2010-11 Game Previews
First thing’s first: We’ve already won. Win or lose tonight, the Blackhawks have scored a victory. After falling behind 3 games to none, they have fought their way back in a manner worthy of the defending Stanley Cup Champions. They have played hard, they have given their fans a thrill second only to the Cup victory last year, and they have overcome significant adversity in doing so.
The Chicago Blackhawks, and their fans, can accept the outcome of tonight’s game with our heads held high. It’s been a fantastic series, and it will be coming to an end tonight.
That having been said, let’s go out there tonight and demolish those whiny, overrated choke-weasels.
Short one here before game time, as Chez Currell is a bit chaotic this afternoon.
Brent Seabrook passed his NHL concussion protocol late this morning, and will be dressed and ready to help this freight train deliver a win to the Blackhawks’ faithful at the Madhouse tonight. Canucks fans seem to think this spells doom for Chicago, since Seabrook has been the team’s rallying cry these last two games. Let’s let them keep thinking that, shall we?
Blackhawks fans went to the United Center on Tuesday, hoping with all their might that the fate of their team would be different that the previous three games. Hoping that some spark would be lit under the Men of Four Feathers. Hoping that whatever magic the Blackhawks had conjured from time to time during the regular season would waft through the rafters at the U.C. again.
And sweet barking cheese, did they get what they came for.
Bryan Bickell began the fun less than two minutes into the game, and the Blackhawks’ faithful were treated to six more blasts of Chelsea Dagger before the night was over. It was nearly everything they could have asked for, and everything Canucks’s fans were dreading: a monumental and embarrassing collapse that thwarted their team’s progression to the second round.
So the question now becomes, what were the ingredients of this victory, and how can they do it again in the hostile confines of GM Place tonight?
We went into this series cautiously optimistic, perhaps even over-confident due to our record against the Canucks. We had faith in our team, we believed in them. Some of us will until the teams meet at center ice to shake hands. But I can’t hold out any more hope; the Canucks will beat us tonight, we’re getting swept.
The Blackhawks had to do two things to win this series: they needed to conceive of a plan to beat the Canucks; and they needed to execute that plan. Unfortunately they never got past step one, as whatever plan they came up with was either ill-conceived or ineffective. They never played their game, and the Canucks have (for the most part) manhandled them every step of the way. But make no mistake: this series wasn’t lost in the last week. They started losing this series the day after the parade on Michigan Avenue to celebrate the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup Championship.
So what the hell happened? How did we get here? How did we go from first to the first team ejected from the playoffs in one short year? Lots of answers here, not all of them within anyone’s control, none of them entirely responsible, but clearly all of them contributing.
Little did I know when I wrote the post-game wrap-up after Game 1 that my analysis would cause such a kerfuffle! It appears that I managed to offend the delicate sensibilities of the Vancouver faithful by blaspheming their beloved super-stars with a pithy nickname. Well, my countrymen, you all have a lot thinner skins than I thought you did. Heat, kitchen, you figure out the rest. This is hockey, not badminton. If my choice of words was a little below the belt (*groan*), that’s nothing: you should see how I refer to Sidney Crosby.
So as a new day dawns and a new game approaches, verily I say unto thee, fear not. Regardless of the snit our worthy opponents to the north have themselves in because of my “unprofessional” (is somebody paying me and I don’t know it?) references to feminine hygiene products, I’m going to keep telling it like it is, colorful language and all.
For two straight years the Chicago Blackhawks have knocked the Vancouver Canucks out of the playoffs. The in the 2008-09 season, the loss rested squarely on goaltender/captain Roberto Luongo’s shoulders, as his post-season collapse was the main reason the ‘Nucks polished up their Taylor Made’s early that year. In 2009-10 the defeat was particularly insulting, as Vancouver had re-tooled the team specifically for the purpose of getting past the ‘Hawks and into the Stanley Cup Finals. But Chicago bested them again.
This season, the Canucks have dominated the league almost from the get-go. They sat first in the league at the end of the regular season, the only injury of consequence is Manny Malhotra, and both the team and the fans are primed and ready for a Cup-winning run to avenge the losses the past two years.
