Let’s take a quick look at the Realigned Divisions, starting with the Westernmost, the excitingly-named “Pacific” (or “Pacific + Bits of the old NW”)
This looks like being a very hard-fought (if not especially exciting) Division: Four of the Seven teams made last year’s Post-Season, Anaheim finished Second in the Western Conference for the Regular Season and LA went to the Conference Final. Phoenix were on the Playoff Bubble and hope to be back there again. The less said about the Albertans the better.. and then there’s the Curious Case of the Canucks, of which more in a moment.
Battle Of California
The three Californian teams will all be spoken about as contenders this year. Anaheim, whose remarkable run last year was ended by a fairly heavy regression to the mean, traded away the permanently disgruntled Bobby Ryan, picking up a decent return from Ottawa in highly-rated young winger Jacob Silfverberg, 1st round pick Stefan Noesen & a 1st rounder next year. Teemu is, of course,back and Dustin Penner has crawled wheezing from LA to Orange County. Their Blue Line looks like a problem area, with Beauchemin dinged up, Sheldon Souray out for at least a couple of months and after that.. Mark Fistric? Luca Sbisa? Yuck. Luckily their cup runneth over in goal with Hiller in a contract year, Fasth building on his breakout season and that John Gibson hovering in the wings.
San Jose.. It’s hard to know what to make of the Sha-Arks, as ever. Thornton & Marleau are in the last years of their deals and not getting any younger. However, if Pavelski & Couture can repeat their form of last season that’s still a potent line up. Hell, maybe even Marty Havlat will stay healthy for longer than ten minutes? Sadly, they haven’t bothered with any defense again this year which means Antti Niemi will need to be on top form, again.
Meanwhile, in a certain smog-choked hellhole, the Kings are already being picked by many as this year’s Champions. They have changed little on their roster, save shipping off Dustin Penner to Anaheim and taking Gorilla Salad off the Hawks’ hands in return for some magic beans. There’s little doubt that, if they play to their strengths, they are one of the best teams in the League. Their big weakness is their Ent-Like defense with Willie Mitchell & Robin Regehr lumbering around behind Drew Doughty. They continue to praise Slaya Voynov to the heavens, but from what I’ve seen the kid still has a great deal to learn about play in his own end. (Hell of a shot, though). And Jon Quick is Jon Quick.
Dead Men Walking
Phoenix finally resolved their ownership issue and future location for
once and all five years. They will be hoping for a return to the post season after missing out last year. They can keep on hoping. Their only “major” addition has been Mike Ribeiro, for four years at $22.5 M which, were it not for Toronto & Philly, would likely be the laughing-stock deal of the summer. Ribeiro was at a Point-Per-Game last year, for the first time since 2007-08. He was also on the Caps PP with Ovechkin and Backstrom. Good luck with Radim Vrbata, Mike. Shane Doan is another year older and slower and more elbow-y. The rest of the Yotes are made up of the usual collection of pluggers and plodders. One feels that, unless Mike Smith has one of his “Outlier” years, this will be a tough season for the Desert Dogs.
Edmonton re-upped Jordan Eberle (for way too much money) and RNH (see above, though more justifiable in the Nuge’s case). These sort of shenanigans now mean that the Oilers have less Cap Room than the reigning Champions. Sam Gagner’s fresh new broken jaw will sideline him indefinitely so they had better be praying that Hall, RNH, Yakupov et al can stay healthier than they have been in recent seasons. Not that it will do Edmonton any good: they have no defense or Goaltending and will be aiming at the Draft Lottery again. As for Calgary… Just close the door and walk away, sadly shaking your head. Full-on Tank Mode for the Flames with Jay Feaster likely to be out of a job by Christmas and Brian Burke embarking on a long-overdue rebuild.
