PUCK DROP: 2:30pm Central
TV/RADIO: NBC, WGN Radio
GOPHER, EVERETT?: Hockey Wilderness
While it isn’t the last spike, however minuscule, on the EKG of the NHL season, today’s Stadium Series game is certainly the only “event” left on the Hawks’ schedule before the games really count. Matchups with Dallas and St. Louis will still matter a little more considering the standings (though Dallas’s goaltending will see what they can do about that), and next Sunday’s game against Washington will probably be more hyped. But those don’t take place outdoors, and today’s does. So at least it’s unique.
This is certainly one of the most eventful weeks in recent Wild history, if not their overall history. Monday saw them dismiss their coach Mike Yeo after he couldn’t pull them out of their latest tailspin (because it obviously had nothing to do with GM Chuck Fletcher’s mangling of the roster) and it will be capped off by their first outdoor game where Brett Favre’s football career died (still a happy memory). In the interim, the Wild have won three in a row, beating up on the remedial class that is the Western Canadian teams these days. But hey, when you’ve dropped 13 of 14 before that you’re taking two points wherever you can find them and whoever they come against. Encouragingly for the Wild is that they put up five goals in each of those games, though scoring wasn’t really the problem before Yeo got his walking papers.
The recent spurt has the Wild three points out of the last wild card spot (because they’re so itching to play the Hawks in the postseason for a fourth straight season). They have a game in hand on the Preds and basically are out of time, so this game matters more than just winning their outdoor game.
When you think of teams in “the middle,” the Wild remain perhaps the best example. It’s hard to pinpoint what they do well, or what they do poorly. The only category where they’re at either end is their poor penalty kill. They don’t score an abundance of goals, they don’t give up that many, their power play is there, and they’re kind of a poor possession team. And when looking at the roster, that basically has one “star” player in Parise and a bunch of triers after that, it’s no wonder.
That hasn’t stopped the Wild from clocking the Hawks in the two meetings they’ve had so far, though both came in the first half of the season before the Hawks started working through the gears. They won 5-4 the day before Halloween at The X, though the score wasn’t that close, and then took a 2-1 decision the first home game after the Circus Trip where Crawford kept the game that close. Yeo was smart enough to know that back then the Hawks had basically one defensive pairing (and that first game saw Keith hurt) and attacked the rest relentlessly and the Hawks had no answer. We’ll see if Torchetti tries the same now that he’s the interim boss.
For the Hawks, the story remains just about the same. No Hossa, no Kruger, so the lineup should be what we saw against the Rangers on Wednesday, also with Crow in net. With not another game until Thursday there’s certainly plenty of time to rest.
This being the main event in the Wild’s season, it’s hard to predict what the Hawks will face and what they should do. You know you’ll have a psyched up team and crowd that’s had this date circled since last summer, and the Hawks will have to match that even though these outdoor games are starting to at least lean to ho-hum for them. While the Wild normally wouldn’t want to run-n-gun with the Hawks, there’s no way they’re going to sit back today. But with the ice and conditions being anything and everything possible, it’s hard to know how cohesive either team can play. There might be a lot of “just get it forward” until everything settles into a rhythm.
The Stars blew one of their games in hand last night, taking a 3-1 lead and making it a 7-3 loss. A win would put the Hawks three points up having played two games more, and four up on the Blues having played a game more. Again, the Hawks won’t think it’s totally vital to win the division, but it’s more important than it has been in previous years. And really, why go through both Dallas and St. Louis when you can have them whack each other for a while in the first round?