NCAA Tourney Distracts Me From Hockey

Hello all, and happy St. Patrick’s Day.  Because I am a semi-mature adult who is a large part Irish, I do not really like to be involved in the toolfest that is March 17th in America.  So, let’s talk hockey.

We went 2-1 last night, incorrectly picking Carolina to take care of business at home against Toronto.  Cam Ward came back down to earth and allowed 3 goals on 19 shots, while Table villain James Reimer stopped 36 of 37 to keep the Leafs alive in the playoff race.  Kudos to him; I’ll admit when I’m wrong.

Tonight’s schedule sees a lot of games involving one good team and one team that will miss the playoffs, so I suppose the highlight game of the night is Chicago at Dallas.  Chicago sits 6th in the west with 84 points, while Dallas is one spot behind them with 82 points.  This is a 4 point game in the sense of the term, and both teams will roll out their usual starting goalies in net.  Both Corey Crawford and Kari Lehtonen boast decent save percentages at .917 and .914, which are good for 17th and 23rd in the league.  The difference between the two comes in their goals against averages, which of course is more of an indictment on the skaters in front of them when the save percentages are so close.  Crawford has allowed 2.31 goals per game (6th in NHL), while Lehtonen sports a 2.61 GAA this season (24th in the NHL; tied with James Reimer).

This is the fourth and final meeting between these two teams.  Dallas has taken two of the first three, and will be looking to take the season series for the first time in five years.  In order to do that, Dallas will likely have to win without the team’s second leading scorer, winger Loui Eriksson.  Reports call him day-to-day, but the description sure sounds a lot like a concussion.  With Eriksson out of the lineup, recent offensive stud Jamie Benn will be called upon to continue his wonderful form.  Benn has an impressive 7 goals and 4 assists in his last 8 games, and has been keyed as a future 50 goal scorer by many insiders.  Dallas will be with the services of the recently returned Brad Richards, who along with fellow center Mike Ribeiro offer some offensive threat for the Stars.  The backline will be anchored by the terrific all-around defenseman Stephane Robidas and the newly acquired Alex Goligoski, who is more of an offensive threat, although that is not to say that Goligoski is a bad defender in his own right.

Those blueliners will have their hands full tonight with the surging Blackhawks, who come into tonight’s game with only 2 regulation losses in their last 15 games.  Chicago will have the services of all of their star forwards, including center and league MVP candidate Jonathan Toews, who leads the team with 71 points, and leads the league with 780 faceoffs won.  Skating with Toews on the scoring lines will be Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Troy Brouwer, and the recently acquired Michael Frolik, who has added an agility to the Hawks that has shown up in their recent run.  With this overdose of talent in addition to the puck possessing defensemen in the Hawks’ stable, I expect Dallas to find it hard to develop a lot of sustained pressure in Chicago’s zone, which means they will need to take advantage of the opportunities they do create.  They will also need a very strong showing by Lehtonen, but he has come up big at home over the course of the season.  Both teams are in the thick of the playoff race, but the general sense is that Chicago will be safe and probably push for the 4 seed.  I feel that Dallas is teetering, hanging by a thread, just trying to hang on and find a way into the playoffs and begin to justify the decision to not trade Brad Richards last month.  A win tonight would go a long way to change that perception that Dallas is on its way down and is not strong enough to compete with the western conference giants.  If Dallas can’t hunker down and bring it tonight, then I think it’s safe to say they are not a great threat to defeat any of the top 4 seeds in a playoff series.  But for some reason I expect them to play well tonight and to show the inspiration that saw them jump out to an early division lead this season.

The game starts at 8:30 eastern time, and I hope you all enjoy it, but I know that most eyes will be on day one of the NCAA tournament.

And for those celebrating, if you haven’t hooked up by 8:30 on St. Patrick’s Day, then it’s probably not in the cards, so why not enjoy a solid late season western conference tilt?


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