March 29 – Day 166 – Windy City meets the Land of 10,000 Lakes

A three goal third period is what separated San Jose from Los Angeles to win 5-2 in yesterday’s Game of the Day.

Los Angeles scored first, thanks to Third Star of the Game Justin Braun firing the puck over glass.  Vincent Lecavalier capitalized on the man advantage with a snap shot, assisted by Alec Martinez (his 21st helper of the season) and Brayden McNabb.  Their lead lasted only 3:45 before Braun amended for his penalty with a pure wrister, assisted by Melker Karlsson and Tommy Wingels (his 10th helper of the season) to level the game.  The one-all score held into the intermission.

7:55 after returning to the ice, First Star Joe Pavelski scored the Sharks‘ second straight goal with a wrister (his 36th tally of the season), assisted by Tomas Hertl and Brent Burns.  But, just like the first intermission, the second was also a level score, as Lecavalier scored his second of the night with 4:17 remaining in the frame, assisted by Milan Lucic (his 33rd helper of the season) and Tyler Toffoli.

San Jose took their second lead of the night 4:28 into the third off a Second Star Joe Thornton power play wrister, assisted by Pavelski and Burns (his 43rd helper of the season).  Instead of LA having the leveler like this game went in the first two periods, the Sharks scored an insurance goal with 3:19 remaining from Karlsson, assisted by Wingels and Roman Polak (his 15th helper of the season).  The final goal was an empty netter with 19 seconds remaining, courtesy of Braun (his fourth of the season) after an assist from Dainius Zubrus.

Martin Jones earns the victory after saving 30 of 32 shots faced (93.8%), while Jonathan Quick takes the loss after saving 26 of 30 (86.7%).

The Sharks‘ victory snaps the two game winning streak by the road teams and sets the DtFR Game of the Day series at 75-43-18, favoring the home sides by 34 points over the roadies.

It’s a relatively busy Tuesday, especially if you’re like @kephartc and me and are also keeping an eye on both Team USA soccer matches occurring this evening.  That being said, there are nine games being played this evening, with the action starting at 7 p.m. eastern with three of them (Boston at New Jersey [TVAS], Carolina at the New York Islanders and Buffalo at Pittsburgh [BELL TV]), with two more following half an hour later (Detroit at Montréal [RDS] and Toronto at Florida).  Chicago at Minnesota gets its start at 8 p.m. eastern, trailed 30 minutes later by another pair of games (Colorado at St. Louis [NBCSN] and Nashville at Dallas).  Finally, San Jose at Vancouver, this evening’s nightcap, drops the puck at 10 p.m. eastern.

Most of tonight’s games are (Carolina at New York, Detroit at Montréal, Toronto at Florida, Chicago at Minnesota, Colorado at St. Louis, Nashville at Dallas and San Jose at Vancouver), while only two are between teams qualifying for the playoffs (Chicago at Minnesota and Nashville at Dallas).  The ChicagoMinnesota game is also a rematch of one of last season’s Western Conference Semifinals.

You know how this usually goes down – we go with the game that qualifies for all three games!

Unknown-2Unknown-2This will be Chicago‘s league-leading 23rd appearance in the Game of the Day series, where they own a 10-9-3 record.  Minnesota has made 11 appearances before tonight’s game, and own a 6-5-0 record in such instances.  Both of these teams were last featured March 20, when the Wild won 3-2 in a shootout in Chicago.

The 44-25-7 Chicago Blackhawks currently occupy third in the Central Division and fourth in the Western Conference.  They’ve played a balanced game to get this far, allowing the eight fewest goals paired with the ninth most goals scored.

Even with Trevor van Riemsdyk’s 147 blocks, Chicago has allowed  2333 shots to reach the injured 35-18-4 Corey Crawford and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 92.3% for only 188 goals against, the eighth fewest in the NHL.  That success has been no help to the defensive special team, as they are successful on only 79.17% of their penalty kills, allowing 45 power play goals in the process.  To improve on that rate, they have scored eight shorthanded goals, two more than the league average.

Led by Patrick Kane’s 264 shots, the Hawks have fired the puck 2335 times, with 9% finding the back of the net for 212 goals (led by Kane’s 39 tallies), the seventh most in the league.  This special team is much better, as the Blackhawks‘ 21.74% success rate on the power play, good for 50 extra man goals (led by Kane’s 15 power play tallies) ranks fifth best in the NHL.

Chicago enters tonight’s game riding a two game winning streak, with their most recent coming Sunday, a 3-2 victory in Vancouver.  With another win tonight, the Blackhawks have the opportunity to pull within two points of the conference lead, but they will need help from both Colorado and Nashville for that to happen.  Should they lose and Nashville win, their lead over the Predators for third in the division will fall to only two points.

The 37-28-11 Minnesota Wild are currently the fifth best team in the Central Division and eighth best in the Western Conference.  To get there, they’ve played the ninth best defense, paired with the 13th best offense.

Led by Jared Spurgeon’s 149 blocks, Minnesota has allowed only 2188 shots to reach 31-22-6 Devan Dubnyk and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 91.9% for only 189 goals against, the ninth fewest in the NHL.  Just like Chicago, the Wild haven’t gotten much help from the penalty kill, which ranks fifth worst in the league with only a 78.42% kill rate, allowing 41 power play goals.  That being said, the Wild have scored seven shorthanded goals (led by Erik Haula’s two shorties), one more than the league average.

Even with Zach Parise’s 220 shots, the Wild has fired the puck only 2215 times, with 9.2% finding the back of the net for 206 goals (led by Parise’s 24 tallies), the 13th most in the NHL.  The Land of 10,000 Lakes is also the home of the 10th best power play, successful on 19.75% of their opportunities and good for 48 power play goals (led by Mikko Koivu’s 10 extra man tallies).

Minnesota enters today’s game white hot, winners of five straight.  Their most recent was Saturday’s four goal shutout win in Colorado.  With another win tonight, the Wild have the opportunity to improve their lead over Colorado for the final Western playoff spot to five points, but they’ll need some help from St. Louis for that to happen.  It is also still possible for Minnesota to get out of the second wildcard spot and into the first, and a Wild win paired with a Nashville loss would pull them within four points.

Not only has Minnesota already won the season series against Chicago, but they are looking for the season sweep with their fifth straight victory over the Hawks.  This season’s success is revenge  for a four game sweep in last season’s Western Conference Semifinals on Chicago‘s way to the Stanley Cup.

Some players to keep an eye on include Chicago‘s Kane (94 points [leads the league], 39 goals [second most in the league] and 55 assists [tied for second most in the league]) and Minnesota‘s Dubnyk (five shutouts [tied for fourth most in the league] and 31 wins [10th most in the league]).

Giving Minnesota‘s current winning streak against both the Blackhawks as well as overall in addition to being this evening’s host, I think the Wild pull this one out to complete the season sweep of the Windy City.

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