Bartl

Editor/founder of Cheer the Anthem, season ticket holder in Section 326 and full-time sports writer who lists June 9, 2010, as one of the greatest days of his life. Contact him at jeffrey.bartl@gmail.com.


Posts by Bartl

Fuggedaboutit: Coyotes Put Blackhawks on Brink of Elimination with Another OT Win

Oops, I did it again. (Scott Strazzante, Chicago Tribune)

Go ahead and think sweet thoughts about how the Blackhawks stormed back from 0-3 down against Vancouver last season. Say it. “Anything can happen!” “It’s not over yet!”

This doesn’t feel the same, though, does it?

Losing back-to-back overtime playoff games on home ice is one thing, but the manner in which they were lost is even more disheartening. Once again, Mikkel Boedker slipped one past Corey Crawford in the extra period, and the Coyotes took a 3-1 series lead over the ‘Hawks with a 3-2 win Thursday at the United Center.

What we’ve seen in this series is a team consistently one step behind the other, constantly giving chase, even making it interesting at times, but ultimately falling short. I don’t for one second believe the Blackhawks have been badly outplayed in this series, but Phoenix is playing just well enough to overcome the talent gap and is beating the ‘Hawks on scheme rather than skill.

The whole let’s-spot-the-Coyotes-a-lead-until-late-in-the-third-period-then-tie-it-when-we-look-defeated thing might be exciting, and this series has had no shortage of free hockey. It’s the mental lapses that lead the games to get to that point that are the most frustrating, and Phoenix is taking full advantage.

There’s no doubt the ‘Hawks missed Marian Hossa and even Andrew Shaw, but what ultimately changed? The same shit happens whether they’re in the lineup or not. The Blackhawks are that close, but it really doesn’t mean a damn thing. Losing one-goal, overtime games is the same as losing 10-0. If it was January and the ‘Hawks were playing this way, we could say, “The Blackhawks haven’t played at their best the past four games and they’ve still taken all of them to overtime and earned a point. That’s a good sign.”

In the playoffs, it gets you down 3-1 in a series to a team that doesn’t possess the talent, but just wants it more. And that’s the thing – it really doesn’t seem like the ‘Hawks want it until they’ve fallen behind. They can talk all they want about what needs to change and they know where their deficiencies lie. They did that all season. It’s nothing new. But if you can’t change what needs to be changed, if you can’t execute the way you know you must, then all that talk is about as useful as screen door in a submarine.

If seeing Hossa go off on a stretcher isn’t enough to get the ‘Hawks psyched to be flying all over the ice, then what in the funky hell is enough? What’s it going to take? If they know the answer, it may be too late anyway.

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Never Say Die: Blackhawks Even Series, Await Word on Andrew Shaw

"You know I was just bullshittin'." (Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune)

A full day has passed, and I still can’t believe the ‘Hawks won that game. Complete disappointment to utter elation to ridiculously nervous to celebratory shots all in about 40 minutes. Saturday had some of everything.

And once again, it had Brent Seabrook. Definitely the MVP of the first two games for the Blackhawks, Seabrook was a part of a last-second regulation goal to tie the game. His blast from the point was redirected past Mike Smith by Patrick Sharp, sending the ‘Hawks into OT where Bryan Bickell would win it 4-3.

Just a couple of quick things as we await Game 3 at the UC on Tuesday…

♦   First, let’s address the “hit” on Smith by Andrew Shaw. Before getting fully into it, the NHL needs to immediately institute a rule that states if a player needs medical attention from the bench due to an apparent blow to the head, said player should be required to be taken to the locker room for testing as soon as he’s able to stand on the ice. With all the constant policing against hits to the head and the effects on star players – Jonathan Toews, Sidney Crosby, etc. – you would think this would be in the rulebook already.

Smith laid there for a few minutes as if he had gotten shot. Shaw clearly was trying to avoid the contact, and whatever happened incidentally did not require the sack-of-bricks fall and ensuing fake blackout by Smith. If it was that serious, Smith should never have stayed in the game. Instead, we may have witnessed the best dive of the playoffs – even better than Ryan Kesler’s load of bullshit on Sunday night – that almost cost the ‘Hawks the game due to a major penalty call.

Shaw will meet with Brendan Shanahan today, and if Shaw is issued any sort of suspension, Shanahan should immediately be fired. For the rest of his career as The Shanahammer, he’ll have to answer for not penalizing Shea Weber and rightly so. For Shaw to be levied a suspension and Weber allowed to skate free would be such a crime there’s no way Shanahan can ever be taken seriously again.

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Iced: Game 1 Boxing with ‘Hawks and ‘Yotes

The three of you can just keep walking. (Chicago Tribune)

When teams finish off the regular season hot and head into the playoffs on a role, you can throw the records and the seeds out the window. Sometimes, things inexplicably just seem to go right for said team.

Phoenix played roughly 59 and a half minutes without their leading scorer, survived a possibly deflating tying goal late in the third and beat the Blackhawks in Game 1 3-2 in overtime on Thursday night in the desert.

Radim Vrbata played all of 30 seconds before leaving with an injury, but Martin Hazal’s redirect past Corey Crawford ended up being the difference – along with some help from Mike Smith.

A series of icing calls in OT didn’t help either, the last coming from Marcus Kruger, who subsequently lost the ensuing draw to Hanzal before he scored the winner.

It ruined the comeback of Jonathan Toews, who wasted little time showing how much the ‘Hawks missed him. He scored the game’s first goal and later assisted on Brent Seabrook‘s tally with less than 15 seconds left in regulation.

So, what went wrong? A lot of things…

♦   The Coyotes’ first goal had such incredible amounts of horrendous shit happening that I can barely bring myself to discuss it. Niklas Hjalmarsson hasn’t exactly been Mr. Dependable in the last, well, most of the season, but that might have been the worst shift of his life. In a span of about 45 seconds, Hjammer made an errant pass for an in-zone turnover, whiffed on a clearing attempt, sent a blind ring around the boards, poked away a badly needed freeze from Crawford, before finally allowing Taylor Pyatt to slip behind him to knock in a goal that was all – and I mean ALL – Hjammer’s fault.