Diving For Dear Life
That leaves us with the ever-beloved Canucks and, for me, the most interesting storyline in this Division: namely, is this the year the Nucks miss the Playoffs? I would hazard a guess that it could be: we all know about the Presidents’ Trophies and exaggerated seedings won by beating up on a piss-weak NW Division. Last year we saw the Wild make a much better fight of it and the Nucks swept out of the 1st Round. This year they are going to be fighting hard with the formidable trio of Californians for the three automatic spots and they may well find themselves lacking.
What they’ve mostly got this summer is older. The Sedins are starting to show their age (although still a force to be reckoned with) Ryan Kesler and David Booth can’t stay healthy, they still think Kevin Bieksa is a top-pairing D-man, Luongo’s mind may well have been snapped by the goings on and they’ve got noted Locker-Room-Unifier John Tortorella behind the bench. There’s still plenty of threat there if it all comes together. If not, I believe the Canucks may well find themselves on the outside looking in when the Post-season starts, which will cost Mike Gillis his job and instigate a crisis in Vancouver where they have no Cap-Space or Prospects.
While we all stand back and chuckle, of course
Season Previews are like Assholes: Sports Blogs are full of them (you sure about this? .ed).
Nailing your colours to the mast as to how teams and players are likely to perform over the coming year is a risky business and leaves one open to the mockery of your peers when, inevitably, the Hockey Gods make sure that all your confident predictions go horribly wrong.
Therefore, we here at Cheer the Anthem have decided to skip this potential public shaming and would much rather that you do it instead: here is a comprehensive preview of all the other 29 teams in the League. All you have to do is fill in the blanks and you’re on the Path to Hockey Guru Status/Hiding Under A Rock .
North American Hockey fans seldom pay much attention to the various European leagues and when they do it’s usually as “The place that all those awesome Finnish goalies come from” or “Jesus God, those jerseys are ugly” or “Somewhere that Don Cherry REALLY hates”. The events on the larger ice really don’t factor much in the tumult of an NHL season.
This year, however, is slightly different and the eyes of Hawks fans will be turning to Europe more often, for reasons that I’ll get to in a moment.
Being of the European Persuasion myself, I’m going to contribute a weekly wrap-up of events from a selected few Teams and Leagues over this side of the pond that may be of interest to Blackhawks fans (and some just for my own entertainment.. humour me)
SM Liiga / Jokerit (Finland)
This one is pretty obvious: there’s a certain Hawks prospect playing there who has created the sort of giddy anticipation last seen when Patrick Kane was drafted. We’ll be keeping a close eye on how Teuvo Teravanien is developing and hopefully providing more awesome “Highlight Videos With Crazed Finnish Callers” for your titillation. Another subplot is the fact that this is the famous old club’s last year in the SM Liiga before they jump ship to the KHL next season.
Slovak Extraliga /HC Dukla Trencin (Slovakia)
This is, of course, an Olympic year and Slovakia are in the USA’s group for the First Round. While no-one expects the Slovaks to cause an upset against the US or Russia, they are a potential landmine and should not be taken lightly. Their best players (and Tomas Kopecky) are mostly in North America or playing for Bratislava, who moved to the KHL last year, but we’ll keep an eye on any developments coming out of Slovakia. Dukla Trencin is the club that rocked the cradle of the Hossa brothers, the aforementioned Tomokop and the late Pavol Demitra (whom their arena is named for). Trencin is also the hometown of Zdeno Chara and Marian Gaborik.
Elite Ice Hockey League/Belfast Giants (Britain)
Shameless Homerism here: we’ll take a look at Ireland’s only Pro Hockey team as they compete in the British League. The Giants have had an extremely traumatic time off the ice over the last couple of years (of which more on another day) so we’ll follow them and see how the club is picking itself back up off the floor.
Championnat De France Div 1/ Mulhouse Scorpions (France)
This one is personal: I have a weird affection for this happy-go-lucky bunch of schmucks who won promotion to the French Top Division, La Ligue Magnus last year, only to get kicked in by all comers, finish second-last and get relegated back down (yes, they have Promotion/Relegation in France.. damn Eurotrash!). Last time they were in this Division they won it, so I’ll be taking a look at their travails and hopefully give you an idea of Hockey in the real backwaters of Europe.
