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This Weekend in Sports: NFL Conference Championships, NHL Season Opens

Wkd in Sports 1-17-13
Mike Ehrmann, Stephen Dunn, Christian Petersen, Harry How

This weekend we’ll find out who’s playing in the Super Bowl, and hockey fans get their game back. Here’s what to watch:

Friday, January 18

Australian Open

Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia; 12 a.m. (ET) on ESPN2; Through Jan. 27
The 101st Australian Open moves into its first weekend of play with returning champs Victoria Azarenka and Novak Djokovic each at the top of their respective draws. Djokovic will face Radek Stepanek of Czechoslovakia on Friday in third-round play. On the women’s side, Maria Sharapova faces Venus Williams in a marquee match-up. The year’s first Grand Slam event will conclude next weekend.

Chicago Bulls at Boston Celtics

TD Garden, Boston; 7 p.m. (ET) on ESPN
The Chicago Bulls (22-15) travel east to take on the Boston Celtics (20-18) in a clash of Eastern Conference powers. Bulls’ forward Luol Deng has been an offensive force all season, leading the team with a 17.8 points per game scoring average. Celtics’ guard Rajon Rondo leads the league with 11.2 assists per game.

Saturday, Jan. 19

Chicago Blackhawks at Los Angeles Kings

Staples Center, Los Angeles; 3 p.m. (ET) on NBC
After a 119-day lockout that put the season at risk, the National Hockey League begins play on Saturday. Led by Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa, the Chicago Blackhawks travel west to take on the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings and goalie Jonathan Quick.

(6) Syracuse at (1) Louisville

KFC Yum! Center, Louisville, Ky.; 4 p.m. (ET) on ESPN
Sixth-ranked Syracuse (16-1; 4-0, Big East) takes on top-ranked Louisville (16-1; 4-0, Big East) in a pivotal Big East battle. With senior James Southerland out because of eligibility issues for the Orange, Brandon Triche and C.J. Fair will have to step up their offensive efforts. Led by guards Russ Smith and Peyton Siva, the Cardinals have won 11 games in a row to ascend to the No. 1 ranking.

(21) Oregon at (24) UCLA

Pauley Pavilion, Los Angeles; 4 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Just a little more than a week after knocking off unbeaten Arizona, No. 21 Oregon (14-2; 3-0, Pac-12) faces No. 24 UCLA (14-3; 4-0, Pac-12). The Ducks have a balanced attack, but E.J Singler may be their most versatile player. The Bruins have won nine straight games heading into Thursday night’s battle with Oregon State.

East-West Shrine Game

Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla.; 4 p.m. (ET) on NFL Network
Future NFL hopefuls clash in the East-West Shine Game, an event that has sent 246 former players to current NFL rosters. Former NFL coach Jerry Glanville leads the East, with quarterback Collin Klein of Kansas State guiding the offense. Coach Leeman Bennett is at the helm of the West squad, which features quarterback Seth Doege of Texas Tech.

(8) Gonzaga at (13) Butler

Hinkle Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Ind.; 9 p.m. (ET) on ESPN
Eighth-ranked Gonzaga (16-1) travels to No. 13 Butler (15-2) in a bracket-busting match-up of teams from smaller conferences who have become national powers over the past decade. Forward Kelly Olynyk leads Gonzaga with a 18.1 points per game average, while guard Rotnei Clarke paces Butler with 16.3 points per game.

Sunday, Jan. 20

NFC Championship: San Francisco 49ers at Atlanta Falcons

Georgia Dome, Atlanta; 3 p.m. (ET) on FOX
The Atlanta Falcons host the San Francisco 49ers in a battle of quarterbacks with drastically different styles. Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan is a classic drop-back passer who uses receivers Roddy White, Julio Jones and tight end Tony Gonzalez to carve up defenses. Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick is a threat both running and passing the football. He’ll challenge the Atlanta defense. The winner of this game advances to face the AFC champ in Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans on Feb. 3.

AFC Championship: Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots

Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.; 6:30 p.m. (ET) on CBS
The Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots meet in the AFC Championship for the second consecutive season. The Ravens are looking to avenge last year’s loss, when kicker Billy Cundiff missed a game-tying 32-yard field goal attempt with 11 seconds left that sent the Patriots to the Super Bowl. Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco hasn’t made many mistakes in his team’s two playoff victories this postseason. New England quarterback Tom Brady has won more postseason games (17) than any other quarterback in NFL history. The winner of this game advances to face the NFC champ in Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans on Feb. 3.

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