I’m writing this the morning after and little has changed in the way I feel about this game. Full admission: I tweeted this last night and it actually happened. Upon waking up this morning I found out they the Hawks had failed to get the extra point and had to watch the skills competition on my DVR. That basically encapsulates my feeling about shootouts. That a game like this, while only two goals were scored, was decided by this method is meaningless in deciding who was the better team tonight.
The outcomes of this game after regulation could not have been more different from a Chicago perspective.
In 60 minutes, the Blackhawks scored five goals against the Boston Bruins vaunted defence. Only one of which came at an advantage (with Handzus’ at a disadvantage). They controlled possession for roughly 65% of the regulation time. They even scored a powerplay goal to give a shot in the arm to a unit that couldn’t find the opposing blue line to save its life. At the end of that regulation, the game was tied.
If Chicago loses this game, a three game uphill climb required sherpas that not even the deep pockets of Wirtz Beverage Co. can afford.
Instead, we’re looking at a best of three series with the Blackhawks holding home ice advantage. There’s a lot to look at here, but let’s just soak in some highlights and glances because we’ve got two days to prepare for a tilt at the UC that is going to put one team a victory from hoisting the chalice.
Tonight was all set up to be a write-off for the Hawks: even perennial “Glass-Half-Full” types like myself were prepared to accept a Keith-Less Chicago getting beat by the Kings and their formidable Home record. We were saying things like “Holding Serve at Home will win this series”.. which is making Tennis analogies in Hockey and clearly all wrong. But I think it’s safe to say that we were planning on resuming hostilities at the UC with the series tied.
Not the case, as it happened.
The Hawks played out of their skins from Puck Drop. There were few battles uncontested and the men in white were everywhere, hassling and harrying. There was also the confidence to keep the passing short and smart. Mainly, the game got played at a pace that the LAK Defense simply cannot live with. Kane’s goal is a prime example of this. Yeah, sure he just tapped a Bickell redirect of a long shot from Hjammer over the line.. but he had also (along with Toews) been part of a sequence of play leading up to it that had left the Kings reeling. That sort of White-Hot Offense from Chicago will beat anyone. The goal felt inevitable.
Make no mistake, this was an excellent performance from the Hawks, missing one of their biggest pieces. We are headed back to Chicago with a chance to do as the Hawks did unto the Wild.. which is to say Win in 5.
The sun is up here in London, it’s pissing it down with rain and I’m foregoing sleep entirely tonight, as I have to go to work in two hours. Therefore, let’s get the bullets going.. but before we do, the 3 Stars tonight (according to NHL.com) were, apparently, Hossa, Kane and Penner. Which is all kinds of horseshit.
Nothing like quoting The Beatles to get a very important point across: Forget this one, and move onto Thursday.
Go ahead and say you expected the Blackhawks to sweep, even after winning the first two at the United Center. Go ahead. You’re a fucking liar, and that’s it. The Kings have played a completely different game at home over the last two months, and there was all but a ball hair’s chance the ‘Hawks would take both at Staples Center.
Not much surprised me in Tuesday’s 3-1, Game 3 loss in L.A. The Kings had an extra bounce in their step, they were more aggressive with the forecheck than they were through the first two games and coach Daryl Sutter used the last change on home ice to pit his top lines against the Blackhawks’ bottom defensive pairing when he could.
Damn near every ‘Hawk and then Q stated that they simply didn’t match everything they had prepared for and expected to see from the Kings. That’s on them, and they know it. Yet still, L.A. played probably the best game we’ll see and the Blackhawks were threatening to tie – and probably should have tied – the game late. Not only that, but the winning goal turned out to be a fluke off of Slava Voynov’s broken stick.
Shit happens, man. Bounces go a certain way, and they’re not always favorable. And given the way the Kings have dominated during their now 15-game winning streak at home – they came into tonight with a 38-18 scoring edge during that run – we should be pretty content that it took a couple of bad breaks for the ‘Hawks to wind up on the losing end.
The Blackhawks should be just fine, so relax.
A couple other things before Boxing…
♦ I’m currently working a night shift, so I heard a caller on Les Grobstein’s overnight show on 670 The Score on my way home talking about how Patrick Kane has been awful and he needs to be more physical and yada yada yada he finally hung up. Here’s the thing every Blackhawks fan needs to get through their fucking heads: Kane is not ever, ever, going to be a physical player. That’s not what he’s here to do. He’s a finesse player with open-ice stick-handling skills that are other-worldly, making the Blackhawks more dangerous when they can create space for him to operate.
Q said after the game the ‘Hawks didn’t get him the puck enough, mainly due to the Kings’ pressure that prevented them from cleanly breaking out of the zone and forced many passes to miss sticks. Kane was essentially taken out of the game, and that’s a credit to the Kings. Also, the ‘Hawks winning 10 fewer faceoffs didn’t exactly help matters for puck possession.
Stop worrying about Kane. Worry about how the ‘Hawks will adjust to get him the puck more.
