1. Messi suspended four games
An Argentina team that hasn’t looked its best in 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers will now have to play without its best player for the foreseeable future, after Lionel Messi was handed a four-match ban for verbally abusing an official. The incident occurred last week in a game against Chile, but the suspension just came down today, hours before a match with Bolivia. While it’s a huge blow for Argentina down the line, it shouldn’t matter much tonight, because, well … it’s Bolivia: they’re +300 to win.
However, with just five games remaining in the CONMEBOL group stage, only two points separate Argentina and sixth-place Chile; any team that finishes outside of the top five isn’t World Cup bound. Argentina has already played seven matches in this qualifier without Messi, and their record is an uninspiring 1-4-2 without the world’s best player. It’s very possible La Albiceleste are in real trouble if they can’t get the ban overturned by the next round of matches in September.
2. Carolina “Lacks” goaltending to make a push
Long thought to be dead, the Carolina Hurricanes were mounting a late playoff push, collecting points in 11 straight games. But after entering last night’s action just five points back of a playoff spot, their season once again, seemed to come crashing to an end when Detroit’s Andreas Athanasiou crashed into goalie Eddie Lack while scoring the game-winning goal. Lack remained down, eventually getting stretchered off the ice. The goalie was released from the hospital, but his availability down the stretch is unknown.
Without Lack, the Hurricanes have to turn back to Cam Ward. In other words, they’re screwed. Neither of Carolina’s netminders were having good seasons, but Lack was at least putting together a strong March, posting a .921 save percentage. Ward hasn’t put together a good month since May of 2006.
The Canes have to turn around and play the Red Wings again tonight, and if they can’t pick up a win, then this month-long charge was ultimately all for nothing. Without Lack in net, go against this team down the stretch.
Photo Credit: Fanny Schertzer (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons