How many times can we use the phrase, “must-win” in a single year? What about “do-or-die?” Or “crunch time?” It seems I’m typing those phrases almost daily now, and this is no exception. With the Blackhawks’ OTL to the Capitals on Sunday, Chicago dropped into 7th in the Western Conference standings, just two points from having to fluff the throw pillows before playoff games.
And look who we’re playing! The San Jose Sharks, who sit first in the Pacific Division, four points ahead of us, and who are looking for a sweep in their season series against the ‘Hawks.
Long and short: if we thought Washington was a hard-fought game, this one is going to be even worse.
The San Jose Sharks are all about offense. Dan Boyle is one assist away from becoming the seventh 40-point player for the Sharks, with Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, Ryan Clowe and Patrick Marleau all north of 50 and rising. Rookie phenom (and Calder trophy shoe-in) Logan Couture is a member of the 40-point club, and boasts a +14 rating on top of that.
San Jose’s defense is serviceable, but not remarkable. They rely on goaltending to handle the back-end duties. The Finnish duo of Antero Nittymaki and former Blackhawk Antti Niemi got over some early-season doldrums to rank near the league leaders since January. Quality goaltending and a six-headed monster offensive onslaught is what the Blackhawks will be facing at the United Center this evening.
And the ‘Hawks must do it without two key members of the lineup. Dave Bolland remains out with Bolivian Hemorrhagic Fever (pronounced, ‘kun-KUH-shun’) and one would think that Brian Campbell should sit tonight out as well. Of course, one would have thought he should have sat out yesterday’s game also. But there he was… for 8 shifts, as I recall. Anyhow, five minutes of John Scott is still better than 5 minutes of a wounded and possibly immobile Brian Campbell, so (I never thought I would be saying this) let’s hope we see Scott suit up instead.
The Sharks have two insignificant resources out of action, both former Blackhawks: center Scott Nichol and defenseman Kent Huskins will not be in the lineup due to injury. No confirmation on who the Blackhawks start in net as of this writing; the Sharks have announced that they will start Niemi. He hasn’t lost to us since he left Chicago. Boys, I think it’s high time we fix that.
A win tonight catapults us up to sole possession of 4th place in the Conference. Going into overtime means we end up in a scrum with LA and Phoenix for the 4-5-6 slots. A loss, and we’re at the mercy of tomorrow’s scoreboard — every team in the 4th through 9th spots has a game… except us.
Odd 7:00pm start time tonight to accommodate the network TV coverage — Versus in the ‘States and TSN2 up north. WGN AM-720 has your radio broadcast, and XM subscribers should flip to channel 205.
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