2013 Playoffs

Toews scores in the season opener. (Credit: Wally Skalij, Los Angeles Times)

Something’s Gotta Give: Blackhawks Look to End Kings’ Dominance at Staples Center

Toews scores in the season opener. (Credit: Wally Skalij, Los Angeles Times)

Toews scores in the season opener. (Credit: Wally Skalij, Los Angeles Times)

To really capture how well the Los Angeles Kings have played at home lately, let’s go over some of the things that have happened since their last loss at Staples Center.

♦   The Columbus Blue Jackets – yes, those Columbus Blue Jackets – were competing for a playoff spot in the final week of the season.

♦   The St. Louis Blues still were considered a contender for the Stanley Cuhahahahaha sorry about that one.

♦   Not only did baseball season start, but every Major League team has played at least 54 games. The Cubs have even found a way to win 23 times. 23!

♦   April and May passed. Both months. All gone.

♦   Nakis got engaged. Really, he did. Congratulate him.

The Kings haven’t lost on home ice since falling 1-0 to Vancouver on March 23. They’ve won 14 straight at Staples Center, including going 7-0 in these playoffs. Jonathan Quick in that stretch? 13-0-0, 1.37 goals-against average, .946 save percentage.

If you’re wondering how the hell a team that’s 1-7 on the road in the playoffs can be preparing for Game 3 of the Western Conference finals, there’s your answer. Los Angeles has been so dominant at home that their only road win – Game 5 in St. Louis, of course – has been enough to get them this far.

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Off to LA LA Land with 2 In Hand: Game 2 Boxing with Blackhawks (4) and Kings (2)

Jonathan Toews thanks Corey Crawford for backing him up in a scuffle in the third period.

So, Jonathan Quick is human after all.

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.

Right-click the image, then click ‘view’ to enlarge…

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Check out this dude. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune)

Here’s Lookin’ at You: Blackhawks beat Kings 2-1, Take Game 1 of West Final

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.

1-0 good guys.

To the good stuff:

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To Catch A King.. CHI-LAK Series Preview with a Special Guest

To be perfectly honest, I’ve not seen much of the Kings this year, other than their visits to the UC: There’s an 8-hour time difference between here and California, so I tend to reserve my 3am game starts for Vancouver. Fortunately I know someone who has had ample opportunity to get a very good look at the reigning Champs, both as a Divisional Rival and during their 7-Game WCSF. So, without further ado, I’d like to present ElvisVF101 from the excellent Fear The Fin, the SBN blog of the San Jose Sharks. He was not only kind enough to answer my dumb questions, he’s also provided a wonderful preamble. The following is all his, italicised questions are mine. Enjoy


So you’re playing the LA Kings in a playoff series. I’m sorry for you on a multitude of levels. First off, prepare for massive massive frustration. The Kings are a darned good hockey team and you’re bound to lose a few games. This time of year, every loss feels like the apocalypse. Second, you’ll have to deal with Kings “fans.” I put “fans” in quotation marks because being a fan of the LA Kings means something a good deal different than being a fan of other teams. Fans of other teams are passionate about their teams and stick with them through thick and thin. They suffer through thick and thin with their team. If you’re a fan of any team in the “Greater” LA Area (and I put Greater in quotations because, believe me, there’s nothing Great anywhere in LA), your team’s success is like the latest fashion. You wear it while it’s hot, and then toss it aside when it no longer serves your purpose of looking cooler than anyone else in your own head. That makes them completely unlike Bay Area sports fans. Trust us. It’s totally true because we say it all the time, so it must be true. Third, you’ll have to endure aerial shots of LA. And LA is a dump. It’s a city of 9 million people in the middle of a desert basin with no water and it was where all the outlaws went during the Gold Rush. And it doesn’t look like anything’s gotten better since then. But LA’s, like, a major media market or something. It’s such an important media market that America’s largest and most profitable league has no team in the market and still does just fine.

But enough about the City of Angels. Not just the crappy movie, but the crappy town too. Let’s talk about their hockey team, the reigning Stanley Cup Champions. You have questions. And, unlike Sharks’ fans, when posed with the question “So when’s your team going to win something?”, we have answers:

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Of Course it Would Go 7. Of Course.

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As it is, with it being possible, this marks only the seventh time in the last 42 years anyone has been able to witness a Chicago-Detroit playoff series. Just the rarity of this occurrence makes it special, in turn making these four, five, six or (gulp) seven games all the more historic. I’ve come to realize that I don’t only respect Detroit for its success as an organization, but also for what its existence has done for the game and how it brings out the passion in Blackhawks and Red Wings fans because of wars waged on the ice over the years.