What a fucking deflating stretch that was for the ‘Hawks. And no, I won’t ignore the fact the Coyotes got away with a blatant too many men non-penalty that could’ve been called by Stevie Wonder. However, there was too much farting from Hjammer going on that it trumps those two seconds of blindness from the refs. I saw many people blaming the officiating after the game, but that’s just a poor excuse from sore losers. The ‘Hawks lost that game on their own, and it all started with Hjammer’s terrible play on this goal.

♦   If that weren’t enough, the Blackhawks got caught badly in a change, leading to known cocksucker Raffi Torres skating into the zone unabated before finding Antoine Vermette for the go-ahead goal. Hjammer is an actual human being and is not invisible, but he still parked himself in Crawford’s line of sight, allowing Vermette to blast it home.

♦   Quick give me a good reason why Sean O’Donnell played ahead of Dylan Olsen. Now, take your reasoning of, “Maybe Q doesn’t want to play so many rookies in the playoffs,” and shove it directly into your asscrack. Hurry and try and find another one. I dare you.

O’Donnell not only provided a lovely screen on the OT goal, but he was so far away from the net on an even-strength point shot that I have to wonder if he’s ever played hockey before in his life. Nick Leddy was left to deal with Hanzal in front of the crease, and that proved to be no good for anyone as Hazal got his stick on the shot and put it in.

As Nakis pointed out on Facebook, it’s time to send O’Donnell to the glue factory. Go ahead and play the “He has playoff experience!” card, too, if you wish. That’s bullshit as well. Put his old ass in the press box and call it a day. Damnit.

♦   Brandon Bollig over Jimmy Hayes in the playoffs, when teams barely drop the gloves? Yep, makes sense – for all six minutes of Bollig’s ice time. Thanks.

♦   Part of me loved the energy Andrew Shaw brought to the game. The logical part of me was screaming at him to calm the fuck down (oxymoron?). Shaw was at it before the puck even dropped and continued running his mouth throughout the game. He luckily got away with a blatant trip with about three minutes left that could’ve killed the Blackhawks’ chance to tie the game.

♦   Speaking of, when Seabrook scored that goal, not once did I think the ‘Hawks were going to lose this game. What’s got two thumbs and was very, very wrong? This guy.

♦   Once again dividing myself in two, I’m conflicted on what Vrbata’s injury may do in the grand scheme of things for this series. On one hand, if it’s serious and he can’t play, it seems to be a great advantage for the ‘Hawks with the opposition’s leading score shelved. On the other hand, the Coyotes just beat the Blackhawks by taking advantage of mistakes and getting solid goaltending from Smith. Vrbata may not have made much difference. Let’s wait for the diagnosis, I guess.

Game 2 in the desert on Saturday night. Most of the CtA crew will be out and about watching the ‘Hawks hopefully tie things up, and we’ll let you know where we’re headed if anyone wants to watch me freak out over absolutely everything that happens while drinking heavily.

Here’s Boxing…

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Jonathan Toews: “It’s time to go.”

And with those 4.5 words, he’s back.

Jonathan Toews officially will play in Game 1 against the Phoenix Coyotes tonight, and may we all rejoice and breathe a sigh of relief. After sitting out 22 games due to a concussion, the Captain will return.

Here’s what he told Brian Hamilton of the Chicago Tribune:

“I’m very excited. I don’t think I’ve gone through anything like this in my career where it’s been touch-and-go for just over two months and you don’t really know when you’re going to feel 100 percent. (And) you’re doing everything you can and it seems to always be the same thing every time you wake up. These last couple of weeks have been really good. I’ve worked really hard not only to get over this but to feel ready and feel well enough to play a game. I’m really happy about that. Not only myself but the rest of the guys are excited to go out there and play.”

Obviously, this doesn’t guarantee anything in terms of wins and loses, but there’s no bad news about finding out Toews will be in the lineup. Does Q send him out there centering Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa? Will he shy away from contact at all? One thing is for certain, the Coyotes aren’t going to go easy on Toews for a single second. He’ll be the target of physical play every shift he’s on the ice.

Either way, things got a whole lot better for tonight’s matchup. See you on Comcast at 9pm.

Hawks vs. Coyotes: Reviewing the Season Series

Look at those glorious 'staches.

Yeah, I know. Everyone says you can throw out the regular season once the playoffs start. Things begin anew and what happened in the past should stay there.

That’s probably how the Blackhawks should feel after going 1-2-1 against Phoenix, including dropping the final three meetings. While most – including myself – still believe the Blackhawks can – and should – win this series, the Coyotes were a giant pain in the ass in 2011-12.

And a quick “Did You Know?” … Joel Quenneville and Dave Tippett were teammates with the Hartford Whalers from 1983 through 1990. As you can see, Tippett also once had as fine of a ‘stache as his boy Q. That’s cute. If I was their teammate and saw them together, I’d call the duo “Q-Tip.” Jokes. I get jokes.

Anyway, here’s a quick rundown of the season series:

October 18 at Jobing.com Arena

Dave Bolland scored a short-handed goal 2:27 into the third period to put the ‘Hawks up 4-2, and they’d go on to win 5-2 to improve to 3-1-1 on the season. Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews, Jamal Mayers and Bryan Bickell also scored.

Taylor Pyatt and Ray Whitney had goals for the Yotes.

The Blackhawks controlled the action most of the way, outshooting Phoenix 15-4 in the first period and 35-16 for the game.

Corey Crawford made 14 saves to earn the win, while Jason LaBarbera took the loss.

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Waiting on The Captain: Revisiting the ‘Hawks With and Without Toews

Thearon W. Henderson, Getty Images

Now that Jonathan Toews has been cleared for contact, it’s all up to him when he’s ready to don the Indian head once again. While Thursday would be ideal, the Captain has to be sure not to get Sidney Crosby-ed by returning too soon.

It’s a waiting game the Blackhawks have been playing since late February, and 22 games already have passed since Toews last suited up. I’m sure part of you has gotten used to him not being on the ice – especially given the ‘Hawks haven’t been as bad as expected without him – but it still won’t feel right if Toews isn’t on the desert ice in Game 1 against Phoenix.

