Hockey

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Game Times: 7:00PM
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, NBCSN (3/28), WGN-AM 720
Time’s Up: On The Forecheck
*All Stats Mentioned Courtesy of Natural Stat Trick*

As March comes to a close in whatever this oddball, virus-addled, mutation of a season ends up being, games that were already the proverbial “Four Pointers” between divisional opponents have started to become even more magnified, especially with the added element of “series” play introduced where a team can gain ground quickly if so inclined. It’s just such a weekend for the Hawks and visiting Preds, who sit on opposite sides of the playoff line in the Central division.

Hockey

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Game Times: 7:00PM (1/26), 6:30PM (1/27)
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago (1/26), NBCSN (1/27), WGN-AM 720
Beat Reporters Crying About Not Being Able To Visit Tootsie’s: On The Forecheck

Despite two wins against the terrible and depleted Red Wings over the weekend, this season still figures to be a long one for the Hawks, whose travels now take them to Nashville for a back to back against the Predators. And while the Hawks may be a punchline now with many gleefully kicking dirt on the grave of the team, it’s a far better fate than what’s befallen the Predators, who have a single Final appearance to their name despite being darlings of the hockey cognoscenti for just about as long.

Hockey

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Game Time: 7:30PM CST
TV/Radio: NBCSN, NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
David Poile Is A Scumbag: On The Forecheck

If the Hawks record and stagnant roster weren’t a self evident indication of how rudderless and sclerotic this Organ-I-Zation has been since its most recent playoff ouster at the hands of tonight’s vistors, the Nashville Predators, then the fact that the Preds fired Peter Laviolette earlier this week while remaining ahead of the Hawks in the standings should drive the point home. But it remains unchanged that the Hawks are still outwardly holding the product on-ice to a playoff standard, and tonight poses yet another opportunity to gain points on a team they are currently (on paper) battling for a playoff spot, an opportunity which will surely end up being pissed away in creative fashion as so many others have the past two seasons.

Everything Else

Hey, remember two years ago when Ryan Johansen signaled the new wave of young centers that was going to take over the league and send players like Jonathan Toews to a farm upstate? Remember how analysts like Pierre McGuire stained their shorts over shots of Johansen barking at Ryan Kesler, as if that wasn’t something that happened every night and whenever Kesler goes to the CVS? Remember Johansen playing him into dust before getting hurt?

We hope you better, because you probably won’t see it again.

While Predators fans were busy proclaiming Johansen the NEXT THING and their first #1 center in team history, they forgot to notice he turned back into the underachieving lard-ass that got him punted from Columbus in the first place. He had less points than Jonathan Toews last year, and everyone was doing their best to put a toe-tag on Toews last year. He has less points than Toews this year. He has five goals.

Sure, he can float around the outside in a perfect imitation of Ryan Getzlaf, another player who finds it hard to locate the box marked “Fucks To Give” most nights, and rack up assists and Filip Forsberg drags his ass into relevance (no small feat). It helps that Forsberg is shooting 16% this year, and it also helps that he rips.

Maybe Johansen is saving it for the spring, as he’s been a dynamic playoff performer the past two runs the Preds have had. He was over a point-per-game last year as Nashville got to the very end of the second round. Maybe the game getting more about battles on the boards is good for him as no one can properly deal with his bloated frame. We’re sure the Preds are delighted to hand $8 million to a player who doesn’t care until April, if he even does then.

Johansen is obscenely talented, which is how he can rack up 50-60 points like clockwork without really putting himself into it. It’s why when he does care he looks like a world-beater. But it seems that when it counts, he’ll come up against someone who is just better, or at least wants it more than he does, much like Mark Scheifele last year. He’ll see Scheifele again. He may see an even better Nathan MacKinnon again. The Sharks might throw three different centers at him if they get that far.

Don’t you worry, RyJo Sen will be reaching for the M&Ms soon enough.