I wrote that prior to Game 1, when I pointed out the reasons I would enjoy this series so much. And it all still stands. The final playoff series as Western Conference foes between the Blackhawks and Red Wings continues adding significance to this historic rivalry that is being taken away from us due to realignment.

You can look at it a couple of ways. Either the Wings are making you realize you’re not going to miss them due to the difficult times they’ve brought upon you as a fan – be it 2009 or this exhilarating yet frustrating series – or you’re getting more disappointed at the thought that Detroit is heading to the East and won’t be able to regularly deliver these types of games and series versus the Blackhawks that are more than entertaining. You’re either happy to see this rivalry be toned down, or you’re becoming more and more upset these teams are being separated.

I, for one, am feeling the latter.

No matter, it’s all going away after Wednesday. These teams would have to meet in a Stanley Cup Final that few would be able to survive physically in order to bring out this kind of excitement from the rivalry. It’s sad to think about, and even more depressing to consider how a loss tomorrow would not only be a gut punch, but it would also feel something like this.

And for that, I’m nervous. I’m nervous that I’m going to be sitting in Section 326, Row 12, Seat 9, resting my head in my palms as the United Center empties for the final time this season and Jonathan Toews leads a handshake line while dejected rather than elated. I’m not being negative, I’m being realistic. It’s not as if Detroit hasn’t won on the road in this series.

But with that also brings a level of excitement that only a Game 7 in a series between bitter rivals can manufacture. The Anthem rendition will probably make for the loudest couple of minutes I’ve heard the UC in quite some time, maybe ever. I can imagine my face hurting from smiling so much and my voice trying to send out one last cheer before it fades away along with the Red Wings’ season. I see the Blackhawks at center ice, saluting the crowd before heading off to the locker room as Western Conference finalists while the horn blares in the background.

These feelings, both positive and negative, are ones that can be guaranteed only with a deciding game with the magnitude of this one. Blackhawks-Red Wings, Original Six, conference foes, one last time. It almost makes you feel like tomorrow actually is Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, not that one of these teams still will need to win eight more to claim the chalice.

Of course this series would go to a Game 7. Of course it would. It’s like fate. Like the hockey gods are giving fans of both teams the ultimate send-off. Soak in the moment, because it won’t happen again.

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And It All Comes Down… To This: Game 6 Boxing with Blackhawks (4) and Red Wings (3)

"I learned this face from my pit bull that will one day rip my throat out in my sleep." (Credit: Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune)

“I learned this face from my pit bull that will one day rip my throat out in my sleep.” (Credit: Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune)

Exercise your sphincters, everyone. Game 7 is Wednesday.

I’ll admit, I wasn’t extremely confident we’d see it. OK, so maybe I was a bit of a Chicken Little. But don’t tell me I didn’t have reason to be. I did, and I’m pretty over the moon about being proven wrong.

After a Game 5 skull thumping, the Blackhawks took the lead, let it go through a dynamic Red Wings surge, then regained it for good with three unanswered goals in the third period to send us back to the United Center with a 4-3 victory in Game 6 at The Joe.

The United Center is going to be rockin’ on Wednesday, and I’ll be in attendance for the final game between the Blackhawks and Red Wings as conference foes for the right to play in the West finals.

Some stuff before Boxing…

   So we’ve been talking about how the Blackhawks have dominated the 5-on-5 play with the Corsi numbers pretty one-sided in the ‘Hawks favor throughout the series. Well, these numbers aren’t exactly fantastic, especially those of Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya, who made up the team’s worst pairing of the night. Still, the Blackhawks came away with the win. Interesting twist.

♦   Corey Crawford made 35 saves and ended up having a pretty fantastic game. However, the goal from Patrick Eaves can’t happen. He saw the shot off Drew Miller’s stick cleanly, yet he left a juicy rebound Eaves pounced on. Michal Rozsival holds some responsibility, too, for not tying him up. The second goal? I’m not going to deny the puck being on edge created a knuckling effect, but… c’mon guy. Crow’s gotta have that.

♦   Hello, Brent Seabrook. Nice to see you again.

♦   Marian Hossa’s power-play tally marked his fifth goal in 11 playoff games in 2013. That matches the amount he had in his first three postseasons with the Blackhawks, which totaled 32 contests.

♦   Bryan Bickell is making damn sure someone overpays to sign him this offseason.

