 saves were enough to improve him to 7-2-0 with a 2.12 goals-against average since Feb. 16. He struggled in a three-game stretch in losses to Dallas, Los Angeles, and getting yanked in the win over Toronto, but he’s back to playing above average, which is really what most of us are asking for to continue.

With nine games to go, no one has any idea if Q will commit to either one of them. It seems to be working right now, though.

♦   So, Michael Frolik still plays for the Blackhawks. Interesting.

♦   Patrick Kane really has been stepping up lately, and it’s coming just at the right time. With the news that Toews suffered a setback in his recovery from a concussion, Kaner has helped make that a little easier news to take given how well he and the ‘Hawks have been playing. There’s never a good time to have the Captain out, but this nice little stretch is making it more tolerable.

♦   With Toews out, the ‘Hawks went 36 for 55 at the dot Sunday. That’s neat.

♦   Viktor Stalberg winning that race to the puck, getting himself under control then charging the net with a move in mind and patience to execute it was a thing of beauty. For someone who seemed so far off the handle when it came to keeping himself and his blazing speed tamed to be able to fit it into an actual game, he’s seems to be starting to get it more and more each game. Oh, and he gets to light up Columbus again soon.

♦   Alex Ovechkin reminded us that despite him having another “down” year, he’s still one of the best in the game with his move on Duncan Keith. Ovechkin’s goal gives him at least 30 in every season since he entered the league in 2005. Yeah, that’s good.

Here’s Boxing…

Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

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Influx of Capitals: Washington Ovechkins Take On Blackhawks

Photo: Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

Alexander Ovechkin has 29 goals this season for Washington.

The next closest guy on the stats sheet has only 18.

How do you defend the Washington Capitals? I’ll give you three guesses…

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Playoff Preview? : Blackhawks Visit South Stars

Hate Jon Casey. Love the sweater.

Admit it. You haven’t been excited about a Blackhawks/Stars game since Ed Belfour and Brett Hull wore the Star. Even when they had Brad Richards and James Neal they weren’t all that exciting to watch.

So what makes the game tonight different? Well, Dallas (39-27-5) currently occupies the 3 seed in the Western Conference standings with a ever so slim 2 point lead over Phoenix and the Sharks only 3 points behind. With the Blackhawks currently the 6th seed, Dallas would be the opponent in the 1st round.

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Breathing Room: Boxing with ‘Hawks and Blues

Credit: Chris Sweda, Chicago Tribune

While it’s very true few – if any – of us expected the Blackhawks to be in this position after being atop the NHL standings not so long ago, putting some distance between them and the rest of the crowding teams at the bottom of the Western Conference playoff picture is a welcome relief.

The ‘Hawks pulled out a 4-3 shootout win over St. Louis at the United Center on Tuesday night, moving five points ahead of seventh-place Phoenix and six up on a few trying to claim the eighth spot.

With 11 games to play, it seems like a comfortable distance, and the Blackhawks are coming close to being locked into the No. 6 seed and a date with the Pacific Division winner in the first round – possibly red-hot Dallas, which the ‘Hawks get to see Friday.

This much time without Jonathan Toews makes that seem like a decent consolation prize to avoid the likes of Nashville and Detroit in round one.

Most everything else will come in Boxing, but here’s a couple things I noticed…

♦   Johnny Oduya may not get the credit, but his keep-in is what led to Viktor Stalberg’s goal in the second period. For a guy who was being cursed out before even donning the Indian head, he’s been playing pretty damn well.

♦   What is Coach Q to do on Friday after Ray Emery allowed three goals on six shots in his sixth straight start, then Corey Crawford came on to play well in relief and earn the win? Does Q simply take Emery’s performance as another bad night against the Blues (he’s 3-1-1 with a 15 goals-against in his current stretch, though eight have come against St. Louis)? Or does Q take Crawford’s performance as him regaining his confidence and hoping he can ride that against Dallas?