We’ll be kicking this off with some quick profiles of the teams, the leagues and the key players to keep an eye on. If I can find time in between constructing my shrine to Teuvo, that is.
Corey Crawford was expected to be the subject of much speculation during the forthcoming Season: his current contract (Cap Hit of $2.6 Million) was due to expire next summer, leaving him a Unrestricted Free Agent. The Hawks fanbase was wondering if he would be traded now that his value is at its peak, re-upped, and if so, for how long and for how much in light of some of the blockbuster and/or boneheaded deals given to goalies lately.
Instead Stan Bowman gave an added fillip to Crawford’s Day withe Cup by re-signing him to a 6-year deal worth $36 Million ($6M per year)
Bowman has thus far shown no willingness to overpay for Goaltending and Crawfords deal is closer to the 6yr/$31.8m extension signed between Jimmy Howard and the Wings or Mike Smith’s 6yr/$34.2 than the Tuuka Rask contract (8yr/$56m) .Obviously this is being made with the anticipation of a considerable rise in the Salary Cap in 2014/15. Crawford is now making some Elite-Money.
I’m sure there are some Crow-Hating Meatballs out there tearing out their hair and howling into their Tapout shirts as their dream of Ryan Miller in the Indianhead fades. Thus far, however, the general mood seems to be one of cautious optimism. There are some concerns over the length of the contract and that Crawford will be 35 at its end however, it would be very un-Bowman-like for the contract to be an untradeable monster and there is always going to be some GM willing to pay whatever it takes to get a Stanley Cup winning Goalie on to their roster.
Personally I like it, yes, it’s a lot of money and years but when you look at some of the other contracts that have been handed out in recent years, especially to Goalies, it looks perfectly reasonable. I also have an inclination to trust Stan Bowman’s judgement in these things: he’s hardly put a foot wrong in his dealings.
This is going to be a high-pressure year for Crawford: he is now the undisputed #1 (which he was last season, too despite the “WE WANT DAT EMORY GUY” crowd), he won’t be “Playing for a Deal”, instead he will have to justify his considerable price-tag while the well-regarded Antti Raanta hones his game in the AHL.
We all saw plenty of signs of an increasingly confident, aggressive and strong-willed Crawford last season (and not even Pat Kane believes that he didn’t deserve the Conn Smythe). With Chicago looking to repeat and with every team in the league gunning for them, he’s going to need every bit of that strength.
There are very few writers in the Hockey world that need absolutely no introduction, but Sean McIndoe, better known as Down Goes Brown, is certainly one of them. (And if you don’t know who Down Goes Brown is, stop reading this now, go here , start at the start and come back when you’re finished)
He’s unfailingly perceptive and hilarious and I (and anyone else who attempts to make jokes about Hockey) owe him an enormous debt of gratitude and tremendous respect.
What he is also, though, is one hell of a writer.
Recently, Ryan Lambert of Puck Daddy asked, on Twitter, for advice on websites to read in order to help ease a newbie friend into the game. Slak, of Hockee Night and Magnificent Beard reknown, suggested Down Goes Brown which, after I thought about it, made perfect sense. Despite all the in-jokes and McIndoe’s encylopaedic knowledge of the game, he writes with utter clarity and provides enough context for the more arcane references to reward anyone who follows up the links and does a little research on their own.
I remember, from when I was, myself, wet behind the ears, tracking down old articles and YouTube clips in order to understand jokes about Toronto 4th Liners from the mid-90s. Which was a good thing, I guess..
This year has seen McIndoe writing for Grantland (while still maintaining the quality at the Down Goes Brown site) These articles have been less surreal than the DGB material but have managed to be interesting, informative and downright hilarious, written in the same spirit of gentle mockery and sharp observation that have been his trademark.
