CHICAGO: Good job beating the Sharks (6-5,SO), but...When I tuned in, the 'Hawks were already up, 4-1. Squandering a three-goal lead, at home, to an injury-depleted San Jose squad should set off alarms. In Joel Quenneville's system, Chicago's d-men are fully engaged in the attack. This system works best when your goalies demonstrate the capability to make saves on breakaways, but neither Khabibulin nor Huet have been up to the challenge of late. Last night's example:
And two from last Friday:
If the Blackhawks can't clean up this mess, they could be one-and-done in the playoffs.
FLORIDA: After taking a 3-1 lead early in the 3rd against a down-and-out Sabres squad, the Panthers - repeating what has become a theme of late - snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, losing the game, 5-3, and seriously damaging their rapidly dwindling playoff hopes. The keyword is consistently, as in "The Panthers of late have consistently failed to play a full 60 minutes." As a result of their spotty efforts, Florida has dropped three straight, and now sits in 9th in the East, two points back of Montreal, and the Habs have a game in hand. The Magic 8-Ball says, "Outlook not so good.", which brings us to...
THURSDAY NIGHT'S GAMES OF NOTE
Florida must go into tonight's game at Philadelphia with a Game 7 mentality. Simply put, they NEED a W here, while the Flyers don't. If the Panthers don't leave The City of Brotherly Shove with two points - particularly if Montreal beats Tampa Bay - then I'm afraid the decision to keep Bouwmeester will go down in the history books as a gamble that didn't pay off.
Nashville needs to take full advantage of a beat-up and tired San Jose team. As with Florida, the Preds NEED two points, while the Sharks just need to get healthy for the playoffs (but picking up a point to stay ahead of Detroit wouldn't hurt). As with Florida, the Preds sit 9th in the conference. Two points tonight, coupled with an Edmonton regulation loss at Phoenix, will put Nashville into 8th come Friday morning.
Calgary at Columbus has "1st Round Matchup" written all over it. The Flames have stumbled a bit of late, and need a W tonight to maintain their division lead over the onrushing Vancouver Canucks. Meanwhile, Columbus needs a W for a comfortable 5-point lead over the suddenly red-hot Anaheim Ducks, not to mention the need for a "statement game" against a potential 1st round opponent.
So many more: Edmonton desperately needs to beat Phoenix...St. Louis (where did they come from?) desperately needs to beat Vancouver...Ditto Montreal over Tampa Bay. Let's face it: At this time of year, there are more "Must Win/Must Watch" games than not. It's the time of year when dreams are realized and hopes are dashed, when many teams' playoff futures hang on a single power play, a single injury, a single goal. It is both beautiful and terrible, and it's merely a glimpse of what will come in the postseason. To (loosely) paraphrase General George S. Patton:
"Hockey...God help me! I do love it so."
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