The problem with the latter move is that it may in turn get Emery thinking too much. Then if Crawford goes in the poop tank, can Emery step right in again? It’s a decision Q has to make, and it will tell whether or not the crease is indeed Emery’s, or if Crawford still has a chance of being the No. 1 heading into the playoffs.

♦  Brandon Bollig bothers me. While I believe Ryan Reaves indeed is living remnants of some bacterial growth found on an unrefrigerated seven-year-old block of cheese, his hit on Jamal Mayers was nothing deserving of Bollig immediately dropping the gloves and getting an instigator. He gave St. Louis a chance to completely put the game away. Tell me what’s so great about this guy that people enjoy him, but despised John Scott.

OK, I’m tired. Boxing…

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Chicago Gets The Blues: St. Louis Visits The UC

Photo: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

See, the Blues didn’t think it was enough to pound us 5-1 at their rink last week. They’ve just signed a 19-year-old rookie phenom draft pick, and they’re coming into our house hoping to do it again.

Jaden Schwartz, having finished up a 30-game, 41-point sophomore season with Colorado College, inked an entry-level deal on Monday and will be in the lineup tonight against the Blackhawks. Of the 15 goals Schwartz pumped in for the Tigers this year, 5 were on the power play, and 4 were game-winners. And guess what? All of those numbers were down from his freshman year!

You should insert your favorite Spaceballs joke here, by the way…

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Point Taken: Boxing with ‘Hawks and Kings

"Can you believe this effing guy, Dave?"

So you’re telling me that Jonathan Quick guy is pretty good, eh?

Quick beat the Blackhawks for the third time in four meetings this season – including two shutouts and a 0.99 goals-against average in those matchups – and helped the Kings to a 3-2 shootout win at the United Center.

“Experts” seem to tell us that goaltending is the difference between Stanley Cup contenders and pretenders around this time of the season, and if it holds true L.A. is going to be tough to beat with Quick between the pipes.

He stole the show from Ray Emery, who was making his fifth straight start and had another solid outing. If it weren’t the Blackhawks’ ineptitude in the shootout, he would’ve come away with a victory. He stopped the first five shooters before Mike Richards finally broke through, while Quick was perfect on the other end – not to mention stoning Viktor Stalberg on a penalty-shot attempt in the third period.

The main problem was Duncan Keith, who should immediately take the film, CD, floppy disk or whatever it is this game has been recorded on and bury it along with Jimmy Hoffa. Both Kings goals were the result of his turnovers, including one that lead to a 4-on-1 break for L.A. with the game merely 1 1/2 minutes old.

Patrick Kane had a solid night, and Marcus Kruger again was rewarded for playing hard in front of the net. Other than that, the Blackhawks will take the point and move on to Tuesday, when St. Louis comes into the United Center for another showdown.

Here’s Boxing…

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Hawks v. Rangers : Original Six Friday Night Hockey

Gotta love these Original Six matchups.

The last time the ‘Hawks faced the Rangers they were on a 9 game losing streak and starting straight into the abyss. They marched into Madison Square Garden and put 4 goals up in the first 10 minutes of the game – including a penalty shot goal by Jonathan Toews just over a minute into the game. Tonight, they will face the Rangers after a horribly dispiriting 5-1 loss to St. Louis on Tuesday. In that game, the Blackhawks went 0-5 on the PP and couldn’t even manage a single shot on 3 of them. It was awful and you are a true fan if you managed to stay with that game through the end. But not everything is fucked right now. The ‘Hawks have won 3 out of their last 4 including impressive road wins in Ottawa and Detroit.

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Crunch Time: Tough Topics At The March Round Table

Jeff, Tim, Jim, Chris and JMN performing Shakespeare's "Romeo & Juliet"

It’s been a busy few weeks for the Men of Four Feathers: a losing streak, a winning streak, injuries, rookie call-ups, goaltenders and deadline trades have all kept Blackhawks fans on the edge of their seats.

While taking a break from the mayhem, the boys from Cheer The Anthem sat down early this week to toss around their opinions on these subjects, as well as traffic on the Edens, acetylene torches and the Bermuda Triangle in the March edition of the Round Table…

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