You know what wasn’t very fun at all? The Blackhawks’ trip to Florida to begin the season.
Reminder: They got pantsed in four straight games by the defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning (5-1 and 5-2) and the Joel Quenneville-coached Panthers (5-2 and 5-4 in overtime).
Boy, didn’t we all believe the Hawks were destined for last place then?
Well, let’s see what we believe after March is over. It’s the roughest, toughest, call-your-bluffest month on the Hawks’ schedule. They play the Lightning and Panthers — teams with two of the top three records in the NHL — a combined nine times, starting with three straight against the champs on Thursday, Friday and Sunday at the United Center.
“Obviously, we have some good teams coming up and we can’t just show up,” winger Alex DeBrincat said. “We have to battle each night and work harder than the other team, and we can do pretty well.”
That’s certainly true when playing the likes of the Red Wings and Blue Jackets. But the Lightning? They’re overstuffed with scoring weapons — even with Nikita Kucherov out — and have the best goaltender on the planet (apologies, Kevin Lankinen) in Andrei Vasilevskiy. How does an NHL-best goals differential of plus-30 sound? Indeed, scary.
If the Blackhawks are legitimately a good — or kind of good — team, they’ll have the opportunity to prove it in March. Taking a few points off the Lightning would be a heck of a start.
Here’s what’s happening:
Nuggets at Bulls (8 p.m., NBCSCH)
Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets have underwhelmed this season, losing a bunch of games to teams — such as the Wizards, twice in the last week-plus — they should beat. So the Bulls kind of have them right where they want them.
Royals at Cubs (2:05 p.m., Marquee)
Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, yada, yada. You pretty much have to tune in for Jon “Boog” Sciambi’s first game at the mic in his new gig, don’t you?
Rangers at White Sox (2:05 p.m., NBCSCH)
Let’s just put it this way: Sox shortstop Tim Anderson is the straw that stirs the drink. Can we get the half-hour back that we spent trying in vain to come up with a “straw that broke Camelback” quip?
Illinois at Michigan (6 p.m., ESPN)
It’s a top-five matchup and — hands down — the biggest test for the Illini since they took on, and lost to, Baylor in early December. Kofi Cockburn (7-0, 285) vs. Hunter Dickinson (7-1, 255) is worth the price of your cable bill.
Mariners at Cubs (2:05 p.m., ESPN)
Watch the aforementioned Bryant and Baez and their pal Anthony Rizzo — in walk years, all — and imagine what it might be like without one, two or all three of them. Wait, are they even in the lineup today?
Bulls at Pelicans (7 p.m., NBCSCH)
It’s the Bulls’ final game before the All-Star break, and you know what that means. Yes, an utterly bored Stacey King will wander the streets for several days shouting “hot sauce!” at random passersby.
Lightning at Blackhawks (7 p.m., NBCSCH)
One guy the Lightning didn’t see in January was Lankinen. We’re going to find out if he’s legitimately good — or kind of good — too.
Mariners at White Sox (2:05 p.m., MLB.TV)
Jose Abreu missed only a handful of workouts with the team before coming off the COVID-19 list, but is he ready to swing the bat like his normal self? (Wait, is he even in the lineup today?)
Lightning at Blackhawks (7 p.m., NBCSCH)
Steven Stamkos has bullied the Hawks with two goals and three assists in two games this season. So, yeah, stop that dude.
Illinois at Ohio State (3 p.m., ESPN)
You think Michigan was tough? The Buckeyes are a top-five team, too, that — oh, by the way — walked out of Champaign seven weeks ago with an 87-81 victory.
Duke at North Carolina (5 p.m., ESPN)
Amazing that neither the Blue Devils nor the Tar Heels are in the top four of the ACC this season. Still, it’s a crime for any college hoops lover to miss one of these matchups — especially when you might actually witness the expiration of Duke’s NCAA Tournament chances.
Manchester City vs. Manchester United (10:30 a.m., NBCSN, Telemundo)
Think Duke-Carolina is a big deal? The Manchester Derby is one of the great rivalries in all the world. It doesn’t hurt that these teams are 1-2 in the Premier League standings.
Nebraska at Northwestern (12:30 p.m., BTN)
The Wildcats are hungry, but the Huskers aren’t going to surrender the Big Ten basement without a fight.
MVC championship game (1:10 p.m., Ch. 2)
If all is right in the world, this is where regular-season champ Loyola and runner-up Drake play their season rubber match. To the Big Dance go … both?
Lightning at Blackhawks (1:30 p.m., NBCSN)
NBA All-Star Sunday (5:30 p.m., TNT)
First comes the skills competition, then the three-point shootout. The dunk contest is at halftime of the All-Star Game, which starts at 7 p.m. Come on, Zach LaVine, act like you’ve been there before.