A playoff series without the captain is probably the worst thing we expected when all of this came to light, and we’re only days away from having to take the ice without the 2010 Conn Smythe winner.

How much will the ‘Hawks miss him if he doesn’t play? Let’s take a look at some team statistics before and after the concussion. The stats listed before the concussion do include Toews missing a Jan. 24th loss to Nashville with an upper-body injury before suffering his concussion.

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Desert Dogs it is: Blackhawks Beat Red Wings in Shootout, Will Face Phoenix in Round 1

Credit: Andrew Weber, US PRESSWIRE

Hopefully those who celebrate are having a nice Easter Sunday, and you’re about to find out what day the Second Season begins in the Second City. You’ll be seeing a lot of posts around these parts in the coming week with a wide variety of things being covered as the playoffs begin.

For the Blackhawks, the quest for the Stanley Cup begins in Phoenix after Saturday’s 3-2 shootout win over Detroit.

Yes, Patrick Kane made a filthy move in the shootout. It had me taken aback, and his smiling face skating back to the Blackhawks’ bench gave me a nice giggle.

But did that meaningless shot simply mask the disappointment we should be feeling after the ‘Hawks blew a late lead for the second consecutive game? If Kane doesn’t make that move and the Blackhawks lose that shootout, aren’t we going around asking questions about how the ‘Hawks are going to survive in the playoffs, especially if Jonathan Toews isn’t quite ready?

Instead, we’re all “excited” to be playing the Pacific Division champion Phoenix Coyotes, who ended the season with 97 points, four fewer than the ‘Hawks. Avoiding Nashville sounds fun and all, but there’s still the fact the Blackhawks let a chance at home-ice advantage in the first round slip away over the past week.

Now the ‘Hawks get to face Mike Smith, who is pretty much the hottest goaltender in the world right now. Forget that he doesn’t have playoff experience. Some guy named Niemi didn’t have any either. The ‘Hawks were less than a minute away from avoiding him and a Phoenix team that has won five straight games barely breaking a sweat.

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See Ya Later?: Boxing with ‘Hawks and Blues

Boom goes the dynamite.

Watching this game, I kept imagining what it would be like for the Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues to meet in this year’s playoffs.

It’ll likely be extremely nerve-wracking, but no one can deny how hard-fought of a series it would be.

For the second straight meeting, a 3-1 deficit was erased before a shootout decided the outcome, and the ‘Hawks once again came out on top 4-3.

Before getting into the good stuff, I’ll make it known that allowing a goal within a minute after scoring is goddamn annoying, and for it to happen twice makes me want to punt my cat. And blowing a two-goal lead with less than 10 minutes remaining in the third period makes me want to punt my girlfriend’s cat. Neither are acceptable – even with Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith out of the lineup. If you can get a two-goal lead in the third period with both of them out, then you should be able to hold it with both of them out. End of story.

With that said, no real harm done, as the ‘Hawks came away with two points, and giving St. Louis the extra one doesn’t matter one bit given the ‘Hawks have no chance to catch them anyway.

The Blackhawks did their part with a chance to clinch a playoff spot, but San Jose shit the bed once again and got shut out in Phoenix, delaying the inevitable for another couple of days. While the No. 6 seed may not make you feel all tingly inside, whoever comes out of the Pacific Division clusterfuck won’t exactly scare me. If the ‘Hawks pull the “upset” and St. Louis gets by whatever Pacific remnants are left in the eighth spot, us fans will be driving to road playoff games in the second round.

A couple notes before Boxing…

♦   Only 20 shots on goal for the Blues tonight, marking the 10th straight game the Blackhawks have allowed less than 30 reach the net. The ‘Hawks are 20-8-2 when allowing 25 shots or less.

♦   With that said, Corey Crawford can’t allow three to get past him and stop only 17, especially given the first one was pretty soft. He made up for it in the shootout though, which makes it forgivable.

♦   The ‘Hawks are 10-2-2 since beating Toronto on Feb. 29, and that’s with the power play going an are-you-absolutely-fucking-kidding-me 5 for 43 (11.6 percent). Can you image if the Blackhawks were simply goddamn serviceable with the extra man? Christ. Two more missed chances tonight, making the ‘Hawks 0 for 15 over their last four games.

Boxing for ya…

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He Beat Me, Straight Up: Boxing with Blackhawks and Devils

If only this was enough. (Credit: Ed Mulholland, US PRESSWIRE)

Martin Brodeur isn’t using his goalie stick as a cane quite yet.

The 39-year-old did it all Tuesday night, making 37 saves and four more in the shootout as the Blackhawks fell 2-1 in New Jersey. Brodeur gets most of the credit for this one, and it’s well-deserved.

Save for the first 10 minutes when Corey Crawford withstood a barrage from the Devils, the ‘Hawks were the better team for roughly 55 minutes. It took a big screen from Bryan Bickell and a point shot from Brent Seabrook to finally get one past Brodeur in the third period to tie the game.

The Blackhawks blew two key power play chances that could’ve ended up swinging the game in their favor, but the Devils got an extra one past Crawford in the shootout and the ‘Hawks ended up taking only one point.

The 5-on-3 for roughly 1:20 in the second period created a couple chances that Brodeur snuffed out, then another missed chance game at the end of regulation which yielded nothing. To the Blackhawks’ credit, they were able to kill off a 4-on-3 to start overtime when Marian Hossa went into the box with under a minute in regulation.

One quick thing before Boxing…

If Ray Emery was healthy enough to play tonight, would Coach Q have started him over Crawford? Emery didn’t exactly set the world on fire when he came on in relief of Crawford in the 6-1 loss to Nashville on Sunday, but Q has been known to ride the man who relieved the other for at least a couple starts. Nonetheless, Crawford likely earned himself a start no matter how Emery feels for Thursday’s home tilt against league-leading St. Louis.

Crawford was one of the big reasons why the ‘Hawks came away with even a point tonight given the performance of Brodeur at the other end. Hopefully that carries over to Thursday.