 

Game #36 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

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SCHEDULE: Game 1 Friday, Game 2 Sunday, Game 3 Tuesday, Game 4 May 4th

While Boston-Tampa will take most of the attention by merely being on the East Coast and everything Boston must be covered at all times otherwise Bill Simmons urinates on most of LA, this is the series that will hold the most entertainment value. These are certainly the two best teams in the West, and two of the four best in the NHL. Both are simply stacked at forward so goals should be prevalent. This one is going to be a coke-binge and catch as much as you can.

Goalies: Connor Hellebuyck didn’t really have to do much in the first round than maintain requisite oxygen intake in the first round, because the Minnesota Wild were barely there. But that’s probably a perfect way to wet your feet into playoff hockey, and he’s going to have to be much better this series. It did not go well for Hellebuyck in the regular season against the Preds, as he gave up 19 goals in five starts against them. That doesn’t really matter here, but you’d have to be the most cockeyed, Jets optimist with a fair amount of glue to huff to think that Hellebuyck is going to completely stonewall the Preds. How he reacts to his first playoff adversity is anyone’s guess.

It would be totally on course for the Pekka Rinne Ride to be pretty mediocre last regular season to a playoff marvel and then switch it this year to a Vezina-worthy season this year to turning into a Jalopi in the playoffs this year. He was very not good against the Avalanche, and they only have one line, which is daunting considering the Jets have four. Maybe he was playing down to the competition, maybe the whole team was. But a .909 against the Jets is going to see the Preds go home and probably rather quickly. He’s going to have to be better.

Defense: Again, it’s hard to learn much from the first round about the Jets’ defense when they were playing a bubble hockey opponent. The Jets look like they’ll get a boost back here with Toby Enstrom returning for this series, and he’ll be the one who holds the leash on Dustin Byfuglien. Trouba and Morrissey were excellent against the Wild, and punting Tyler Myers down to a third-pairing bum-slayer role is exactly what he was cut out for. You worry about what the Preds might do when Byfuglien goes out walkin’ after midnight searching for a McGriddle, but the rest of this outfit is pretty solid.

What it isn’t is as dynamic as the Preds’ blue line, though maybe as deep. They conspired to give up a ton of chances to the Avalanche, figuring they’d win a track meet with their depth. That’s what this blue line does, with Subban, Ellis, Josi, and Ekholm all willing and able to get up and down the entire surface. They know no other way, but leaving gaps against this Jets team is a different story than doing so against the Avs. Still, overall, possession-wise, the Preds kicked around Colorado, especially the pairing of Subban and Ekholm. Rougher ride here.

Forwards: The Jets depth is truly scary, and just about everyone chipped in during the first round. What we’re most looking forward to is if either coach settles for fighting fire with fire and has Scheifele match up with Johansen, because we’re fairly sure he’ll inhale Treat Boy. Johansen won’t find much more shelter with either Little or Stastny either. The Jets didn’t lose a step when Ehlers had to miss a game, but he’ll be back for Game 1. The best forward grouping in the league.

The Predators are hardly thin, but don’t boast quite the weapons on their bottom-six as the Jets do. And Forsberg isn’t going to get to go traipsing through three guys whenever he wants like he did against the rotted scarecrows of the Avalanche. If the Jets keep the top line of the Preds somewhat quiet, you then wonder if the Preds can come up with enough goals to run with them. Turris didn’t really do anything against the Avs, and this is much deeper water here and you feel like he comes out barely even or worse against either Little or Stastny. And Mike Fisher is not keeping up with this crew.

Prediction: Been waiting for this one for a while. The Preds have become everyone’s darling while ignoring what their flaws are. It’s a great blue line, but the Jets advantage at forward is just a touch bigger than the one the Preds have on defense. The goalies could be a wash, though you could see either melting down. With how many goals they’re likely to share, just about anything could happen. But if we expect, and Scheifele and Wheeler outplay Treat Boy and Forsberg, the Jets take this. But it’s going to be a ton of fun getting there. Jets in 7.