Vancouver had better get used to disappointment. Chicago is going to put them down, yet again.
This was what we were all dreading. Scrambling for a playoff spot against the hated Detroit (*spitting noise*) Red Wings in the last two games of the season. Shame on the Blackhawks for letting it go this far. Shame on the players, the coaches, management, and everybody else for putting themselves, and their fans, in this position. That game you all took the night off back in November? It matters now. That night in January when you couldn’t hit the net with a grenade launcher and 10 minutes to aim? It matters now. That third-period breakdown in March? It matters now.
I’m saying this so maybe you’ll remember in November of this coming season, in January of 2012, in March next year when you think back on how big of a pinch you put yourselves in back in 2011. Because two points is two points no matter when you earn them, and now you REALLY have to earn them. If you don’t, you’ll be the laughing stock of the league — winning the Stanley Cup one year and playing golf in April the next, justifying every sore-loser idiot whiner who accused the club of “buying” the championship last summer.
So gentlemen, suit the fuck up, and by God if I see one smile on that bench I’m going to wipe it off your face permanently. It’s time to go to work. Tonight. Sunday. Detroit. Four points — and by God, we will need every one of them. Get your shit together, and make it happen.
Okay, here’s the problem. I said a long while ago that we had better have ourselves a nice cushion before these last three games, because it would take a miracle to get points out of any of them. Remember that?
Start praying for a miracle.
As the anthem is sung, the whistle is blown and the puck is dropped, we all sit back and wonder which Blackhawks team will take the ice. That’s basically what it comes down to this evening against Montreal: will they bring the “give-a-shit” tonight? Or are they going to lose to a clearly-inferior team — again?
We saw this earlier in the season, and we just wrote it off. Now, it’s the playoffs on the line. It matters. The question remains because the ‘Hawks haven’t answered it convincingly enough, consistently enough, all year. Tonight we will ask the same question. Only the Blackhawks know the answer.
Okay, last night was good. Lots of teams that we needed to lose, actually lost. Those include Anaheim, Dallas and Nashville. And there was much rejoicing.
The standings of relevant teams in the Western Conference now look like this:
4th: Los Angeles (96 points, 4 games remaining, 36 non-shootout wins)
5th: Phoenix (96, 3, 37)
6th: Nashville (95, 3, 36)
7th: Anaheim (93, 4, 40)
8th: Chicago (92, 5, 36)
9th: Calgary (89, 3, 30)
10th: Dallas (87, 6, 33)
Why Los Angeles is ahead of Phoenix is a little stymieing, but it doesn’t involve the Blackhawks at this point, so screw it. One day I’ll invest the 2 minutes necessary to research the answer, but not right now.
The other games of consequence tonight are actually pretty big ones for us. Calgary takes on Colorado, and Dallas is at Anaheim. Victory for the Men of Four Feathers coupled with losses by the Flames and Stars make it nearly impossible for either of those teams to make the post-season, in-effect guaranteeing the Blackhawks a ticket to the playoffs. So while you’re cheering the ‘Hawks, keep an eye on those two tilts.
Tonight the ‘Hawks take the ice against a potent and crowd-energizing Lightning team boasting two how’d-they-do-that offensive powerhouses in Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, as well as 41-year-old comeback kid goaltender Dwayne Roloson. But the secret behind this team is two-fold: first, Stamkos and St. Louis are nearly all of the Lightning’s offensive punch; and secondly, Roloson is rarely exceptional — he’s very often only as good as he has to be on any given night.
Evidence? How about most of the roster being in a negative plus-minus, many of whom in double-digit negative? How about one (count him, one) 20-goal scorer aside from the afore-mentioned howitzers? How about winning games by decidedly unimpressive margins in nearly every outing? And how about a team GAA closer to 3 than 2, and a save percentage a fingernail above 90%?
This team is beatable. And we proved that in Tampa less than a month ago, we just couldn’t recover from the loss of Dave Bolland early in the matchup thanks to Pavel Kubina’s elbow to the head.