♦ Duncan Keith apologizing to Jeff Carter was pretty classy, if you ask me. He clearly got caught up in the moment and didn’t mean to hit Carter up high. And to do that after Carter purposely tried to slash his bare hand while picking up his glove took even more character, because had it been me I probably would have meant to hit Carter in the face for being a jagoff.
♦ As Nakis pointed out on Twitter, Brandon Saad cannot be losing that puck at the blue line late like he did. Get the puck deep, kid.
♦ Jonathan Quick was the only reason the ‘Hawks didn’t tie that game. He stopped Bryan Bickell on the doorstep multiple times over the final minutes, including the desperation arm save. The Blackhawks had their chances and, like what happens to many opponents at Staples Center, Quick snuffed them out.
♦ Corey Crawford was damn near just as good. That stop on the bouncing redirect was sick.
The rest is in Boxing. Hopefully by the time you’re reading this you’ve taken a step back and realized that if the Blackhawks play this same game Thursday and the Kings come out with any less jump than tonight, the ‘Hawks likely will head home up 3-1.
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The reigning Conn Smythe winner allowed more than three goals for the first time in 35 playoff games as the Blackhawks took an early lead and never let go in a 4-2 victory Sunday in Game 2 at the United Center.
Andrew Shaw, Brent Seabrook, Bryan Bickell and Michal Handzus scored goals for Chicago, which now heads West with a 2-0 edge. And even though I was confident heading into this series, I didn’t see the ‘Hawks taking both at home – mainly because of how well Quick had been playing.
The things is, Corey Crawford is beginning to steal the show.
It’s not to say Quick didn’t deserve all the hype, by any means. He put the low-scoring Kings on his back last season and guided them to the Stanley Cup. Despite the team’s 1-6 road record in this postseason entering Sunday, Quick had held the opposition to two goals in each defeat. Twelve of L.A.’s previous 14 playoff games had been decided by one goal. You can’t ask much more from a goaltender to keep you in a game.
Finally, he didn’t have it. And since the offense rarely has it, the Kings are pretty much fucked when Quick doesn’t have it. The Blackhawks got to him early and kept adding insurance, finally leading to Quick’s departure.
Meanwhile, Crawford continues to shove solid performances up the asses of his doubters. The only goal he allowed in Game 1 was basically an own goal caused by the idiocy of Dave Bolland, and the second goal in Game 2 came on the first power play the Blackhawks failed to kill in 27 short-handed situations at home. The Jeff Carter snipe? Hey, it was a nice shot.
Crow has a 1.68 goals-against average this postseason, giving up one or zero goals eight times in 14 games. He even came to the aid of his captain when Jonathan Toews got caught up in some some shoving Sunday. If his doubters aren’t convinced yet, then I’m not sure what it’s going to take short of killing Ray Emery.
Does that mean he’s going to outplay Quick for the rest of this series? We’ll see. Crawford got to face a Los Angeles offense without Mike Richards on Sunday due to Bolland’s hit in Game 1, and the Kings are 7-0 at home in the playoffs while outscoring opponents 18-8. They’ve been down 0-2 before, in the first round against St. Louis, and came back. And if you’re expecting Quick to get pulled again, it’s probably more likely you’ll see Dwight King make the world happy by playing with a paper bag over his ugly fucking face. This series definitely isn’t over.
The Blackhawks surely won’t be mistaken for the Blues, though, mainly because they’re not all eating dog shit burritos garnished with Ryan Reeves’ pubes as Ken Hitchcock blocks the sun with his elephant ass while the team plays a round of Catch Jackman’s Farts With Your Taste Buds. While the defending Cup champs won’t roll over, the Blackhawks also aren’t going to let Staples Center intimidate them.
There’s plenty more I can write about this game – Brandon Saad playing like a fucking beast, Bolland playing like a bag of shit (again) and Patrick Sharp adding two more assists to his already solid playoff numbers – but I’m going to let Boxing do the rest.
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I fully admit to being slightly pessimistic coming into game one. I told anyone who asked me I thought the Kings would probably take a game in Chicago. The Hawks were coming off a highly emotional series against their departing arch-rivals, the Kings played just the kind of game that gives the Blackhawks fits, their goalie was a freak, the Rolling Stones were fucking up the ice…….the list went on this way.
After watching the game this afternoon, I’m thinking that pessimism was pretty much completely unjustified. For starters, the Kings are coming off a long series, too. The sneering, Anaheim Ducks-like assault we expected never materialized and the Hawks came out flying, playing a more physical brand of hockey than we’ve seen from them all year. Sure, Jonathan Quick was fantastic, but he wasn’t unbeatable. The Hawks were indefatigable in their efforts to get pucks at Quick and didn’t allow themselves to be frustrated by his early mastery. Hell, the ice didn’t even factor in today. In short, despite facing a phenomenal goaltender and surrendering a fluky goal to the Kings early – things really couldn’t have gone all that much better today for the home team.
You should all feel good about what you saw. The Blackhawks controlled the play with very few exceptions and moved the puck efficiently in all three zones. The power play actually produced chances and Corey Crawford made all the saves his team needed him to make. The Hawks withstood the late Kings push and killed the last two minutes by playing keep away on a power play.