Boxing coming up…

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Duncan Keith Suspended 5 Games for Hit on Daniel Sedin

"You think I'll get five games for this? You're outta your mind." (Photo: Rob Grabowski/US Presswire)

Everyone knew the hit was dirty. Everyone knew a suspension was coming, especially when it was learned Daniel Sedin would miss time.

But five games for a first-time offender for retaliation on a similarly dirty – though less lethal – hit? Given other recent dirty plays around the league – *cough* Shane Doan *cough* – with lesser penalties, I’m a little more than surprised Duncan Keith was leveled with this type of suspension.

Even player safety czar Brenden Shanahan admitted he took into consideration Keith had never been suspended in his seven seasons in the NHL. If that’s the case, what would’ve happened to Keith had he slipped up previously?

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Extra Special: Overtime Boxing with Blackhawks and Canucks

"Hmm, smells like victory." (Photo: Scott Strazzante, Chicago Tribune)

Supposedly this game was so infuriating for Vancouver fans, their most-followed blog, Nucks Misconduct, couldn’t even bother to recap it, skipping right to previewing the Dallas game.

To credit one Canuck, Roberto Luongo played a hell of a game. Corey Crawford did him one better, though, and the Blackhawks ended the season series with a 2-1 overtime win Wednesday night at the United Center.

The ‘Hawks kept coming at Luongo, and he turned away some great chances. Crawford, after letting in a softy on the game’s first shift, ended up standing tall in the third period and OT to help the ‘Hawks escape with their fifth consecutive victory.

That’s as far as I’ll go to compliment those jagoffs, though. It still boggles my mind how any human being with any sort of sense can actually cheer for people like Kevin Bieksa and Alex Burrows. At least the Sedin twins are decent hockey players when they’re not falling all over themselves when they hit an ice shaving or an opponent blows wind through their pansy goatees.

Bieksa and Burrows are likely the two biggest pieces of squirrel feces on this entire planet, and they proved it again tonight. Canucks fans – and the Canucks themselves – can bitch all they want about Duncan Keith’s hit, but Daniel Sedin’s earlier hit was just as dirty and uncalled for. If Keith would’ve went down like a ton of bricks, it would’ve been and looked just as badly.

However, that said, Keith’s hit was dirty. He brought the elbow up and knocked him in the jaw. If he plays Sunday, call me surprised. Since he’s not a repeat offender, one game should about do it.

Also on the who-might-not-play front, Marcus Kruger didn’t play after leaving in the second period. Kane went 3 for 18 on draws Wednesday, so that part doesn’t make it sit well that Kruger may not be out there against a Predators team can bury teams if they win the majority at the dot.

Onto happier things, Johnny Oduya fired the puck on net after a Dave Bolland setup, and Andrew Shaw gave it a little nudge after doing his job – going hard to the net – for the game-winner. Hell of a game, but I wouldn’t mind being saved a heart attack by not seeing the Canucks in the postseason.

Don’t look now, but the Blackhawks are only three points back of the No. 2 seed, currently held by Vancouver, with nine games to go.

Boxing for ya…

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For Starters, a W: Boxing with ‘Hawks and Capitals

Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune

It’s not some sort of state secret. Every coach in the NHL will tell you getting the first goal can change the complexion of game. If a team is lucky enough to get the first two, then you can pretty much focus on burying the opposition.

For the third straight game – all wins, by the way – the Blackhawks scored first, and for the second consecutive contest they got the first two goals before their opponent had a shot on net. No more fucking around, they seem to be saying.

The ‘Hawks scored early and finished late, beating Washington 5-2 on Sunday at the United Center. For a team most were writing off without a healthy Jonathan Toews, the ‘Hawks are 7-1-1 since the Leap Day win over Toronto and are within four points of Detroit and Nashville for the No. 4 seed and home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs with nine games to go.

If Washington wants to get back on track, it can start Monday by knocking off the slumping Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena and doing the ‘Hawks a favor.

Stuff before Boxing…

♦   Remember when most figured Coach Q had given the crease to Ray Emery for the duration of the season? Nakis and I never were convinced of that, and Q is being as predictable as ever and riding the hot hand. Corey Crawford wasn’t tested much Sunday, but his 16 saves were enough to improve him to 7-2-0 with a 2.12 goals-against average since Feb. 16. He struggled in a three-game stretch in losses to Dallas, Los Angeles, and getting yanked in the win over Toronto, but he’s back to playing above average, which is really what most of us are asking for to continue.

With nine games to go, no one has any idea if Q will commit to either one of them. It seems to be working right now, though.

♦   So, Michael Frolik still plays for the Blackhawks. Interesting.

♦   Patrick Kane really has been stepping up lately, and it’s coming just at the right time. With the news that Toews suffered a setback in his recovery from a concussion, Kaner has helped make that a little easier news to take given how well he and the ‘Hawks have been playing. There’s never a good time to have the Captain out, but this nice little stretch is making it more tolerable.

♦   With Toews out, the ‘Hawks went 36 for 55 at the dot Sunday. That’s neat.

♦   Viktor Stalberg winning that race to the puck, getting himself under control then charging the net with a move in mind and patience to execute it was a thing of beauty. For someone who seemed so far off the handle when it came to keeping himself and his blazing speed tamed to be able to fit it into an actual game, he’s seems to be starting to get it more and more each game. Oh, and he gets to light up Columbus again soon.

♦   Alex Ovechkin reminded us that despite him having another “down” year, he’s still one of the best in the game with his move on Duncan Keith. Ovechkin’s goal gives him at least 30 in every season since he entered the league in 2005. Yeah, that’s good.

Here’s Boxing…

Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

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Breathing Room: Boxing with ‘Hawks and Blues

Credit: Chris Sweda, Chicago Tribune

While it’s very true few – if any – of us expected the Blackhawks to be in this position after being atop the NHL standings not so long ago, putting some distance between them and the rest of the crowding teams at the bottom of the Western Conference playoff picture is a welcome relief.

The ‘Hawks pulled out a 4-3 shootout win over St. Louis at the United Center on Tuesday night, moving five points ahead of seventh-place Phoenix and six up on a few trying to claim the eighth spot.

