Game Time: 8:30PM CDT
TV/Radio: CSN, WGN-AM 720
The Blasting Room: Mile High Hockey
For being in the same division for the first time ever, it sure feels like the Blackhawks have played the Avs 45 times already this season. But in reality, tonight will close out the first ever divisional season series between these two clubs, with the sixth and final meeting coming tonight at the Pop Can in downtown Denver.
Patrick Roy’s Avs just won’t seem to go away, which truly is unfortunate for the rest of the conference. They’re ass-up in possession, and basically no one on the roster is getting away unscathed, save for maybe Paul Stastny, P.A. Parenteau, and disembodied impish grin Matt Duchene, and even then Parenteau leads the pack with a dead even 50% Corsi share. Unfortunately for them, both Stastny and PAP are out tonight. They missed action against Winnipeg the other night as well, but the Avs prevailed in OT on a Duchene goal because they’re the Jets.
Even without Stastny and his prowess at the faceoff dot, the Avs are a far different animal at home with their ability to win draws and begin the play with the puck rushing up the ice. It also helps that at home, goalie Vodkaslav Womanstompsyaev fares better than on the road (2.40 home vs 2.70 away, .928 home vs .922 away), and his continued success is obviously proof of his innocence, at least by way of Russian Hockey Federation logic.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, to say Antti Raanta getting the start tonight in net is a bit of a head-scratcher is an insult to lice around the world. Raanta hasn’t played in 41 days due to the Olympic layoff, and it’s asinine that he’s getting the call tonight in the proverbial FOUR POINT GAME against a high-octane opponent when he was god-awful prior to the break. That this isn’t even being done out of necessity of injury or lack of other options to get work, with a game against Buffalo this past Sunday and the Predators hitting UC ice on Friday makes this even more ridiculous. The best stab at the logic behind the move is that the Hawks want to get one last look at Raanta in somewhat of a pressure filled situation before determining whether to ship him back to Winnebago County for their playoff run to get work in if he can’t handle it, and then bring back Jason “Butt Rock” Labarbera to wear a ball cap since it’s going to be all Crawford all the time from here on out anyway. And that Crawford starting in games against Nashville, Carolina, and others of their ilk should be points in the bag that can be made up if tonight goes cockeyed. But a bird in the hand is like a man in the sand.
But regardless of who is in net, the story with the Avs is the same as it has been over the last five meetings, if not the last couple of years. They’ll get inundated with chances against and Varlamov will more than likely bail them out, and they have the speed to counterpunch on absolutely any mistake made between the blue lines. Stastny and Parenteau being out will hurt, but there’s still more than enough firepower, particularly with a now loaded-up first power play unit with Stastny’s absence, to run and gun with anyone. Given Raanta’s rust, there’s a very real chance that this gets out of hand early, particularly if the Hawks parade to the penalty box or abandon a station-to-station game in favor of home run stretch passes. Strap in. Let’s go Hawks.