The levels of fandom lead to emotions such as these, especially in this city.
Cubs fans can take losses knowing nothing is expected of them for years to come. White Sox fans know they’re stuck with an average big league club and a depleted farm system, and any signs of positivity they get are just a bonus.
When the Bulls bow out in the first round of the playoffs, their fans can shrug it off in what-could’ve-been fashion knowing their best player was lost to injury – again.
Bears fans? Blame Jay Cutler, root for the backup, watch a promising start “fade to black,” schedule your fantasy draft, rinse, repeat.
Tapping into Blackhawks fandom doesn’t afford you the luxury of burying yourself in any of those aforementioned situations anymore, though. The regular-season losses are analyzed down to the 18th skater more often than accepted as ho-hum. Playoff defeats are heartbreaking to the point of downright tragedy.
All of that comes with expectations, which the Blackhawks meteorically have risen since their surprising run to the Western Conference Final in 2008-09 and subsequent two Stanley Cup titles. There’s no more acceptance of losing a playoff series without a mandatory period of depression – no matter how long or short. Even those singing the praises of an exciting season and thrilling run to a fourth conference final in six years aren’t going to seek out a highlight of Sunday’s final goal. It hurts too much.
Couldn’t say it any better than Notorious BIG.
Game 5 was, without a doubt, the most nerve-wracking hockey I’ve watched since overtime of Game 7 against Detroit last year. And that’s probably only fitting given that the Blackhawks need to overcome the exact same deficit they faced in that series.
From up two goals (twice), to farting away the lead, to an absolutely intense first OT to the winner by Michal Handzus, it brought out every emotion humans are capable of showing. I can’t imagine that Game 6 will be any different.
Rather than writing about the Blackhawks’ playoff demise, we’re able to get to some analysis ahead of the return to the Staples Center on Friday. Here’s what I’ve got…
When the fan base was weighing in on the better matchup for the Blackhawks in the Western Conference Final, it seemed the majority chose the Kings over the Anaheim Ducks.
The third period of Game 2 showed why a series with the Kings wasn’t something I wanted to go through.
After the ‘Hawks controlled the majority of the first two periods, Los Angeles took advantage of a couple of early power plays in the third on its way to a five-goal period to even the series heading to Hollywood for Game 3 on Saturday.
The Blackhawks capitalized on a pair of timely changes, as Nick Leddy took an outlet pass and put a nifty backhand past Jonathan Quick before Ben Smith scored merely seconds after he got on the ice to give the ‘Hawks a 2-0 lead into the final two minutes of the second. Brent Seabrook had a prime chance to put them up three, but Quick’s sliding save across the crease kept L.A. within a pair.
Justin Williams had a puck go off his sake and trickle past Corey Crawford near the end of the second, and from there it was all Kings.
The Kings’ explosion shouldn’t really surprise anyone. This a team that stormed back from 0-3 down to San Jose to win the series and 2-3 against the Ducks before dominating Game 7 on the road. As much as we commend the Blackhawks for never being out of a game, series, whatever, L.A. has the same pedigree – and maybe even more dangerous when backed into a corner.
The last three games of this series have helped produce enough stomach acid to make Tums become a midday snack. The first 10 minutes provided some worry before it was Jonathan Toews to the rescue with a third-period goal that would stand up for a 2-1 victory in Game 5 as the ‘Hawks held serve at the United Center.
The penalty 31 seconds in, combined with the bad bounce that slipped past Corey Crawford and the pair of posts the Wild hit in the first period made for an uncomfortable beginning to a game the Blackhawks needed before heading back to Minnesota. They gradually began dominating the possession into the second period and final got the final nail on a play that Patrick Sharp made the smart move to fire the puck at the net for a waiting Toews.
I’m sure most of us predicted when the series began that we’d be seeing some handshakes tonight, but at least the ‘Hawks were able to rebound from a pair of stinkers up north to apply the right amount of gas to get them through an important game in the latter part of a series. They have a tendency to do such things.
I’ve very tired, so just a couple of things….
* Despite years of wondering what kind of lineup Q will ice from shift to shift, I still was bewildered at what I saw in Game 3 and 4 and the matter of putting Kris Versteeg on the top line to start Game 5. What’s even more mind boggling is that when Q puts together the combinations that seem to be the most logic, the ‘Hawks produce. Yet, Q continues to roll questionable lines when it seems completely unjustified.
For instance, is it any surprise the Blackhawks’ game picked up when he put Toews, Sharp and Marian Hossa together tonight? The Red Wedding line that produced so well during the regular season? Is it any wonder that when you put Bryan Bickell in the right spots with the right people that his game goes up a notch? Or when Peter Regin is dressed like everyone had been clamoring for and he puts in solid work on the bottom six despite not having played since April 12?
These are things I’ll never understand about Q and his propensity to change lineups for the sake of change and nothing else. Instead, we had to suffer through Game 3 and 4 and part of tonight wondering when the hell he’s going to stop trying to out-think himself.
* Crawford didn’t have his best in Game 4, but as has been the case for years, he puts his balls on the ice when the tough really gets going. He had a near-perfect performance in Game 5 and helped the ‘Hawks weather the storm when the Wild were pushing hard for the tie.
