(Photo courtesy of Jostens)

Season Preview: Central Division? ConferenceIII? The Blackhawk Division?

We know how you feel, Bryan.

We know how you feel, Bryan.

We’ve finally arrived at the Division you all really need (want) to know all about: the plainest sounding goddamn division in the NEW AND IMPROVED NHL. We’re going to assume that you mostly know what’s going on with the Blackhawks. Jimmy Hayes, Ben Smith and the intriguing Joakim Nordstrom made the team while Jeremy Morin and Brandon Pirri find themselves back in Rockford yet again. Once can’t help but feel a little sorry for Morin and Pirri, in the weeks following the Stanley Cup, it seemed most people just assumed they’d both be Blackhawks this year. They’ll probably get a look at some point down the line, but it can’t bode very well for either of them that they’ve been passed over yet again.

Joel Quenneville has decided to keep eight defenseman to start the year. Mike Kostka beat out the now Vancouver Canuck Ryan Stanton for the last spot. Sheldon Brookbank is still around in the 7th slot.

That’s where the Blackhawks are at. What about the other teams in the Central?

More >

Season Preview: Atlantic Division

Going from Coast-To-Coast to the most confusing of the new Alignments, the Atlantic. That contains exactly none of the Old Atlantic Division teams (all in the Metropolitan Division). Also, teams from Ontario & Michigan, which  are land-locked (and in Detroit’s case over 600 miles from the Ocean). The Atlantic isn’t the first body of water you’d associate with Buffalo, either. Anyway, it’s a strange mix of old North Eastern teams with a couple of terrible Floridians from the South East and an escapee from Western time-zone tyranny in the Red Wings.

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Season Preview: Pacific Division

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

NEW: Chicago Blackhawks Community Ratings for 2013-2014 Season

Oh, hello there.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything on this here website. In fact it was probably the pep talk before Game 4 against Detroit in the Western Conference Semi-Finals. Baseball kinda takes over my life after hockey so you’ll have to excuse me for not being around much (read: at all). However! I had been looking around these here internets for something to give our readership base (that’s you!) a bit more ownership heading into the upcoming season. Comment sections are nice but not everyone feels comfortable putting their name on something. So, with that, I introduce you to the following idea.

We’re going to be introducing Community Ratings this season which allows you, the reader, to rate each and every player after each game (or weekly, we’re not sure yet). The system will be powered by Google Drive and I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank the guys over at Black Heart Gold Pants for helping me out with this, especially RossWB.  They’ve been doing this for football, which is actually considerably more difficult because there’s so many players. The idea originated with some footie blogs over on SBNation that do it for soccer games. It’s a bit easier to pull off with that sport since there’s only 14 players maximum they’d need to rate.

For our purposes we’re going to give you the ability to rate the players, the mustache and the special teams units. After you do so, I’ll gather the responses and upload them into Excel to produce some nice charts and graphs that show how everyone feels. If you’re lucky, maybe even a pie chart (mmmmmmm, pie). It’s a work in progress so if you have any ideas on other things we can add to this, please pass them along. You can leave them in the comments, tweet at me, the blog or e-mail us. Below is what we’ve got so far and it’s pretty self-explanatory. So take a look-see and give us your feedback.

Do you like this? Do you not like this? What could we do better? Scale back on? Let us know.

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Your 2013-14 Season Preview.. Interactive Edition

 

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 .

More >

Euro-Weenies

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.

More soon.

 

 

Corey Crawford Re-Signs for 6 Years, $36 Million

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.

 

 

 

 

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In Praise Of: Sean McIndoe

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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At the Convention..

 

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Frame 2   Frame 3

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Meanwhile, In St Louis..

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

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Coming Next Season

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 >

Chris Chelios: First Ballot Hall of Famer

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.

Bulin The Heather: Hawks Free Agency

if “Khabibulous” doesn’t already exist, I’ma (c) it now

“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”

More >

Godspeed, Dave. A Tribute to #36

 

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.

 

 

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Thank You, Blackhawks

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Bartl, fiance Nichole and Pops following the Game 6 victory… between many rounds of beers.

“Now break their hearts. Score again, and break their fucking hearts.”

I wasn’t deep into celebrating Bryan Bickell’s tying goal with 1 minute, 16 seconds remaining, when my father uttered those words with such conviction that I actually became frightened. He clapped a few times, raised his hands, then went right back into business mode.

“Do it again and break their fucking hearts.”

See, my dad isn’t one to offer up such passion when it comes to sports. He knew his only son’s sanity rode on the outcome of the Stanley Cup Final, and that’s really the only reason he came to peace with his inevitable hangover and joined me at a local establishment.

It’s also the only reason he cared at all. The Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup doesn’t enhance his life any, but it brings such joy to his kid that his enthusiasm shot past obligation and into a genuine state of jubilation. He just couldn’t help himself.