With 11 games to play, it seems like a comfortable distance, and the Blackhawks are coming close to being locked into the No. 6 seed and a date with the Pacific Division winner in the first round – possibly red-hot Dallas, which the ‘Hawks get to see Friday.

This much time without Jonathan Toews makes that seem like a decent consolation prize to avoid the likes of Nashville and Detroit in round one.

Most everything else will come in Boxing, but here’s a couple things I noticed…

♦   Johnny Oduya may not get the credit, but his keep-in is what led to Viktor Stalberg’s goal in the second period. For a guy who was being cursed out before even donning the Indian head, he’s been playing pretty damn well.

♦   What is Coach Q to do on Friday after Ray Emery allowed three goals on six shots in his sixth straight start, then Corey Crawford came on to play well in relief and earn the win? Does Q simply take Emery’s performance as another bad night against the Blues (he’s 3-1-1 with a 15 goals-against in his current stretch, though eight have come against St. Louis)? Or does Q take Crawford’s performance as him regaining his confidence and hoping he can ride that against Dallas?

The problem with the latter move is that it may in turn get Emery thinking too much. Then if Crawford goes in the poop tank, can Emery step right in again? It’s a decision Q has to make, and it will tell whether or not the crease is indeed Emery’s, or if Crawford still has a chance of being the No. 1 heading into the playoffs.

♦  Brandon Bollig bothers me. While I believe Ryan Reaves indeed is living remnants of some bacterial growth found on an unrefrigerated seven-year-old block of cheese, his hit on Jamal Mayers was nothing deserving of Bollig immediately dropping the gloves and getting an instigator. He gave St. Louis a chance to completely put the game away. Tell me what’s so great about this guy that people enjoy him, but despised John Scott.

OK, I’m tired. Boxing…

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Point Taken: Boxing with ‘Hawks and Kings

"Can you believe this effing guy, Dave?"

So you’re telling me that Jonathan Quick guy is pretty good, eh?

Quick beat the Blackhawks for the third time in four meetings this season – including two shutouts and a 0.99 goals-against average in those matchups – and helped the Kings to a 3-2 shootout win at the United Center.

“Experts” seem to tell us that goaltending is the difference between Stanley Cup contenders and pretenders around this time of the season, and if it holds true L.A. is going to be tough to beat with Quick between the pipes.

He stole the show from Ray Emery, who was making his fifth straight start and had another solid outing. If it weren’t the Blackhawks’ ineptitude in the shootout, he would’ve come away with a victory. He stopped the first five shooters before Mike Richards finally broke through, while Quick was perfect on the other end – not to mention stoning Viktor Stalberg on a penalty-shot attempt in the third period.

The main problem was Duncan Keith, who should immediately take the film, CD, floppy disk or whatever it is this game has been recorded on and bury it along with Jimmy Hoffa. Both Kings goals were the result of his turnovers, including one that lead to a 4-on-1 break for L.A. with the game merely 1 1/2 minutes old.

Patrick Kane had a solid night, and Marcus Kruger again was rewarded for playing hard in front of the net. Other than that, the Blackhawks will take the point and move on to Tuesday, when St. Louis comes into the United Center for another showdown.

Here’s Boxing…

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Bizarro World: Boxing with Blackhawks and Blues

(Chris Lee, McClatchy-Tribune)

Our power play wasn’t good. We couldn’t settle the puck down, we couldn’t make a pass and they were forechecking us hard. We didn’t deserve to win. It just wasn’t good enough. – Marian Hossa

So, that’s the world we live in now, eh? The St. Louis Blues are the front-runners for the President’s Trophy down the stretch of the season. Not since Joel Quenneville manned the bench in 1999-2000 have the Blues been this good in the regular season.

With that said, Tuesday night’s 5-1 loss was another recipe for disaster: Shitty power play, shitty penalty kill, outplayed in net and out-muscled throughout. This crap is looking all too familiar.

Hopefully Jonathan Toews will be back Friday and he can kick everyone in the ass a bit, but this game just didn’t seem to be anything more than “blah.” The Blues are flat out the better team, and it pains me to say it.

I don’t have the energy for more. There simply isn’t much to analyze that hasn’t been said already. The Blackhawks have trouble entering the zone on the power play and leaving their own zone, well, always. The play in net is spotty at best. Special teams all around is pretty much a Disney on Ice. I’m not going to beat you down with it.

I’ll get into a bit more here in the summary of Boxing, but I left the actual box score for you to take a look at and decide for yourself what you’d like to analyze. Go ahead and throw in your own thoughts in the comments…

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Scouting Johnny Oduya with Ed Tait of the Winnipeg Free Press

Both Ed and I had planned to get this to you before Johnny Oduya suited up in a game, but his schedule dealing with the trade deadline and a game that same night kept him from getting back to me at lightening speed. I know, how dare him focus on his beat writer job for a team currently fighting for a playoff spot.

Ed Tait of the Winnipeg Free Press again was gracious enough to take time out to help us get a look into Oduya’s time in Winnipeg. He played his first game with the Blackhawks last night after Stan Bowman sent a second- and third-round pick for the upcoming unrestricted free agent at Monday’s deadline, playing nearly 20 minutes.

Here’s Oduya’s career breakdown:

Shortly after sending my his answers while I was sitting in my seat at the UC, Ed sent me an email saying, “Ouch. Looks like Oduya was a -3 in that period.” Luckily, it got better.

Here’s what Ed had to say, and thanks again to him for taking the time…

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Winning By Default: Boxing with Blackhawks and Maple Leafs

"Increase my killing power, eh?" (Chicago Tribune)

I guess that’s what you get when pitting a struggling team against another whose name isn’t even grammatically correct.

Luckily for the Blackhawks, they got their suck out of the way in the first period before Toronto melted down and allowed the ‘Hawks to come away with a 5-4 win at the United Center on Wednesday night.

I’ll save you the goal-by-goal rundown and give a couple of quick thoughts:

♦   Johnny Oduya ended up even after going a minus-3 in the first period, including a goal that came on his first shift wearing the Indian head. However, Brent Seabrook didn’t do him any favors on the first two goals with misplays that led to Leafs goals.