♦   I think Jonathan Toews is back in the groove, sans his penalty. I’m saying it now – Toews scores the first goal Wednesday. I just feel it. I have no reasoning for it, except that he’s a fucking machine and will be out to gather heads in Game 7.

♦   That third-period surge was… wow. First Michal Handzus makes Brendan Smith pay for overplaying on Hjalmarsson, who found Handzus wide open in front of the net to beat Jimmy Howard far side. Then Bickell pots the lead goal before Michael Frolik became the first player to score on a penalty shot in the playoffs since… Michael Frolik, in 2011 vs. Vancouver.

♦   Not going to deny Red Wings fans can put that penalty shot call on the list of questionable ref decisions along with the non-call on Hjammer’s hit on Johan Franzen in Game 3. The referring has been pretty suspect throughout the series, but don’t forget the goal-that-wasn’t when Andrew Shaw “tied” Game 3. Shitty calls have been pretty evenly spread.

Next up: Game 7. But Boxing first. Right-click the image, then click ‘view’ to enlarge…

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Yes, Toews. You guys really are down 3-1. (Brian Cassella, Chicago Tribune)

The Fat Lady is Warming Up: Blackhawks Fall 2-0 in Game 4, On Brink of Elimination

 

Yes, Toews. You guys really are down 3-1. (Brian Cassella, Chicago Tribune)

Yes, Toews. You guys really are down 3-1. (Brian Cassella, Chicago Tribune)

Editors Note: Sorry for no Boxing for this one. The site I pull the box scores from was down. Hopefully there’s a game Monday, and I’ll be able to have Boxing for that one.

Here’s a quick rundown of some regular-season occurrences that have proven to mean nothing during this series.

♦   The Blackhawks didn’t lose to the Red Wings in four meetings.

♦   The ‘Hawks weren’t held to just one goal in back-to-back games all season.

♦   The Blackhawks weren’t shut out in any of the 48 games.

♦   The ‘Hawks won the President’s Trophy. Detroit needed to win its final four regular-season games just to make the playoffs as a No. 7 seed.

And here are two that need to matter now:

♦   The Blackhawks won at least three straight games five times this season.

♦   Detroit lost at least three in a row three times.

We begged, we pleaded, we hoped for the classic Chicago-Detroit playoff meeting before the Wings dart off to the Eastern Conference next season. Not just because of nostalgia, but because the Blackhawks were far and away the better team in terms of talent and overall depth.

Then, we told you to calm down after the Game 3 loss. And then we told you not to fret, because the Blackhawks are a great hockey team.

Now?

Well, we may want to hold off a bit on those “DE-TROIT SUCKS!” chants during Game 5 at the United Center on Saturday.

The Blackhawks turned the rest of this series into Game 7 with an are-you-fucking-kidding-me 2-0 loss at The Joe in Game 4, pissing away a solid first period and allowing a Jakub Kindl goal after one of three Jonathan Toews penalties in the second to fall behind 3-1 in the series.

Many predicted this to be a five-game series, and many of us still may be correct, unfortunately. This deficit would be disappointing no matter what, but the fact that the Blackhawks are forced to win three straight against their bitter rivals before they head to the East with no chance for redemption makes it that much worse.

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Take A Knee

OK, everyone. Listen up.

I know you’re just waiting to get home so you can crack that first beer, put on your lucky sweater or whatever other things you do to make you feel comfortable and help you settle in to watch a playoff hockey game. Angst is so high that you’re developing a rash that makes it look like you’ve spent the night in a St. Louis hotel room that looked like a Warhol painting when you projected a black light on it. You’re nervous. That’s normal, and I get it. You’re supposed to be. The team you root for is down in a series to its longest known rival and you’re facing what is a must-win 4th game on the opponent’s home ice. Who wouldn’t be nervous about that?

It’s a good thing you root for the hockey team that has shown over a large enough sample size that it is better than the one dressing in the home red sweaters tonight.

Here’s what we know. The Chicago Blackhawks won the Presidents’ Trophy. That means they collected more points, and even furthermore, won more games than any other team over the truncated 48 game season this year. That same team easily dispatched the Minnesota Wild in five games to advance to where they are now. What I think we’re all losing a touch of perspective on is exactly where that is. Let’s see how we got to here.

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Woah, They’re Halfway There: Game 3 Boxing with Red Wings (3) and Blackhawks (1)

Nope. (Credit: Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune)

Nope. (Credit: Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune)

Anyone expect this? Even the most unreasonable of Red Wings fans would be lying if they said they did.

