Tonight is game two of a quickie midwestern roadie for the Florida Panthers as they take on the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center in Chicago. The Panthers who played the Detroit Red Wings last night will get a second consecutive dose of puck possession hockey with this matchup. Only tonight, it will be faster. And with significantly more dangerous offensive players to guard against. While the Red Wings play a style similar to the Hawks, Chicago’s game is much quicker, and if you’re caught standing around watching, you’ll find that you just gave up two goals. Or maybe three.
The Blackhawks are as dangerous as they come, and because they have so many weapons, it could be a long night for Florida. If Tim Thomas starts in goal again for the Panthers, it would be his 15th in a row, and the lack of confidence in Scott Clemmensen will be confirmed. But don’t let this Blackahawks team fool you either. Many games this season has seen them trailing well into the third period, and then the minute you go to refill your beer stein, they score a couple quick ones and the momentum changes, and the game is over for the opposition. Sometimes it’s almost as if they’re playing a game, in a very cruel way. They seem to all of a sudden turn on that extra gear and before you know it, they have complete control of the game, and you don’t know what hit you.
The Hawks top 6 forwards are among the best in the NHL, and can seemingly score at will. Led by their superior captain, Jonathan Toews, Chicago has scored the most goals in the NHL with 110. Crafty Patrick Kane, last years Conn Smythe winner is the team leader goals with 16 ( 7 on the power play), and also has 18 helpers to lead Chicago in points with 34. Kane has come a very long way since some of his off ice shenanigans a few years ago. He looks as though he’s out to prove that behavior is all in the distant pass. In addition to the firm of “Kane and Toews”, let’s not forget about Marian Hossa who happens to be one of the best players in the game today when he has the puck. Very strong, very smart, and will do things that you just don’t expect. At least those of you that don’t watch him very much. Then there’s the ever so handsome Patrick Sharp, who to this day was part of likely the best trade that then GM Dale Tallon ever made. Since coming over from the Philadelphia Flyers in 2005-2006, Sharp has scored 200 goals for the Hawks, including 32 in the playoffs.
The defence features some of the best 6 players in the game today with Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook as the top pair. Virtually inseperable, these two see about as much ice time and are in more pressure situations than most pairs in the league. Keith who is tied for second in scoring for Chicago with 25 points is having what many call another Norris Trophy season. Some say that this season is even better than the one he had in 2009-2010.
Corey Crawford likely gets the call tonight as backup Antii Raanta played on Friday when the Hawks lost in a shootout to the Anaheim Ducks. Crawford’s GAA is a touch high at 2.49, and his save percentage is a bit low at .906, but that doesn’t matter as he’s won 17 of his 26 starts. There also really isn’t anything wrong with Crawford’s glove hand as some of the media chose to pounce on during last season’s final. Nonetheless when you have the offensive firepower that Chicago does, you can be easily be forgiven for letting in a couple.
The thing to be careful of tonight is this. Chicago has lost three games in a row. All of them by one goal, and all of them within an inch of victory. You can bet that coach Q has done everything he can to prepare them for this game so that they don’t embarass themselves with a fourth loss in a row to a team that sits at the bottom of the league. Playing to the level of your competition works both ways here. The Panthers could elevate their game to stick with Chicago, while the Hawks could take the game for granted. I doubt that will happen however as the Hawks are not a team that allows inconsitent play to last for a long time. Their captain, Jonathan Toews just won’t allow it.
Florida fans, this is the opponent that you dream of the Panthers becoming. Will it happen? Hard to say, but regardless of the outcome, you will admit by the end of the game that they (Chicago) sure are fun to watch. One can only hope that someday the Panthers can have some of that same fun. Speaking of fun, former Panther Kris Versteeg is back with his former team (Chicago) and faces his most recent team (the Panthers) for the first time since the trade. Still with me after that? Versteeg looked frustrated in Florida before his departure, and since he’s been sent off to Chicago he looks as if he’s on his way back to his old self. He’s in a different role, and in a place where he’s not needed to be “the guy”. In the long run, that is probably better for him. Versteeg has 7 points in 12 games since coming back “home”.
Here’s tonight’s game day song from Bruce Springsteen.
Final Note: I had a chance to answer some questions for the gang over at The Committed Indian for tonight’s game. Please check out their site as Sam, McClure and Killion do an outstansding job of covering Chicago in way that only they can do. Thanks guys for the opportunity.
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