The weekly NHL Grab Bag series was worth reading for the “Awesome and/or Horrific Old YouTube Clip of the Week” section alone (now there’s an education for newcomers!) not to mention the usual head shaking over “What Has Done Cherry Gone And Done Now?” and “The Week’s Most Depressing CapGeek Page” (how it wasn’t Philly every week I’ll never know)
Sean McIndoe manages to be almost universally adored (Chris Pronger was unavailable for comment) right across the notoriously cantankerous and fractious Hockey fanbase, no mean feat. This is, in my opinion, due entirely to the fact that he writes with genuine warmth and affection for this game and those who play it, watch it and even administrate it (just about). His jokes can be cutting, accurate and merciless but they are never nasty or needless and even when he is sticking it to people like Kerry Fraser or Gary Bettman, there is a smile behind the barbs.
Nowhere was this genuine feel for Hockey more apparent than the Grantland article he published on May 30 this year, entitled Absence of Malice. Don’t look for any jokes, there are none in this article about serious accidental injuries caused on the rink. It is an extraordinary piece of writing and, to my mind, this year’s equivalent of the NY Times series on Derek Boogaard in late 2011 in its unflinching yet empathetic look at the very human frailty and vulnerability behind this most physical and dangerous of sports.
It’s a profoundly affecting and thought-provoking piece and a clear demonstration that, behind the jokes and the fun, there is a serious and clear-eyed observer of the game. It hardly seems fair that one man can excel at both things, but I’m sure there isn’t anyone out there who begrudges him this. Instead we all look forward to whatever Sean McIndoe , or his crazed alter-ego Down Goes Brown have planned for us next.
You can read Down Goes Brown at www.downgoesbrown.com, Sean McIndoe at www.grantland.com and you should absolutely, positively buy his book, The Best Of Down Goes Brown, details here
Ah, the Blackhawks Convention! That wonderful time of the year when Rocky Wirtz notices that he hasn’t received a dumptruck full of money from Hawks fans in, like, months and yells at McDonough to do something about it.
Love it, Loathe it or just find it mildly amusing to watch Q&As degenerate into bickering, rude questions and autograph requests, it remains a firm part of the Blackhawks calendar. What you may not have realised is that our neighbours in Missouri have their own equivalent.
It’s on a much smaller scale, more poorly attended, a lot more pointless and plainly saddled with a crippling inferiority complex, so is therefore completely bound up in St Louis’ very identity.
This year has seen a change of venue, from a vacant lot behind a cheque-cashing store, to a luxury hotel. This has clearly been done in a bid to attract the attention of the Hockey World to this celebration of everything Blues Hockey. They even sent out invites to the Media, one of which made its way to us here at Cheer The Anthem
Well, it’s been a few weeks since we’ve posted anything here, hasn’t it? Now, you may be thinking that that’s because we’re a bunch of lazy gits who can’t be arsed writing about the very tiny amount that is happening in the Hockey World right now.
You couldn’t be more wrong.
In fact, we have been slaving away on all the cool new features that we are going to implement on Cheer The Anthem next year. After the Jump there’s a sneak preview of what you can look forward to on your
favourite they’re ok i guess I don’t completely hate everything they do Blackhawks site in the coming Season.
Enjoy! More >
This is quick because there’s work to be done, but former Blackhawks defenseman Chris Chelios was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame this afternoon along with Scott Niedermayer and Brendan Shanahan. There was no immediate word on whether or not Craig Janney would attend to honor Shanahan.
There is a good case to be made for Chelios being the best US born hockey player of all-time and a better one for being the best defenseman to ever don the Indian Head sweater. It didn’t end the right way here in Chicago, but he was the heart and soul of a lot of Blackhawks teams that many of us lived and died with.
Sure, he scored numerous big goals (including two consecutive playoff OT winners against Vancouver) as a Blackhawk, but the clip above is probably still my fondest Chelios memory. I was at that game and vividly remember him fighting off the linesman and tearing Adam Burt away from Brian Noonan so he alone could pummel him. Just a spectacular performance. He was assessed 37 PIM during this altercation and subsequently suspended four games for abusing the linesman. The Hawks lost the game 6-2.
