2014 Playoffs

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An Ache in Your Soul is Everybody’s Goal

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(Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune)

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.

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(Scott Strazzante/Chicago Tribune)

Going Going, Back Back to Cali Cali: Blackhawks 5, Kings 4 (2OT) – Kings Lead Series 3-2

(Scott Strazzante/Chicago Tribune)

(Scott Strazzante/Chicago Tribune)

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…

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(Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune)

When We Gave it Away For the Sake of a Dream: Kings 6, ‘Hawks 2 – West Final Tied 1-1

(Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune)

(Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune)

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.

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Game Day Illustrated: Kings v. Blackhawks Game 2

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Interregnum Illustrated: Hawks-Wild Game 5

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Boxing Wild Game 5

High Five: Boxing with Blackhawks (2) and Wild (1) – ‘Hawks lead Series 3-2

(Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune)

(Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune)

 

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.

*  Nick Leddy struggled all night, basically looking nervous and apprehensive. His confidence seems shaken, which is what happens when you are a healthy scratch in your hometown for a playoff game. Still, he needs to get his shit together before Game 6.
Hopefully we get a handshake line on Tuesday. Here’s Boxing…

 

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Wild 4 – Blackhawks 0: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Remember Me?

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.

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Blackhawks Game Day Illustrated – Let’s Do It Again!

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Boxing Wild Game 1

Calmer Than You Are, Dude: Game 1 Boxing with Blackhawks (5) and Wild (2)

(Chris Sweda/ Chicago Tribune)

(Chris Sweda/ Chicago Tribune)

 

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!….

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Boxing Blues Game 6

Off You Go: Game 6 Boxing with Blackhawks (5) and Blues (1) – ‘Hawks win Series 4-2

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(Scott Strazzante / Chicago Tribune)

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.

Win.

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:

Crawford Hate*  Crawford’s efforts had plenty to do with the ‘Hawks killing 27 of 29 penalties in the series. And though the PK was nails, the ‘Hawks need to stop parading to the box when Round 2 begins.

*  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.

 Keith

*  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…

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Blackhawks Game Day: All Hail the Blender

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Interregnum Illustrated: Hawks-Blues Game 3

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Boxing Blues Game 3

It’s Kind of a Thing Again: Game 3 Boxing with ‘Hawks (2) and Blues (0) – Blues lead Series 2-1

 

(Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune)

(Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune)

 

In Game 1 and 2, the Blackhawks were outplayed for long stretches, held a one-goal lead in the third period before eventually succumbing to late goals in overtime defeats.

Game 3 had plenty of similarities, but Corey Crawford stood tall in net and led the Blackhawks to a 2-0 victory in one of the better games he’s ever played. His 34-save effort got the ‘Hawks back into the series and gave us all the hope we’ve been looking for after two disheartening losses.

Puck possession and a general presence in the offensive zone were essentially non-existent from about the initial burst in the first period through the final minutes of the third, and the Blues continued to up the pressure and controlled most of the action. These stretches were all too familiar from the first two games in St. Louis, and it seemed the Blues would score that eventual cock-stomping goal we’ve all come to expect.

Crawford played well in Game 1 and admittedly not so well in Game 2, but he was exceptional Monday – and the ‘Hawks needed every last bit of it.

Jonathan Toews was able to slip one past Ryan Miller in the first period, and Crawford made it stand up until Marcus Kruger added an empty netter in the final seconds. It was another up-and-down performance from the ‘Hawks, with plenty of improvement still left in order to even this series Wednesday.

– Sheldon Brookbank played a lot better than I expected and didn’t seem out of place at all filling in for the suspended Brent Seabrook. He made one defensive-zone turnover that had us holding our breath, but other than that he was solid. He even took hit from behind by known piss drinker Maxime Lapierre, who proceeded to act as if he had just been the victim of the world’s greatest injustice. Fuck you, Maxime.

– Remember how so many of us still had confidence because the ‘Hawks played well enough to win the first two games but still lost? That’s exactly how Blues fans feel after Monday, except they are still one game up and have the chance to bury the Blackhawks into a 3-1 hole heading back to St. Louis. Crawford was the difference this time by being basically perfect, but a replica of this Blues performance and one blip of imperfection from Crawford on Wednesday easily could have the ‘Hawks coming up on the losing end.

