Tonight is a sports fan’s dream. Whether you are a basketball fan or a hockey fan doesn’t matter. In fact, I would encourage you to be both as the each offer exceptional athletes doing amazing things on their respective playing surfaces. In the National Hockey League this evening, you have the opening of the second round for one series while in the National Basketball Association you have two second round series nearing their end.
On the ice you have one of the great rivalries in not just hockey, but in sports in general. In the Western Conference, the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks host their long-time rivals the Detroit Red Wings in the best of seven series. Ironically, this is the final time the two foes will face each other in the conference playoffs as Detroit heads to the Eastern Conference next season. Therefore, the only way these two will see each other in the future is in the Stanley Cup Finals.
The ‘Hawks are heavily favored and well they should be. They beat the Wings in all four meetings this season and beat them the last three games of last season as well. A seven-game winning streak against Detroit will not be taken for granted by either team. Chicago is just a few years removed from their Stanley Cup title and much of that team remains while Detroit continues to be in transition from the loss of guys like Niklas Lidstrom and Tomas Holmstrom.
In the land of hoops, the Miami Heat have an opportunity to put the ‘tough as nails’ Chicago Bulls out of their misery at home in South Beach. On a track to the Northwest, the Oklahoma City Thunder will be trying to stave off elimination at home against the Memphis Grizzlies. Both the Heat and the Griz have 3-1 series leads, but each have different types of challenges.
In Miami, the Heat return home after taking both games in the Windy City. The last of those wins was a dominant performance at both ends of the court as the Bulls look like they have finally reached their end. Both Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng are expected to miss game five which isn’t anything new, but worth noting nevertheless.
Over in the Sooner State, Oklahoma City is fighting for it’s life. After losing a heart-breaking overtime game in game four, they have no choice but to rebound. Kevin Durant has been incredibly valiant in trying to take some of the load left by the injury to Russell Westbrook. The Thunder were actually pretty impressive in game four but they lost their way in the OT period and for perhaps the first time in the playoffs, they looked tired.
Detroit at Chicago (Series 0-0) – The Red Wings enter Chicago having lost those seven-straight games to the Blackhawks and are an easy goal and half underdog in this one. Detroit will need to create offense and screens in front of Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford while getting a huge game from their own net-minder Jimmy Howard at the other end. I expect a one-goal game but take the ‘Hawks to win game one.
Chicago at Miami (Heat lead series 3-1) – Are you surprised that the team that actually won game one on this very court is now a 14-point underdog? Ya? I’m not either. I expect a valiant effort by the Bulls but I expect the Heat to cover and win going away.
Memphis at Oklahoma City (Grizzlies lead 3-1) – Memphis is a four-point underdog on the road tonight in Oklahoma City and frankly I like the Thunder to win by more than four. The Grizzlies are still a relatively young team and I expect to see a little lethargy from them while the Thunder will play with urgency.