Yet, here the Blackhawks are, trailing 2-1 in a series with their bitter rival and forced to win three of the next four games just to survive a series that seemed to be a mismatch. The joke’s on us, so far.

I’ve been known to be a bit of a Chicken Little, and I readily admit I think I actually enjoy it just so if I’m wrong it feels even better. I sense doom and I speak loudly about it immediately. It takes me some time to take a step back, be rational and think things through. I’ve done that, I think, and have realized the ‘Hawks didn’t play a terrible game in Monday’s 3-1 Game 3 loss at Joe Louis Arena.

Jimmy Howard made 39 saves, but he was beaten a total of four times. Unfortunately, three of those hit the post or crossbar. They sustained an attack in the Red Wings’ zone on multiple occasions. Patrick Sharp had plenty of good looks, he just shot them all into Howard’s chest. And, after giving up two goals 31 seconds apart in the second period, they actually came back to tie the game. And in another unfortunate incident, the zebra blew the call and disallowed the second goal because of Andrew Shaw committing phantom interference (more on that later).

Now, am I worried? I think if any ‘Hawks fans says they’re not it would be at least a 75 percent lie. The ‘Hawks are down 2-1 to an inferior team (sorry, Detroit fans, but you know it just as well as us Blackhawks fans do) and face as close to a must-win as possible in Game 4 on Thursday. Concern at this point is reasonable.

Panic? Let’s not go there yet. That would set in with a loss Thursday. However, I wouldn’t necessarily blame anyone for being uptight right now, partly for these reasons:

♦   As I posted on Twitter, if Shaw hadn’t been acting like a reckless, irresponsible asshole throughout this whole series, the tying goal would have stood and the ref wouldn’t have waived it off. I’m fully convinced that Shaw’s out-of-control antics to that point combined with how close he was to Howard had the ref calling a close play against Shaw rather than looking at it with an open mind. I mean, did you see how quickly the ref waived that off?! That was a call against Shaw, plain and simple. It was assumed Shaw fucked with Howard because he’s been skating around the ice at 10,000 mph trying to decapitate people. He has 18 penalty minutes through the first three games and has officially gone from annoying guy you want on your team to a detriment. Q needs to put at stop to this shit, and fast. It’s the fucking playoffs. Get some control.

♦   Brent Seabrook is playing some bad hockey. It’s been noted that his passing skills have taken a nose dive, but his overall decision-making is suspect and he’s skating like he’s wearing slippers. How does he not keep Nyquist to the outside on that goal? That can’t happen.

♦   Jonathan Toews has three assists in his last nine playoff games. Aside from that, he’s 18 for 41 on faceoffs over the last two games. The Captain did play an overall solid Game 3 and had his chances, but he’s got to put one in, if only for his own sanity. This has to be driving him nuts.

♦   0 for 4 on the power play Monday. 3 for 22 for the playoffs. Luckily, the kill is a perfect 29 for 29.

The rest is in Boxing. Right-click the image, then click ‘view’ to enlarge…

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“Series On” : Blackhawks-Red Wings Game Two Recap

So it turns out the reports of Detroit’s demise in this series were grossly exaggerated. Many Blackhawks fans were understandably eager to bury Detroit after Game One, unfortunately it just doesn’t work that way in the playoffs. The advanced stats pretty much confirmed the eye test – the Hawks were terrible while the Red Wings were fantastic.

You, the fan, have every right to be annoyed with the Blackhawks lack of urgency this afternoon, but give the Red Wings the (significant) credit they deserve, too. They silenced the United Center (quiet as I’ve ever heard it) by slowing down the Hawks in the neutral zone using THE LOCK and seemed to get in the way of just about every shot the Hawks attempted. Unlike Game One, nobody in a red sweater had room to maneuver and Jimmy Howard never had to bail out the guys in front of him. The Wings played the perfect road game and will go back to Detroit with home ice advantage and the belief that they can play with the Blackhawks.

Mike Babcock said it best after the game: “Series On.” It sure is.

Let’s get to the nitty gritty bullets asterisks:

* Andrew Shaw was atrocious. I counted three plays where he had possession but failed to get the puck into the Detroit zone. One Shaw giveaway led to a shorthanded breakaway for the Wings.

* Jonathan Toews complained about the officiating after the game. He had reason to be pissed off about the non-call on Henrik Zetterberg for mauling him while he was down, but somehow I don’t think anyone is buying the ‘poor officiating cost us’ angle tonight. Plus, everybody knows the Blackhawks power play is horrendous anyway.

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