* Woof, did Duncan Keith have a couple of bad turnovers or what? At least twice I remember him hitting the meet of a Wild stick on a pass attempt he had no business making.
Recapping the first 40 minutes of this game seems like a great way to get you to click on the ads (do we have ads?). The last 20 minutes were where all the action took place and none of it was beneficial to the Chicago Blackhawks. I wrote down some bullets before I slept on this last night and after reading them this morning I don’t feel too different. Let’s get to them.
Apologies for the (very) delayed recap, but sometimes Friday nights turn into Saturday mornings very quickly. I’ll be pretty brief, as I’m sure you’ve read mostly everything you need to know. Just a couple of highlights.
* Patrick Kane’s disgusting backhand flip of a game-winner has deservedly been played all over since it happened, along with his yelling of “Showtime!” celebration. The guy just seems to be in the right spot at important moments, and even when he’s not in the right spot, he gets himself there by improvising as he did on the backhand goal. He and Marian Hossa also showed that good things happen when you have your stick on the ice, as they accepted feeds from Ben Smith and Brandon Saad, respectively, to pot goals in open nets.
* Corey Crawford was again spectacular, snuffing out numerous Wild opportunities in the first and second periods before being the victim of a couple bad bounces and overall shitty play from….
* Brandon Bollig. Another awful night. On the second goal, he turned the puck over at the center line leading to a Wild possession. Bollig then got beat badly to the net by Brodziak, who had a clear shot past Crawford. I hope Bollig stubs his toe so badly that he cannot play another game for the rest of the playoffs.
That’s it for now, he’s Boxing. I’ll be back with another edition after Game 2. GO ‘HAWKS!….
All right, full disclosure: After Game 2, I had a meltdown. Nakis and myself were cursing the world and couldn’t see the Blackhawks winning this series. I calmed myself a bit and rested my DOOM to look forward to Game 3.
Then Game 4 happened. Win.
After Jonathan Toews scored in OT of Game 5, I had made a complete 180 and went from completely despondent to a no-way-the-’Hawks-lose mentality. I should have known, should have looked back to last year’s Red Wings series and even the 1-2 hole in the Cup Final against Boston. I should have taken stock in the Blues blowing that 2-0 lead to the Kings. I didn’t, and I’m so happy that the Blackhawks proved Nakis and myself wrong. Every bit of it is glorious.
What makes it even better? The fact that the Blues have basically become the Cubs of the NHL. I don’t feel sorry for them in the least bit. And even though I thought they were better than last year, they never cease to amaze with their ability to completely fold. After Patrick Sharp’s goal to make it 3-1 on Sunday, I sat in my seat at the United Center and felt a breeze from the Blues bench all the way up in the 300 level from the wind being blown out of St. Louis’ sails. The Blues weren’t able to crush the ‘Hawks spirit like they’d hoped, and now the Blackhawks are moving on to Round 2, while the Blues are heading back to Meth Country.
Let’s talk about a couple of things…
* I’m going to start with Corey Crawford first, because he’s fucking deserves it. As the ‘Hawks continued with their conga line to the penalty box in the second period, Crawford continued to turn away the Blues and wound up helping the Blackhawks kill 10 minutes of shorthanded time. It was the type of performance Crawford deserves much, much more credit for than he’ll ever get in this town, and it’s a goddamn shame. Not only should he have won a Conn Smythe for his balls-to-the-wall effort in leading the ‘Hawks to last year’s Cup, he played pretty outstanding in five of the six games of this series. And this is from a guy who already got his new paper, with his contract extension yet to even kick in. He deserves more patting on the ass, not this kind of shit I see on Facebook immediately following another stellar effort:
* Coach Q said Duncan Keith may have played his best game since Q started coaching in Chicago. It’s pretty difficult to argue with that assessment. Keith was the one who saved a clearing attempt on Toews’ goal, and his shot may have gone in even if Andrew Shaw didn’t deflect it. Then, he got one of his own. No, you shouldn’t win a Norris Trophy for your offense, but Keith had two goals and five assists in the series and played out of his mind in the defensive zone as well. And remember, he played with Sheldon Brookbank for three games while Brent Seabrook was suspended, even though some didn’t think Keith could survive without his buddy.
* When Toews decides it’s time for him to take over, the opponent is generally fucked. Three goals and four assists in the series, OT goal in Game 5, game-winning goal in the Game 6 clincher. The Captain had three goals in the entire playoffs last season and totaled just three assists in the first nine games – and the ‘Hawks still won the Cup.
* Barret Jackman showers in Ryan Reaves’ pee stream.
* I went to St. Louis one time and walked into a tavern. I noticed everyone was slurping a variety of liquids off the bar. A man and woman sitting at a table nearby had their waitress come over and pour a bucket of beer down in front of them, and they proceeded to put mouth to table and drink it up without batting an eye. Though I felt this was all very strange, I sat down and ordered a Bacardi and diet. The bartender came over, poured a can of diet coke and some Bacardi simultaneously on the bar in front of me, stirred it around with a straw and then told me the price.
“OK man, I’ve got to ask – why is everyone just slurping their drinks off the bar.”
The bartender replied, “Sorry, we don’t have any cups in St. Louis.”
* Enough jokes. On to Round 2 we go. Here’s Boxing…