I traded emails with Ed Tait of the Winnipeg Free Press regarding Oduya, and I’ll post his thoughts this afternoon, so check back later.

♦   Patrick Kane was solid all night and gave the ‘Hawks a spark with his play at center. His goal came on some clean up around the net after a Sami Lepisto shot. More of this please. Like, you know, always.

♦  Nice to see Andrew Shaw get on the board in his first game back, fighting off a check before circling to the near post and potting one. Also, his goaltender interference call followed by a roughing penalty was complete and total horseshit. Shaw’s rush to the net was aggressive and forced Jonas Gustavsson to move out of the crease, causing a collision with Shaw that was the result of aggressive play by both players. After that dog shit call, the refs gave Shaw a roughing call despite simply defending himself against Luke Schenn, who came from about 20 feet away from the play to blatantly attact Shaw behind the net.

♦   After the ‘Hawks tied it, Patrick Sharp committed a hockey sin by taking a horrible hooking penalty in the offensive zone before Chelsea Dagger finished playing after Shaw’s goal. Roughly 28 seconds later, the Leafs regained the lead.

♦   The importance of Marcus Kruger’s goal at the end of the first period may be overlooked the way the ‘Hawks were able to charge ahead through the rest of the game. His tally cut the lead to 3-2 and shifted momentum. Without the goal, the Leafs head into the second period with a two-goal lead and pretty much in control.

♦   That goal may have been especially important for the team’s psyche given Coach Q replaced Corey Crawford with Ray Emery to start the second period. Crawford allowed three goals on 10 shots, while Emery came in to make 24 saves over the last 40 minutes. You’ve got to think Emery is going to be the starter moving forward, and there’s no telling what’s going through Crawford’s head right now after being pulled in two straight.

With 17 games remaining now is the time to commit to the goaltender not hurting you the most, as sad as that sounds. It seems Emery is the one at this point. Someone needs to take the reigns heading into the postseason, and Razor is the closest thing the ‘Hawks have to a playoff goalie. Not to say he’s the answer given his struggles this season, but no team heads into the stretch run and into the playoffs using a pair of goaltenders – unless you’re St. Louis with Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott. Emery has to be the one Q commits to now, in my opinion. We’ll see what happens, though.

All right, here’s Boxing….

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Strapping it Down: Boxing with ‘Hawks and Stars

(Credit: Chris Sweda, Chicago Tribune)

“When they got that first one, we need to stay the course and for whatever reason we seemed to get away from our game. We didn’t manage the puck well in the third, and as a result we lose the game.” – Jamal Mayers

This one is tough to be angry about. It’s just damn annoying.

Not only do we have to listen to reports and read official statements about the possibly concussed Jonathan Toews getting into a car accident in the morning, we’re treated to a game in which the ‘Hawks looked… blah.

The Blackhawks’ 3-1 loss to Dallas on Thursday at the United Center looked pretty good for about 50 minutes, with the ‘Hawks controlling much of the game and seemingly dictating the pace – not that it was all that exciting to begin with.

Corey Crawford was playing well and making the necessary saves on the few lapses in front of him, and he seemed on his way to helping record the team’s first shutout.

Then a string of unfortunate bounces and a relaxed style of play did the ‘Hawks in, as three deflected goals got past Crow to send them to their first loss in regulation when leading after two periods this season.

Going to get straight to a couple things here…

♦   Seven times the Blackhawks have put five or less shots on goal in the third period, with Thursday being the only time they lost. Basically, Coach Q and the gang decided the one-goal lead was enough and took down the firing squad to play a prevent-type D.

I don’t care what team you’re playing in this league, a one-goal lead with 20 minutes to play is not safe, and to think and/or play otherwise is just not smart. Add that onto the fact something named Richard Bachman was playing his ass off for the Stars all night, he’s still a backup goaltender. Attack him, disrupt him – like how they did on Marian Hossa’s goal and what they did against Detroit the other night – and get a goal or two to put it away.

Instead, the ‘Hawks took their foot off the pedal and it cost them in a four-point game.

♦   Dallas, meanwhile, did exactly what the Blackhawks were doing the past few games to get back on track – put people in front of the net and get dirty goals. Steve Ott and Michael Ryder scored on deflections, then Brent Seabrook’s skate got an assist on Loui Eriksson’s tip-in. Crawford had no chance on any of them. Sure, there were some minor blimps on the ‘Hawks end that kept the puck in their own zone, but the results are more telling than what led up to them. Dallas was attacking, the Blackhawks were tightening up. Game over.

♦   John Scott played 2:22 and had five shifts. Dallas came into the game ranked 21st in the NHL in fighting majors, making Scott’s presence damn near worthless – again.

♦   Bryan Bickell was probably the most noticeable forward for the ‘Hawks tonight. Pretty solid game all around.

♦   Power play: 0 for 31 over the last 12 games.

♦   Interesting trend: There were nine games on the NHL schedule Thursday, with seven road teams picking up wins.

♦   With the accident this morning and all the concussion rumors, it will be interesting to see if Toews makes the trip out west to face the Los Angeles Kings – with the newly acquired Jeff Carter – and Anaheim.

Here’s your Boxing…

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Back in the Swing of Things: Boxing with Blackhawks and Red Wings

I laughed. (Credit: Chris Sweda, Chicago Tribune)

No Jonathan Toews. No Pavel Datsyuk. Still, the same ol’ gritty rivalry.

The Blackhawks and Red Wings gave us another entertaining battle on both ends of the ice, and Corey Crawford beat Jimmy Howard in a fantastic goaltending dual as the ‘Hawks held on for a 2-1 victory Tuesday night at the United Center.

Jimmy Hayes was rewarded with a goal after working in front of the net, then assisted on Marcus Kruger’s tally with some nice board work and a charge to the back of the net, as Kruger tipped in an Andrew Brunette shot that bounced off Howard.

