Daily Sports: A Night The NHL Deserves Center Stage

For all the Championship Week hype going on, I would call Tuesday a pretty quiet night in sports. There are three small-conference championship games with no implications for anyone on the NCAA Tournament bubble. The power conferences start slowly with some preliminary round games in the Big East and Mountain West—if South Florida-Seton Hall or DePaul-Rutgers turn you on, then go to ESPNU for the doubleheader that starts at 7 PM ET. But what tonight’s daily sports docket really adds up to is an evening where hockey deserves to be on center stage.

The Boston Bruins won again last night, beating Ottawa in a shootout and now the Bruins are set up with a nationally televised showdown against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Both teams have been under the radar as the minimal coverage the NHL gets has rightfully gone to the amazing start of the Chicago Blackhawks. But the Bruins and Penguins are both championship-caliber teams that look the part. Tonight’s game will be on the NBC Sports Network at 7:30 PM ET. It’s more than just two good teams, it’s a great clash in styles. Pittsburgh brings Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and a talented offense to go up against one of the best defenses in the league, anchored by rising star Tuuka Raask in goal.

Boston-Pittsburgh’s not the only good game in the NHL. Winnipeg is only two points out of the playoffs and goes to Toronto. In the Western Conference there are only two points separating 6th place from 11th place, with three of those six spots making the playoffs. San Jose and St. Louis are two of the six and they go head-to-head. Surprisingly, Vancouver has also played its way to the playoff bubble with four straight losses and the Canucks match up with Columbus. The Blue Jackets are on the rise, having won five straight and are just on the outside of the enmeshed six teams. Phoenix is one point out of the playoffs and hosts Los Angeles. The Kings have stabilized after a slow start, are up to fourth in the West and set for this rematch of last year’s conference finals.

NBA action offers one notable game in Atlanta-Miami (7:30, NBA-TV). The Heat look for their 19th straight win and I would imagine they’ll get it on their home floor. The Hawks are part of a group of five teams fighting for playoff seeding position, the winner of which will net the 4-spot and homecourt in the first round.

Finally, let’s wrap back around to college basketball. The small-conference title games start with Mount St. Mary’s-Long Island Brooklyn at 7 PM ET on ESPN. I’m pulling for the Mount—I used to live an hour’s drive from the campus and it’s a beautiful place to go for a hike. Then at 9 PM, your TV will take you to flyover country. On ESPN it’s Wright State-Valparaiso for the Horizon League title. Valpo won the regular season and holds homecourt advantage. Over on ESPN2 it’s North Dakota State-South Dakota State. This tournament is held in Sioux Falls, but North Dakota State has been a tough out when its best player, Taylor Braun has been healthy. He’s healthy now and that’s why even though NDSU is the 3-seed, I expect them to win and to be a sleeper in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.