Anyway, let the great #7 retirement debate begin so we can get it over with. It’s not coming out of circulation anytime soon.
“Free Agency Frenzy” is officially upon us and this year has seen some truly surprising, astounding and bloody stupid signings. I’ll address some of those in another post, once I’m through alternately “Laughing my ass off /Weeping about why, exactly, we had to lose half a Season?”
For now, I’ll confine myself to the moves made by the Hawks once Free Agency started and “What It All Means”
We knew it was coming. We knew it made sense. Hell, at some point this year we’d probably loudly demanded it. But when it happened it still felt like a well-aimed stick handle in the ribs.
Dave Bolland was traded to the Leafs on Draft day and our lives are a little duller because of it.
Michael Frolik was traded too, and I think that, in a pure Hockey sense, the loss of him will hurt the Hawks more than losing Bolland. But this is all about Dave, because, whatever else he was or wasn’t while wearing a Hawks jersey, he was nothing short of an inspiration when it came to making up jokes.
My first real attempt at writing a humourous Hockey piece was a FanPost on the old SCH about goal celebrations.. and Bolland was both the inspiration and the cornerstone of the entire bit. It was just after a game against the Ducks, where having already had a goal waved off, Bolland scored on an absolute laserbeam and celebrated in true Dave Bolland-Style: a quick flip of his arms and then an angry death-stare. I pretty much constructed the rest of the piece around that.
It was well received, hell, even made its way into the Committed Indian. Which gave me the confidence to keep going (for good or ill). I quickly discovered that including a “David Bolland Is A Psycho” joke was a sure-fire winner, as that meme had been running for quite a while and never got old. I have an entire folder, in the deep recesses of the Amstrad CPC where I do my photoshops, that’s just called “Bolland”.
When the Trade happened I realised that I’d not done anything on Dave this year, which made me sad. His recent decline and near-invisibility contributed to that, I guess. Because he’s been exactly the same strange, wild-eyed, pale, sweating, monotone-voiced weirdo that he’s always been in interviews. That shaved-head look was horrible (and therefore fitting). The F-Bomb dropped on CBC. And last, but by no means least, the celebration after scoring the Cup-Winning Goal: a classic “Shake off your gloves and look very angry”.
Good luck, Dave. I hope you have fun in Toronto. With you gone and Kaner behaving himself, looks like I’m going to have to find another source of cheap laughs.
And, to end on a Hockey note, this is one of my favourite Blackhawks memories, as Bolland returned from injury with the Hawks staring down the barrel against Vancouver.
So long, David Bolland. We’ll not see your like again unless we work on Psych Profiling for the FBI.
Here we are then.
This crazed head-rush of a season has finally brought us to the very threshold of the Promised Land. The Chicago Blackhawks are 60 minutes away from fulfilling all the promise and wiping away the pains of the last three years.
My Dear Friends, we are about to enter the part of the Season known as “Nut-Cutting-Time”. I hope you’re ready.
Tonight the Hawks host the Bruins at the UC, Home Ice advantage restored for a best-of-three. But tonight is also the last night where there is any “We’ll get ‘em next time, gang” for the team that loses. It’s going to be Elimination/Total Victory game(s) after this. There will be a Game 6, for sure, and I stick by my original prediction that this series goes the distance. But we’ll cross that Bridge of Pain as and when we come to it.
It’s trite to say a non-elimination game is a “Must-Win” in the Playoffs, because every game is a “Must-Win”. The Hawks have stared down three straight against the Wings already this post-season. But I’m going to call this one of those games. I’m an eternal optimist and believe that this Hawks team can beat anyone, anywhere, anytime. However, if we head back to Boston on the wrong end of a 3-2 series.. well, I fear the worst. I want Boston desperate, afraid and knowing that their season hangs in the balance at TD Gardens. This series has been so ridiculously tight, with such tiny margins between victory and defeat, that every odd bounce of the puck or speculative shot from a 4th Liner assumes massive importance. And I would much rather have the Bruins worrying about that in Game 6, knowing that the very best they can hope for is having to win in an insanely pumped up UC in Game 7.. against a Hawks team that has the chance to be the first to win a Cup on Chicago ice since 1938.