– Brandon Bollig and Ryan Reaves combined for less than 10 minutes of ice time in Game 3 because they’re both worthless piles of shit who serve absolutely zero purpose yet continued to be dressed.

– Meanwhile, Jeremy Morin sat in the press box – again.

– So, about the power play. St. Louis gave the ‘Hawks four prime chances to provide some breathing room on the scoreboard in the second period, including a brief 5 on 3. The Blackhawks are now 1 for 14 in the series, and it’s starting to become a problem given that the Blues continue to take stupid penalties and the ‘Hawks can’t take advantage. At one point on the 2-man advantage, Patrick Sharp held the puck roughly eight feet from the net for seven straight seconds with nary a shot or pass for absolutely no reason. That type of stagnation, along with trying to generate offense from the point rather than in around the net, isn’t going to get it done.

– Michal Handzus was great on the kill again Monday. He’s still a fart in the wind 5 on 5, and there’s no reason for him to be centering the second line and dragging it down. It’s a tough line to toe when he’s playing so well when the ‘Hawks are shorthanded.

– Toews won 19 of 24 faceoffs. That’s, like, good and stuff.

So the Blackhawks got away with a less-than-stellar effort to get back in the series. Get another one Wednesday – hopefully without giving fans acid reflux – and it will be a best of three. Let’s take this one and move on.

 

Here’s Boxing……..

 

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The Interregnum Illustrated: Hawks-Blues Game 3

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These are the dark times. The Hawks trail St. Louis in the series, 2-0. They lost both games during the final minutes. Seabs is out for three games after trying to end Backes. Bickell somehow escaped sanction after doing his best Dustin Brown impression. If you want a counter-argument to all the Meatball Hawks fans out there always going on about how the Hawks need to be harder, Saturday’s loss is your retort (and you don’t even need shiny stats to make it).

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You Should Have Racing Stripes the Way You Keep Me in Pursuit: Overtime Boxing with Blues (4) and ‘Hawks (3) – Blues Lead Series 2-0

(Chris Sweda/ Chicago Tribune)

(Chris Sweda/ Chicago Tribune)

 

You want narratives? OK, I’ll give you narratives.. They’ll make you feel better. Which is good, because these are things you’re going to be hearing from the time you read this Sunday through faceoff of Game 3.

The Blackhawks were down 0-3 to Vancouver in 2011 and pushed the series all the way to overtime of Game 7. The ‘Hawks were down 1-3 to Detroit last season and came back and won the series on the way to winning the Stanley Cup. The Blues were up 2-0 on the Kings last season before coughing up the next four games.

Chicago has been down in a series and won, and St. Louis has been up in a series and lost. Hey! Look at that!

Want to be realistic? Probably not, but I’ll take the unpopular side and be realistic.

None of that shit matters a single bit. Not even one little word of it matters. Different teams, different years, different odds for everything. Different personnel, different opponent. If you want to get caught up in a feel-good narrative, you go right ahead and do that. I’m not going to be the one putting an arm around your shoulders to tell you, “History sides with us! We’re going to win for sure!” I have too much pride and logical thought to do that.

Now, that doesn’t mean I’m standing on the ledge, either. I might have been for the few hours following Saturday’s dick punch of a 4-3 overtime loss, but I’ve brought myself back to Earth a little bit to actually try and discuss some things without simply staring at the DOOM of a 0-2 deficit to those toenail eaters that reside in Chicago Jr.

We can begin anywhere here, so I’m just going to start with another thing you’ll be seeing for the next two days.

– Brent Seabrook’s hit is going to be characterized as dirty and will get him a suspension. There’s no suspense here. That’s what will happen. However, I’m not angry about the severity of the hit – would have probably been different had David Backes been completely upright – or what’s to follow, but rather pissed off that Seabrook put himself in that position in the first place. Up one goal, shorthanded, less than five minutes left in the third period of a playoff game and he’s taking runs at people in the corner. Seabrook would have gotten a charging call regardless of if he hit Backes in the head or shoulder or wherever. It was a hit that simply did not need to be made, and shouldn’t have been made. And then the worst possible outcome happened, and things got doubly fucked.