You know the basics, so let’s get to some other stuff…

♦   It obviously wasn’t ideal to have Toews out of the lineup with the always-vague upper-body injury, though there weren’t many points in the contest I was screaming for Toews to be there. The final minute sticks out, when The Captain would’ve been on the ice for in-zone draws as the Wings had the extra skater, and Dave Bolland lost two to give Detroit a couple more shots at Crawford as the clock ticked away. Other than that, the ‘Hawks keep the Red Wings at bay and Henrik Zetterberg damn near invisible.

♦   Patrick Kane was solid tonight, and it was only for a spectacular Howard save on Patrick Sharp that Kaner didn’t register a point. Kane took the puck on the far side and circled toward the center of the ice while the ‘Hawks were on the power play. He skated the puck to the near side and went right at Justin Abdelkader, who had lost his stick. Kane was able to move in and create a passing lane to get the puck to Sharp camping in front of the net. Howard went post-to-post and stuck out his left pad, snuffing out the chance. Nonetheless, a smart, heads-up play by Kaner. He was all over the place and seemed to step up his game with Toews out.

♦   Speaking of the power play: 0 for 30 over the last 11 games, with the last PP goal coming when Bolland beat Pekka Rinne in a 3-1 home loss to Nashville on Jan. 24 – the last game before the All-Star break.

♦   Crawford’s play wasn’t stellar, but his saves were not exactly routine. I saw far less rebounds than in the previous games during his current stretch of four straight games with one GA. Him staying in the blue paint more often than not has seemed to pay off, and his run has quelled the talk of trading for a goaltender – for now.

♦   When a goaltender is on like Howard was tonight, garbage goals are necessary to grind out a win like this. The ‘Hawks got them with the help of some aggressive play in front of Howard, taking advantage of a couple loose pucks and pounding them home. This seems to have been lacking recently.

♦  Going 28 for 54 at the dot without Toews is definitely a victory on that end. With that being said, here’s to hoping Toews doesn’t have to sit out Thursday against Dallas.

Here’s Boxing…

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Thank You For That: Blackhawks Dominate Blue Jackets, 6-1

"We won a game yesterday. If we win one today, that's two in a row. If we win one tomorrow, that's called a winning streak. It has happened before."

No matter how terrible the Blackhawks were during their nine-game road trip, at least we have the Columbus Blue Jackets to thank for being only slightly better than a drunk men’s league team.

Following up on their 4-2 slump-buster over the New York Rangers at MSG on Thursday, the ‘Hawks crushed the BJs 6-1 behind solid efforts from nearly everyone.

The victory marked the Blackhawks’ first back-to-back road wins since taking five straight from Nov. 25-Dec. 14.

After Sami Lepisto made every ‘Hawks fan replay Chris Campoli’s turnover in Game 7 against Vancouver in their minds 300-400 times, it was all Chicago.

Jonathan Toews made a hard move to the net and slid it past Steve Mason to tie it up, and Viktor Stalberg netted his eighth goal against the BJs this season just over four minutes later for what proved to be the game-winner.

Patrick Sharp took a great feed from Patrick Kane and one-timed it past Mason in the second before Kaner chased Mason through the five-hole less than two minutes later.

Marcus Kruger and Lepisto added the insurance in the third.

Hell of a game to write about in my first post in a long time. Moving and being without internet couldn’t have come during a better couple weeks so I didn’t have to talk about the lumps of shit that happened previously.

A few quick thoughts…

♦  Note to Lepisto: Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever make a fucking mistake. Ever. Next time, Q won’t just bench him, he’ll call Bowman from a cell on the bench and have him cut. Granted, Lepisto’s turnover was absolutely brutal, but he hasn’t been playing all that terribly lately. After the Jackets’ goal, Lepisto didn’t see another shift until he scored his goal, playing 5:59 for the game.

♦  Here are the Blackhawks’ numbers, with the “core” players highlighted:

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Much Ado About Goaltending

If we’re all in agreement this season is considered “Stanley Cup or Bust” for the Blackhawks, then I can forget about discussing anything in between.

Playoffs? Expected. Division title? Well, at least home-ice advantage, or the fan base expects doom.

It’s a part of living within a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately society. Winning streaks mean championships, and losing streaks mean fire sales. You’ll have to look fast to find the in between, especially with the come-as-you-are outlets like Facebook and Twitter.

Lately, the cries have been about the goaltending duo of Corey Crawford and Ray Emery, and how the Blackhawks stand no chance to advance in the postseason unless changes are made – no matter how drastic.

If you’ve yet to recognize a trend in the Stan Bowman era, goaltending is not his top priority. And there’s a couple justified reasons for that.

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More Ammo for the Meatballs: Boxing with Blackhawks and Oilers

(Greg Southam/MCT photo)

First, I’ll go ahead and preface everything with that I more than agree the Blackhawks need to add depth on defense. Moreover, I believe the ‘Hawks need to simply focus more in their own zone, which goes for everyone wearing the Indian head. I don’t think any of this can be disputed one bit.

But against my own good judgement, I took to Twitter after the game and saw more trading of Patrick Kane. More trading for Tim Thomas. People talking about trading the entire team, with the only untouchable being Jonathan Toews. People ready to fire Joel Quenneville.

I don’t know why I continue to be surprised by this. One game – granted, an extremely bad one that pissed me off royally – and all of the sudden the Blackhawks’ proverbial ship is sinking with 30 games to play while being six points back of the Western Conference-leading Detroit Red Wings. To break it into simpler terms for those who have been following hockey since 2009, that would translate to three games.

If the Cubs or White Sox were three games out of first with 30 to play, would you be calling to trade the entire damn team? Didn’t think so.

There are plenty of things I didn’t like about The Disaster at Rexall Place – Part Duex, but sometimes assholes like Sam Gagner have 8-point nights when a team plays like dog shit on both ends of the ice. Luckily, the Blackhawks don’t lose 20 points for the lopsided 8-4 loss. This isn’t Final Jeopardy, and the ‘Hawks didn’t bet it all and get the question wrong. It simply adds another number under the ‘L’ column, just like the last four.

Am I sugarcoating this defeat? A little. The Blackhawks’ six-game road losing streak is their longest since their franchise-record 19-game skid in 2003-04.