Rather them than me.
Tonight, the Hawks need to remember that Speed Kills, that Chara has a turning circle similar to the USS Eisenhower and that depth scoring is going to make the difference. Crow must blank all the Narrative BS (and he will). Q needs to roll those lines that devastated an entire league this year.
If that happens, then it’ll be the Bruins fans nervously stocking up on Depends, Monday Night.
So, all of this is a rather roundabout way of saying “Let’s Go, Hawks”
Get it done, gentlemen.
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.
This is going to be short and less-than-sweet. Because it’s Father’s Day or something.
Exhilarating Hockey, played at a breakneck pace and showing total domination from a fearless Hawks team. Possibly the best they’ve played this year. True Championship-Quality, right there. Then the 2nd Period started.
Yesterday I posted a vitriolic (and damn funny) roast on the Hawks and the WC from Days of Y’Orr. Today, we’ll balance that with a contribution from one of our friends, Emilie, who is the Managing Editor at Hockey Wilderness; the SBN blog for future Conference III rivals the Minnesota Wild. She makes some pretty persuasive arguments for why opposition fans should be backing the Hawks. Take it away, Em
It’s been a funny old season, not least because the Eastern and Western Conferences have (until now) been kept apart, in much the same way that a St Louis Marriage Counselor (Police Officer to you & I) steps in between Durleen and Wayde when they get to tussling over the last of the meth.
We know all about the West, of course, having spent the year kicking them all in (often repeatedly). However, in a spirit of enquiry, I reached out to excellent Bruins blog Days of Y’Orr to see what, exactly, they think of the Western Conference over there in the East and how they think this series will shake out.
What follows is all theirs.. be warned.
This one nearly killed me.
As this game progressed, and the elation of the early lead was slowly replaced with gnawing tension, I got drunker and drunker and shut down all distractions like Twitter. Focus. Concentrate. Will it there.
Then joy as Kane potted what surely must be the winner.. turning to despair when Bickell iced it, Toews lost the draw and the puck clipped off Mike Richards in a crowded crease to tie it up. 1OT passed in a blur of terror, a state that was repeated until.. well, you all saw it.
Patrick Kane, folks. Patrick “Fuck This Sound, I’ma win this mofo” Kane. Nice.
Today marks the First Anniversary of the passing of Dan Appelt, better known online as Badgerdano. For those not familiar with either name, Badgerdano was a regular at the old Second City Hockey site, in fact, had been there almost from the start, and was a witty and popular commentator and the origin of a meme that persists to this day. You know when you’ve been Badgerdano’d
SCH was the place that myself, Nakis and JesusMarianHossa first crossed paths (and occasionally butted heads). Badger was an integral part of the community there, a welcoming voice to newcomers, an incisive analyst of whatever the Hawks were up to at the time and always ready to get in on (or, frequently, instigate) the inevitable mickey-taking that was part of the fun. I should probably add that he was known to be, on occasion, “Quite Supportive” of all things UW. Just a little bit.
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.
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:
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:
I got handed this wrap fairly late in the day, due to Nakis scoring tickets for the game. I was happy to get it, as I was pretty sure I could write a heartfelt send-off to the Hawks’ season if needed.
Luckily, it wasn’t required.
I’m not going to get into a detailed recap of the game because I’m assuming you were watching it. It was probably the most evenly-matched game of this epic series, both sides throwing the kitchen sink at each other. However, with a minute and a half to go in the 3rd, with the game tied at 1-1, Niklas Hjalmarsson scored on an amazing solo effort to advance the Hawks to the WCF and.. wait, what? Waved off? WHAT THE FUCK?
