The guy you’re looking at here is the leading contender for the Vezina trophy, given to the league’s top goaltender. He won the title back in 2008-09, had a startlingly bad year in 2009-10, and has now come back just as strong as he was two seasons ago. He’s big, covers a lot of the net, but is also mobile. It’s as if his hands are magnets: the pucks are just drawn to them. 32 wins, 2.00 goals-against, and a .939 save percentage. And he’s just now starting to hit his stride.
Vezina… You know, if you replace the ‘ez’ with ‘ag’ it— never mind…
It would be one thing if the Boston Bruins were all about Tim Thomas. Unfortunately they aren’t. They are also about defenseman Zdeno Chara, who is taller than many lamp posts and the owner of the fastest slap shot in the known universe. They are about three 20+ goal scorers in Patrice Bergeron, Nathan Horton, and Brad Marchand — and 30-goal scorer Milan Lucic. They are about newly-acquired 40+ assist defenseman Tomas Kaberle, supplementing an already formidable blue line corps.
And they are about the plus-minus column. One is impressed to see two players at +25, until you realize that there are THREE players at +28, and another one still above that. They are third in the league in shots on goal, and have allowed the second-fewest goals against. Put all of this together and it’s no wonder the Bruins sit atop the Northeast Division, third in the Eastern Conference right now.
And they don’t do it nicely, either. Ignoring, for a moment, the fact that they are the fourth-most penalized team in the league. Just from a scoring perspective, this team beats you to the ground, spits on you, then calls your sister a whore. Look back on their wins this season and you regularly see scores like 6-0, 7-0, 8-1. I counted 13 games this season where they scored 5 goals or more. They won 12 of them. Effin’ yikes.
So the Blackhawks have their hands full up in Beantown. Our D is going to have to be sharp, our forwards need to turn it up a notch, and we’re going to have to figure out their netminder — early, and often.
Hopefully you saw the Blackhawks’ warm-up for tonight’s tilt, as they handed the Detroit Red Wings (*spitting noise*) a humiliating defeat at Joe Louis Arena, with none other than former Wing Marian Hossa delivering the coup de grace on the power play in overtime. It was an epic matchup between two long-time rivals, and the ‘Hawks came out with the W — Corey Crawford’s 30th win of the season, and a MUCH needed two points in the Western Conference standings. That should be nice motivation for mopping the floor with the Bruins tonight.
On a team filled with this much talent, you want your top players to peak at the right time. That looks to be happening with the Blackhawks right now. Even though Patrick Sharp is out, the trio of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa have combined for 60 points in the 16 games dating back to February 21st. Those are staggering numbers, and if we can get some of our role players to step up, and continue getting offensive contributions from the blue line, we will be well-situated for a playoff run.
Of course, we have to MAKE the playoffs first. I predicted about a month ago that teams would need 92 points to make the post-season in the West. Well-l-l-l-l… that number turned out to be just a smidge low. With 7 games left in the season, the Blackhawks are in 8th place with 90 points. With the 5th through 8th place teams within 3 points of one another and the Flames and Stars still clinging to their playoff hopes in the 9th and 10th slots, it’s not impossible that 100 points will be the eventual cut-off for a post-season bid in the West.
That means the ‘Hawks will have to win 5 of their remaining 7, a tall order at any time of the season, let alone this one. Additionally, none of our remaining games are against teams alongside us in the playoff chase. That has it’s up-side if we lose, because we don’t help anyone else get ahead of us. But it also takes our playoff hopes largely out of our hands: the Blackhawks will need just as much luck as they will bust-ass hustle to keep the season alive past April 10th.
Just to be sure we keep the jinx gremlins at bay: nobody washes their underwear until we make the post-season. That means you.
Administrative nonsense: Marc Savard and Shane Hnidy are still out for the B’s; Dave Bolland and the afore-mentioned Patrick Sharp are still out for the ‘Hawks, mark John Scott as the healthy scratch. Tim Thomas is the confirmed starter for Boston, and though it hasn’t been announced, you’ll see Corey Crawford in net again for Chicago.
6:30 game time tonight. Second straight game on Versus for the ‘Hawks, broadcast radio is WGN AM-720, and XM subscribers can find the game on channel 204.
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