But there are so many meatballs out there forcing me to do it. I don’t want to be the calming voice. I’d much rather rant logically and swear up and down while throwing things at my cat, but as I wrote on Twitter, the Blackhawks have possibly the most bi-polar fan base in all of sports. If the ‘Hawks win their next two games, some of these same people clamoring for wholesale changes will be talking Stanley Cup again. I refuse to pour petrol on that fire.

With all that said, I’m angry about the loss, as I’ll show in Boxing…

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Not as Bad as it Seems: Blackhawks Fall in OT

NOTE: Having trouble with the box score tonight, so no Boxing. It’ll be back after the Edmonton game – hopefully.

(Rich Lam/Getty photo)

Any loss to Vancouver rivals a complete rectal examination, though I came away somewhat pleased overall after the ‘Hawks fell 3-2 in overtime Tuesday.

Basically, I saw plenty more good than bad out there, which is all you can ask for after a week off, thrusting a new player into a big role and beginning a nine-game road trip.

♦   Seeing Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp on the ice was a positive, though Sharp wasn’t himself and Toews ended up missing a few shifts in the first period. I wouldn’t be surprised if one or both of them took off Thursday’s game in Edmonton.

With that said, Toews’ unbelievably stellar move in the OT nearly won the game if it weren’t for Cory Schneider playing to puck so well. The hand/wrist/whatever didn’t seem to bother him there.

♦  #ShawFacts – The love and affection for Andrew Shaw has worn off, and now we’re simply expecting him to be an NHL contributor if he’s going to play with the big club.

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Saturday Maintenance: Morrison Acquired, Toews Likely Returning, Bad Trade Talk

Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman made his first splash into the trade market Friday, albeit the type of splash resulting from stepping into the bathtub.

It isn’t the deal many had hoped for, but getting center Brendan Morrison from Calgary for prospect Brian Connelly seems to be a solid depth move with very little risk.

Bowman said he’s been talking to Calgary “for awhile” to secure this deal, which seems beneficial for both teams.

Two things. First, Morrison is not the second-line center the fan base hoped the Blackhawks would acquire. His job will be – or should be, since we never seem to know what Q is thinking – to win draws on the fourth line while not playing a ton of minutes.

Second, he’s 36 with a history of knee problems, so don’t expect him to provide anything more than serviceable minutes.

It’s precisely the reason Bowman wasn’t about to give up anything of substance for him, and Connelly seems to be on the back end of the list when it comes to NHL potential for Blackhawks defensive prospects. An AHL All-Star doesn’t translate into NHL-ready, or even close to NHL-ready.

Adam Jahns of the Sun-Times posted a series of tweets with quotes from ‘Hawks players and Morrison himself regarding the trade, some ‘Hawks chirping after Morrison was injured in a meeting last season and his injury history.

The main thing to come from this deal is that Bowman is hitting the phones trying to make this team better. We’ll see what else he has up his sleeve.

♦   Jonathan Toews is expected to play Tuesday in Vancouver, according to Bowman.

He made sure to note the trade for Morrison had nothing to do with Toews’ injury, which came as a welcome relief.

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Punched Out: Boxing, Once Again, with Blackhawks and Predators

JIM YOUNG, REUTERS

There may not be a team in the league looking more forward to the All-Star break than the Blackhawks.

Playing without Jonathan Toews and of course Patrick Sharp, the ‘Hawks looked fell short on the defensive end a dropped the final game before the break, 3-1 to the Predators.

Despite the offense lacking, I didn’t feel the offense necessarily was the issue. Nick Leddy and Niklas Hjalmarsson are becoming painful to watch. Absolutely and completely painful. It actually hurts from getting so damn angry at their problems – and they’re many.

No more crap about Leddy being young and learning and being thrust into a position to learn on the job. He’s playing for a Stanley Cup contender, and that label for the ‘Hawks comes in spite of him, not because of him. The second goal was a direct result of his inability to play defense with enough muscle nor brains. The blind ring around the boards didn’t work simply because he thrre it into a forechecker’s legs, leading to a nice kick pass for Mike Fisher’s goal.

Hjalmarsson gets plenty of blame as well, as Fisher had all day to prepare himself for that pass. At this point, I’d like to see Sami Lepisto get a night with one of these two in the press box. Something needs to be done.

(UPDATE: It’s since been confirmed it was Sean O’Donnell on the ice with Leddy, and not Hammer. My eyes weren’t working right from the opposite end of the stadium, which is my bad. However, it doesn’t change my stance that one of these guys needs a seat up high for at least a game.)

♦   Corey Crawford is giving up far too many rebounds, but this game could’ve gotten out of hand tonight if it weren’t for him. Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith allowed a breakaway chance, as did Hjalmarsson’s flat feet. Crawford stopped them both, then made some saves in the third that could’ve doomed the ‘Hawks had they gotten past him. No real praise, but no real thoughts of this being his fault by any means.

♦   Dave Bolland won 17 of 20 faceoffs tonight. Dave. Bolland. Won. 17. Of. 20. Faceoffs. I slowed it down for you to make you read it slower. Between that and his goal, I think he embraced taking Toews’ spot on the top line.

♦   Marian Hossa is an under-appreciated part of this team. He never gets enough credit, in my book. The reason he’s not talked about much is because he doesn’t do much wrong. I guess it gets hard to constantly praise someone.

♦   Patrick Kane stopping to twirl mid-breakaway is a prime example of him thinking too much about his slump. No, I really don’t have any idea what’s running through his head. It could be hookers or pretty pink bows. However, it’s hard not to speculate when a true, killer goal scorer refuses to simply take his space and go hard to the net to try and beat the goaltender like he’s always capable of doing.

♦   Andrew Shaw has officially become Q’s new Kris Versteeg. Shaw led all ‘Hawks forwards in ice time tonight, and while he’s playing hard, I don’t necessarily believe he deserved all that time. Q is trying to ride the hot hand, but Shaw hasn’t exactly done anything stellar over the past few games to have me going nuts over him. As I’ve said before, everyone needs to stay grounded on this guy – including Q.

♦   Michael Frolik was a healthy scratch in favor of Bryan Bickell. And no one cared or noticed one way or the other. The drop off of these guys is epic.

Here’s Boxing…

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