Not only did he put the Blackhawks in a bad position to have to kill off that major, but now a member of the top defensive pairing will be out likely multiple games in a series they trail 0-2. I understand hockey is a fast-moving, reactionary game, but Seabrook needs to take a split second to think about what the fuck he’s about to do and the situation he’s in.

– Let’s also not sleep on the league possibly taking action with Bryan Bickell, whose blatant knee-on-knee hit on Vladimir Sobotka put the ‘Hawks shorthanded in the third in the first place. He was luck to escape with a minor.

– So Brandon Bollig played a whopping 1:23 after the first period. Essentially, the ‘Hawks played the final two periods and into OT as if he’d gotten a red card (savor the soccer reference, folks). They could have put his sweater on a hanger behind the bench and it would have served the same purpose. I want Q to justify Bollig dressing in Game 3, Game 4 or for the rest of his life, for that matter. There were two guys in the press box that would have gotten more minutes had they just accidentally fallen off the bench and onto the ice.

– Speaking of changes, Michal Handzus 5-on-5 is a complete disaster. He’s as fast as a turtle in quick sand as serves as much purpose as a screen door in a submarine at even strength. Did he play well on the kill? Pretty much, but so did everyone. I would say Peter Regin could have done the same things he did shorthanded while also providing more 5-on-5.

– So, last-second goals were a thing for the Blues, eh? That sure as shit fucking sucked as much as winning a day with an NHL player and having Ryan Reaves show up.

– Lots of blame being placed on Corey Crawford for… everything. I’m sure he’d like to have the OT goal back despite not having X-ray vision to see through five guys and still be able to slow it down, but he’s the reason these games weren’t blowouts. Anyone who can’t see that should be watching an intense battle of team handball or something. That being said, he definitely wasn’t as good in Game 2 as he was in Game 1.

– Positive stuff we’re looking for, right? At least the next two games are played at the United Center. That’s something. The penalty kill has been outstanding and erased eight Blues power plays before falling six second short of killing off over six minutes of penalties to end the game. Also, the Blackhawks weren’t at their best for consistent stretches and could have won each game had it not been for late breakdowns of various kinds. Thing is, the Blues are sitting there saying, “We didn’t play our best either and still won these fucking games.” It goes two ways.

What we’ve gotten so far is the height of playoff competition in the first two games of a series against what has become a bitter rival. It’s going to make us more emotional. I get that. So I need to take my own advice and calm down a bit and see what happens in Game 3. A loss Monday and I’ll be wondering why you’re not panicking along with me.

Here’s Boxing……..

 

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Interregnum Illustrated: Hawks-Blues Game 1

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Game One is in the books. Now comes the Horrible Lull before Game Two, where nightmares reign.

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We’re Coming for You, St. Louis!

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BRACKET BARTL

Your Blues Inspire Our Rock ‘N’ Roll: Cheer the Podcast Ep. 11, CtA Round Table and Playoff Predictions

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(Columbia Missourian)

One year after having to go through their storied rival in the first round to win their second Stanley Cup in four years, the Blackhawks now begin their title defense against a St. Louis team that has taken Detroit’s place as our most-hated franchise in the Western Conference.

Before I go any further, I’d like to point out that the Blues are the only franchise that was part of the 1967 expansion that hasn’t won a Stanley Cup. Ever. Not one. At all. That’s hilarious. Fuck them.

But despite St. Louis pissing down its own leg for the last 47 years, I think we’re all expecting another round of heart palpitations. I explained to Adam and Jim the other day that I’m unexpectedly calm heading into the matchup with St. Louis. It’s not because it comes in having lost their last six of the regular season and blew the division title in hilarious fashion, but more so because I have confidence in this Blackhawks team when at full strength. Once the broadcast starts, though, and I see all those meth-heads waving their towels, I’m going to start getting nervous.

In fact, by the time you read this, I’m sure I’ll slowly be beginning to freak out. Because that’s what I do.

Speaking of Adam and Jim, those bastards decided to record a podcast on a night I had to work, again excluding me from being able to share my feelings “on the air.” Below you’ll find Episode 11 of Cheer the Podcast.

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