I’m, fairly sure we all felt the same thing: a terrible, terrible call by Stephen Walkom got the (likely) winning goal consigned to the bin and we all automatically assumed that the Hockey Gods were going to let the Wings win this and leave us in the circle of Hell that Leafs fans occupy when they complain about Kerry Fraser in 1993.
However, Brent Seabrook popped up in OT to deflect one in off a sliding Kronwall, to win the series and speed the Hawks to a WCF against the Kings.
Kronwall was devastated after the horn and Jimmy Howard was the first to comfort him. Classy move. I, however, am going to show zero-class by laughing my ass off at Kronwall’s cries for the rest of time. Couldn’t have happened to a bigger douchecopter. Some quick bullets, then..
- Guess the PP working was too good to be true. The only time it wasn’t terrible was when the Hawks managed to win the draw and keep it in the zone.
- The UC was pretty rocking all night. Loudest anthem I’ve heard (and Jim C seemed to be giving it some extra welly, too) Guess that’s what happens when you get Holiday Road in the pre-game mix.
- Johnny O didn’t have the greatest of nights. Q needs to have a think about his D pairings with the prospect of the Kings’ forecheck looming.
- Patrick Sharp is a handsome, handsome man.
- Justin Abdelkader is a turd. He dialled the stoopid up to 11 in this, a must-win situation. On the other hand, penisloaf that he is, Nik Kronwall was playing out of his skin. Wings fans will probably scream about Shaw slew-footing Filpulla (I haven’t seen the replay, but I’m assured that he did) for a few years but Filps has been nigh-on invisible all series anyway. Dats was Dats. I’m actually looking forward to watching him do those things that he does so well next year, when he’s in the East and it doesn’t matter.
- OK, that call.. I was so furious over the goal getting scrubbed that I didn’t have any rage left for Saad getting a penalty for being mugged. I’m the last person in the world to whine about refs; but that call was so egregious that it warrants some sort of formal review. When even Detroit fans are calling bullshit on a call that gave them a lifeline, you know something stinks. I got way too close a look at the anger that Leafs fans feel about Fraser. The main issue, though, is that the war room in Toronto either couldn’t or wouldn’t countermand the on-ice call when it so blatantly should’ve. If it’s a “Couldn’t”, then maybe that needs to be looked at by the League. Will never happen, though.
- Thanks, Seabs. Way to come good at the death. I’m starting to think that his issues may be to do with either his health or conditioning. The man was literally pouring sweat while being asked stupid questions by Pierre, well after the horn. I was worried that he was going to die. Also, nice bone-cruncher from Bolland to start the rush. Moar, plz, Dave.
- Corey Crawford is having himself one hell of a post-season. His numbers compare favourably to Tim Thomas in 2011 and Jon Quick from last year. No more calls for DAT EMORY GUY, please, meatballs.
- Finally, some team is going to pay a ton of money to Bryan Bickell and Nick Leddy this summer. That team should be the Chicago Blackhawks. Ditto for Marcus Kruger. He and Frolik were absolute studs, yet again.
So, we’re all delirious with joy, the WCF series against the Kings doesn’t start till Saturday and Hossa is in his Heaven.
Get back to celebrating the Hawks finally knocking the Wings off their perch in our final meeting as rivals.
We’ll get to the Californians soon. The war of words between blogs should make for a fun time.
Oh, and just in case you needed yet another reason to smile:
A Cheer The Anthem Public Health Announcement
As my esteemed colleague Bartl pointed out, Of Course It’s A Game 7. Be honest, did you not believe, in the septic recesses of what used to be your heart, that this would be the case from the moment this series was on? It has come to pass, and it’s going to be a tough night. Luckily your frents at Cheer The Anthem have complied this handy 5-step program to ensure that you make it through this experience with at least a shred of sanity, dignity and personal well-being left.
So, here’s our 5 Steps To Surviving Game 7 (because Prime Numbers Rule)
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.