Umm, guys? Yeah… Okay, good. You remembered. Just one request: blood splatter. We want to see blood splatter.
No lineup changes for the Blackhawks, Corey Crawford is your goaltender for the next week unless he runs off with Britney Spears or something. Lightning defenseman Randy Jones is the only player absent from the visitors’ bench.
Family-friendly 6:00pm puck drop at the United Center this evening. National coverage of the game is available on the NHL Network, although Chicagoland will see the game on WGN. Broadcast radio is WGN AM-720, and XM subscribers will hear the game on channel 207.
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In the past these previews have been about the opposing team and any personnel changes we expect to see from the Blackhawks. So here goes. We’re playing the Columbus Blue Jackets, and they suck. They are without leading scorer Rick Nash and #1 goaltender Steve Mason, so this should be an even easier game to win. No lineup changes for the Blackhawks, Corey Crawford starts.
Now let’s talk about what everybody’s interested in: the playoff race, and the Blackhawks’ chances.
Some teams have clinched Division titles or playoff spots, so they aren’t relevant. Neither are the teams that are (for all practical purposes) mathematically eliminated from the race in the West. That leaves the following teams:
4th: Phoenix (95 points, 4 games remaining, 37 non-shootout wins)
5th: Los Angeles (94, 5, 35)
6th: Nashville (94, 4, 36)
7th: Anaheim (93, 5, 40)
8th: Chicago (90, 6, 36)
9th: Dallas (87, 6, 33)
10th: Calgary (87, 4, 29)
Now, I’m not a stats wonk, I don’t do probability calculations and all of that nonsense. So I’m just going to run down the rest of each team’s season and lob my guesses at where we may end up.
Phoenix will likely beat Colorado, lose in OT with the Kings, and split the last two against the Sharks. That gives them an extra 5 points, total of 100.
LA has suffered significant injuries in the last week, I’m going to say they beat the Coyotes in OT, push the Ducks into OT once and fall in a shootout, and then lose the rest. 3 more points, total of 97.
Nashville will lose to Detroit, but win out their last 3. 6 points, total of 100.
Anaheim will split with the Sharks, lose to the Stars, and beat the Kings twice, once in OT. 6 more points, total of 99.
Chicago I’ll save for a minute.
Dallas will beat both the Kings and the Ducks, I’ll say they split against the Avalanche, and beat Columbus and Minnesota. 10 points. 97 total.
Calgary will lose to Vancouver, but take their other 3. 6 points, total of 93.
If that proves out (HA! Yeah, right…) the standings (minus Chicago) will look like this:
4th: Phoenix (100 points, 39 non-shootout wins)
5th: Nashville (100, 39)
6th: Anaheim (99, 40)
7th: Dallas (97, 38)
8th: Los Angeles (97, 36)
9th: Calgary (93, 32)
So now, to the Blackhawks.
Remaining games: Blue Jackets, Lightning, Canadiens, Blues, and Detroit (*spitting noise*) twice.
We have to beat Columbus. Hear me guys? WE HAVE TO BEAT COLUMBUS! We pushed the Lightning to OT in their building last time, I think we’re going to pull it out this time. We will beat the Canadiens, they’re sliding of late. 6 more points, 3 more NSW. That would put us at 96 points, 39 NSW. Not good enough.
We’ll need another win from among the last three against the Blues and Red Wings. And this is what it all comes down to.
In the next ten days we will find out who is going to be playing for the Blackhawks next year. Who is going to step it up when we’re down two goals early in the 3rd in a possibly-season-ending game? Who is going to dog Henrik Zetterberg until he goes to the bench and cries? Who is going to back-check the Wings so hard they can’t tell which goal they’re supposed to be shooting at? Who is going to knock Todd Bertuzzi out of the game and into the hospital in the first minute of the first game of that home-and-home? Who is going to take the punishment in front of the net and notch a tip-in goal for every bruise they get across their backs? Who is going to block shots like he’s protecting a 5-year-old girl wearing street clothes in the net behind him? And who is going to absorb 35, 45, 55 shots and THEN win it in the shootout?
We all know the names of the guys who will be there. But who will join them? Bryan Bickell? Troy Brouwer? Viktor Stalberg? Jake Dowell? Ryan Johnson? These guys all have the mojo, they just haven’t found it the last 20 games. If it shows up between now and April 10th, we have a shot at this.
If not… well, this post-season will be difficult to watch without a team to cheer for.
6pm puck drop tonight out in Columbus. Comcast SportsNet has the TV coverage, broadcast radio is WGN AM-720, and XM subscribers can hear the game on channel 204.
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The guy you’re looking at here is the leading contender for the Vezina trophy, given to the league’s top goaltender. He won the title back in 2008-09, had a startlingly bad year in 2009-10, and has now come back just as strong as he was two seasons ago. He’s big, covers a lot of the net, but is also mobile. It’s as if his hands are magnets: the pucks are just drawn to them. 32 wins, 2.00 goals-against, and a .939 save percentage. And he’s just now starting to hit his stride.
Vezina… You know, if you replace the ‘ez’ with ‘ag’ it— never mind…
With eight games remaining and the Blackhawks clinging to eighth place, they’ve managed to put themselves in one of the most hated positions any of us could possibly dream: The Red Wings will be a major hurdle in the ‘Hawks chances to make the playoffs.
Tonight begins the first of three meetings against Detroit before the regular season ends. That’s about as appetizing as a shit sandwich topped with wet farts.
Just for some quick added pessimism, the last Stanley Cup champion to miss the next year’s playoffs was the 2006-07 Carolina Hurricanes.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, here’s a positive: Pavel Datsuyk won’t play tonight, and Johan Franzen sat out Saturday’s 4-2 Wings win against Toronto. Jimmy Howard is day-to-day after injuring his shoulder against the Maple Leafs, and with Chris Osgood on long-term IR, it looks as if Jimmy MacDonald will be in net tonight.
There are three stories of interest coming out of Anaheim these days. The first is that Teemu Selanne, in the words of one sports reporter, refuses to act his age. The second is the eruption of winger Corey Perry, who has 15 points (including 11 goals) in his last 8 games. And finally is a goaltending conundrum that has three brand-name goaltenders struggling to put two wins together as the team claws towards a playoff spot.
The Ducks and the Blackhawks have both won 3 of their last 4 games, they are both locked in a tight battle for a playoff spot (the ‘Hawks in 7th, the Ducks in 8th in the Western Conference Standings), and they are both handing bonus points to opponents by allowing games to be pushed into overtime. Neither team can lose this game — but somebody will.
A little over two weeks ago, a cocky Blackhawks team took their 8-game winning streak for a little sun and fun in Miami, and promptly got their asses handed to them in a 3-goal first period melt-down that resulted in a 3 – 2 loss to the team sitting 26th out of 30 in the league. It was the anemic start to a dismal 3-game road trip that yielded a mere two out of a possible six points. Humiliating. Eye-opening. Infuriating.
It’s time to get some payback, gentlemen.
With the bulk of the hockey headlines coming out of southern Arizona being about legal battles and ownership changes and Gary Bettman stomping his feet like a child being told he can’t have candy at the supermarket, it’s easy to forget that there’s actually a hockey team there.
A team that is in fourth in the Western Conference, nipping at the heels of Division leader San Jose. A team on a five-game winning streak. A team that has scored the seventh-most goals in the league, yet has not one single 20-goal scorer. Although with two of their players named Lauri and Adrian, I’m not sure how seriously we’re supposed to take them.
I wish there was more time to celebrate these wins. After handing the San Jose Sharks their jock straps and a bus ticket on Monday night, it would have been great to sit back and savor the moment a little longer than just two days. But alas, there’s business to attend to, and tonight that business is in Dallas.
How many times can we use the phrase, “must-win” in a single year? What about “do-or-die?” Or “crunch time?” It seems I’m typing those phrases almost daily now, and this is no exception. With the Blackhawks’ OTL to the Capitals on Sunday, Chicago dropped into 7th in the Western Conference standings, just two points from having to fluff the throw pillows before playoff games.
And look who we’re playing! The San Jose Sharks, who sit first in the Pacific Division, four points ahead of us, and who are looking for a sweep in their season series against the ‘Hawks.
Long and short: if we thought Washington was a hard-fought game, this one is going to be even worse.
Any of you who watched the “Penguins/Capitals 24/7″ show on HBO got an earful of Capitals Head Coach Bruce Boudreau hitting below the belt on his team in the locker room following the latest in a string of humiliating losses due to lackluster play. The quote above was the most memorable of the diatribe.
As if getting checked for a hernia wasn’t humiliating enough, now we have this ringing in our heads.
It was one game. And really, it was just one period. The Blackhawks ran circles around the Panthers and launched 29 shots on goal in the second and third on Tuesday night. They just didn’t get the bounces and were up against a very talented, very lucky goaltender guarding the twine.
So, that happened. Cough it up, spit it out, and forget about it. Tonight we’re playing one of the hottest, most talented teams in the Tampa Bay Lightning. We’re going to have to put together a 60-minute performance that looks like our 40-minute performance last night.
The LAST 40 minutes.
There’s a back-story with the Chicago Blackhawks and the Florida Panthers, as most of you know. Former Blackhawks player/broadcaster/scout/general manager Dale Tallon was hired to take over the GM post down in Miami. It can be argued that Tallon orchestrated the drafting and roster moves that won Chicago the Stanley Cup, and some people love him for that.
It can also be argued that Tallon accepted the GM position in Chicago despite being completely unqualified, was thrown into the deep end without a life jacket, made the draft picks any idiot could have made given the same circumstances, and got lucky with trades. I think the next five years in the Florida organ-eye-zation will illustrate exactly which of the two is closer to the truth.
What the Blackhawks have done the last 10 games in the Western Conference, the Toronto Maple Leafs have done in the East. With who’s-THIS-fucking-guy goaltender James Reimer between the pipes, the Leafs have surged to a 6-1-3 record over their last ten games. After having been written off for another year by pretty much everyone as recently as the All-Star Break, they are now within 4 points of a playoff spot.
Tonight the Leafs play host to the similarly-resurgent Chicago Blackhawks, setting up a Clash of the Titans in the NHL’s broadcast media Coliseum: an Original-Six matchup on CBC’s Saturday night edition of Hockey Night in Canada. The only thing that would make this more perfect is if it were at Maple Leaf Gardens. But alas, time marches on.
“Hear about the Hurricanes?” Ask this question, even in Raleigh, and the answer usually comes back, “No! Was anybody hurt? Are they coming here? Do I need to board up the house?” Ask 100 random people on the streets of Chicago who Eric Staal is, about 3 will know he’s the Captain of the Hurricanes. I doubt you’ll find more than 2 who can answer that question correctly within a 10 block radius of the RBC Center.
Carolina’s about chitterlings, NASCAR, basketball and good ol’ Southern hospitality. Not exactly hockey country. Easy to explain why, like most teams south of the Mason-Dixon line, the ‘Canes are in the bottom half of the league for nightly attendance, filling only 17 out of every 20 seats on average. Shame, too: because even with a team put together with a $10 million salary cap cushion, they are in 7th place in the Eastern Conference and will likely make the playoffs.
Shhhh… Come closer…
I’m not going to say this too loud. I’m preposterously superstitious, and the jinx factor is as strong as using the word “sh****t” when a goalie is going into the third period with no goals against. So lean in…
The Blackhawks have a winning streak going. Five games and counting.
With all the attention on the NHL trade deadline today (when the Blackhawks picked up defenseman Chris Campoli from the Ottawa Senators for pathetic minor-league flame-out Ryan Potulny and an exchange of draft picks) it was easy to forget that the ‘Hawks have a game tonight. The Men of Four Feathers are in Minnesota to take on the Wild, a team with an identical record but by virtue of the screwy tie-breaking system sit just ahead of them in the Western Conference standings.
This is a must-win game, the fourth in a stretch of 22 must-win games for the Blackhawks. But we’ll add another requirement to the Blackhawks’ job tonight: win in REGULATION.