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I Love This Team: Your 2013 Stanley Cup Champions, the Chicago Blackhawks

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You’re not going to get much more than this from me tonight. I’m celebrating until my body won’t let me celebrate anymore.

It’s almost fitting Dave Bolland,  who we have ragged on time and time again, scored the goal that would give the Blackhawks a 3-2 win and the team’s second Cup in four seasons.

It marked the perfect moment for a team that seemed to have a mantra of, “Don’t quit on us. We won’t let you down.” We were all guilty of quitting on this team at one point or another, and they all put their middle fingers in the air and proved that they weren’t going to give up on themselves, no matter what we thought.

You’ll get more details from us tomorrow, but enjoy this for now. How amazing is this?

Mostly, I’m so proud to share this site with Nakis, Adam and Mighty Mike, who have been instrumental in helping provide you readers with great insight. They’ve been even better “internet friends.” What  a season, and you’ll be hearing from us plenty over the next couple of months as the offseason is right around the corner.

I’m still trying to soak this all in. Unbelievable.

GO ‘HAWKS!

 

 

The Wine Cooler: Episode 7 – One. More. Win

Wine Cooler

The Blackhawks head into Game 6 with a chance to hoist the Stanley Cup for the second time in four seasons. That would be a nice middle finger to the Massholes that have deemed Boston, “Championship City.”

Bartl and Nakis discuss that, the injuries to Patrice Bergeron and Jonathan Toews, the Chara Effect – or non-effect – and how Corey Crawford is a world-class goaltender and meatheads just need to accept that because DAT EMERY GUY AINT GONE PLAY NO MOOR AND DATS JUS DA END OF DA CONVERSATION, MY FRENTS!

We pack a nice show into the 30 minutes BlogTalkRadio allots us free of charge. Enjoy.

Listen to internet radio with The Wine Cooler on BlogTalkRadio

One. Bruins 1 Hawks 3 (series 3-2 Hawks)

 

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.

 

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No More “Sorry” : Hawks/Bruins preview

 

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.

Blackhawks 6 – Bruins 5 (OT): Break Point

Up and down points to Blackhawks
(NHL.com credit Bruce Bennett)

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.

More >

(Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune)

Beantown Beating: Blackhawks Shut Out in Game 3 as Bruins Take 2-1 Lead in Stanley Cup Final

(Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune)

(Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune)

This one didn’t go the Blackhawks’ way from the very beginning.

Marian Hossa was scratched at the last moment in favor of Ben Smith, who probably had half of a hot dog down in the press box before being summoned to the dressing room, and things didn’t get any better from there as the ‘Hawks fell 2-0 at TD Garden in Monday’s Game 3.

Zdeno Chara apparently received stitches after cracking his head on the ice in the pregame warmps and still played, so that’s a little bothersome. Either way, Hoss wasn’t out there and the bad news kept coming. Daniel Paille scored just over two minutes into the second period, then Patrice Bergeron added another later in the period to give the Bruins all they would need.

I don’t believe in calling any game a must-win until the other team has reached three victories, but let’s just say Wednesday is a “win-or-they’re-up-shit’s-creek-without-paddle” game.

Let’s see what we’ve got here…

♦   We’ve heard all of the DEY NEED TO DECLINE DA PENALTIES! DEY CAN DO DAT LIKE IN DA FOOZBALL GAME, RIGHT?!” jokes, but we’re at the point where the Blackhawks might be at more of a disadvantage when up a man. Credit is due to the Bruins’ aggressive and often relentless penalty kill, but let’s get serious here; a team that is built on speed and finesse continues to stand around while completely wasting two minutes of everyone’s time.

One specific example came when Patrick Kane held the puck around the boards and drifted high rather than pass the puck into an area down low that would force the Bruins to shift and potentially open up more ice – or even put himself in better position to find a lane and put the puck on net. He skated it toward the blue line, telegraphed a soft saucer pass everyone knew was coming, and the puck ended up out of the zone. These types of decisions have led to multiple shorthanded chances for the Bruins, especially Brad Marchand. The Blackhawks are basically killing Boston’s penalties for it.

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Bumdrizzle. Bruins 2-Hawks 1 (Series 1-1)

 

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.

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HELLSPAWN

I, Too, Love Shin Pads: Day-After Thoughts from Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final

(Brian Cassella, Chicago Tribune)

(Brian Cassella, Chicago Tribune)

Thank you, Andrew Shaw, for making your winning goal that much more entertaining.

And, thanks to Adam, we may have a new nickname for him:

HELLSPAWN

After Shaw deflected a Dave Bolland deflection off a Michal Rozsival shot (got that?), he professed his love for Bolland, thanked his shin pads and then dropped an F-bomb in his NBC interview with Pierre McGuire, sending the United Center crowd – including this exhausted individual – home happy.

Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, which eventually ended with the Blackhawks beating Boston 4-3, proved at least one thing: We’re being treated to a Final featuring two extremely good teams that didn’t need luck to get there. There were points I battled through the stress of what was happening to realize I should be excited just to be witnessing such great hockey featuring a team I support. Then, of course, I went back to biting my fingers off.

Aside from Shaw’s goal that brought more relief than anything, there’s a few other things I’ll take from this one heading into Game 2…

♦   Corey Crawford and Tuukka Rask both played outstanding games, but I’m going to focus more on Crawford, mainly because Rask essentially pointed out the deficiencies in front of him rather than accepting the loss as a team. I think there’s little doubt that, unless the Blackhawks win the other three games 10-9, Crawford will be adding a Conn Smythe to his resume should Chicago hoist the Cup. The numbers look like this: 13-5, 1.73 GAA, numerous huge saves.

Crawford came up big while helping the ‘Hawks kill off a too-many-men penalty in both the first and second overtimes. Sure, the Bruins beat him and drew iron a couple times, but Crow made the saves he needed to and even added some flare to a couple, especially that snagging glove save early in the game. The Blackhawks’ defense definitely wasn’t at its best Wednesday, and Crawford helped make up for it.

♦   On that note, I’d personally like to thank Kaspars Daugavins for whiffing on his OT chance with Crawford basically down and out after fending off another chance.

♦   This, also courtesy of Adam, of Marian Hossa in the second OT:

Photo: Marian Hossa during the 2nd OT last night. May be the only time it's ever applicable to cite Ken Harrelson's TWTW stat.

♦   Not only did Shaw score the winner, but Bolland’s goal that cut the Boston lead to 3-2 in the third was all him. Torey Krug, the rookie defenseman out of Michigan State who has been playing fantastically thus far in the playoffs, attempted to fire the puck to the middle of the ice, only to Shaw, who carried back into the zone. Krug then glided along side Shaw with his stick on the ice attempting to block a potential pass, but Shaw saucered it beautifully across to Bolland, who one-timed it past Rask.

♦   Bolland also got credited with an assist on the game-winner. To add some perspective into the rarity of a two-point night from Bolland, he totaled three points in his previous 25 games combined, including the playoffs.

♦   I feel like Hossa should just repeatedly say, “Fuck off Fuck off Fuck off Fuck off Fuck off Fuck off” whenever an opponent tries to take the puck from him. The man is a beast.

♦   I’ve read a few places about the Blackhawks being a step behind and the Bruins carrying the play for long stretches, but I think the same can be said by flipping those team names. I understand the Blackhawks had to overcome a pair of two-goal leads, but the ‘Hawks were a +51 in CORSI, and weren’t the only ones looking exhausted in the overtime sessions. Boston being up on the scoreboard through the first two and a half periods wasn’t necessarily indicative of the ice being tilted. The Bruins got two snipes from Lucic and a power-play goal on another snipe from Bergeron. They took advantage of some good chances in regulation. The Blackhawks had just as many chances as the Bruins they didn’t convert. That was a pretty damn good hockey game on both ends, but both teams have things to improve heading into Game 2.

♦  It will be interesting to see how severe the Nathan Horton injury is and how much it will affect Boston if he misses time. It appears to be a shoulder issue, which may spell bad news for the Bruins. Horton had an assist to give him 18 points for the playoffs, and he has been a huge contributor with Lucic and Krejci on the top line. He’s listed as day to day right now, but there are reports saying he could be done. If Horton is out, it will be interesting to see how Julien mixes his lines moving forward.

♦   So, the Blackhawks won with Brandon Bollig taking Viktor Stalberg’s place in the lineup. Still don’t necessarily agree with the move, but, as Nakis found out and then posted to Twitter, it seemed like Stalberg had fallen into acceptance with Q’s decision by Tuesday afternoon. We’ll see what Q rolls out at the next practice.

♦  As anticipated, the Blackhawks didn’t practice Thursday due to the 239572305-minute game Wednesday. And Hossa wasn’t exactly pleased that his neighbors decided to do some work ass early in the morning.

There’s so much we could go over, but I’ll leave the rest to you if you’d like to add more discussion in the comments. See you Saturday.

The Celebratory Words of Andrew Shaw

Andrew Shaw celebrates his game-winning goal in the third overtime against the Bruins in Game 1.

I will have my thoughts from last night’s thriller later this afternoon, as promised, but first I wanted to share a couple of great Andrew Shaw moments after he scored the winner in the third overtime to beat the Boston Bruins 4-3 on Wednesday.

Via Deadspin, Shaw was mic’d up by NBC for the game. After confessing his love for Dave Bolland, he also had some strong feelings about his equipment that assisted him on the winner. And it was awesome:

Not long after, via Puck Daddy, Shaw went ahead and dropped an F-bomb in his interview with Pierre McGuire on national TV:

Oh, Shawzer.

Let’s Play 1.5: Blackhawks win 3 OT Marathon, Take 1-0 Series Lead on Bruins

I’m very sorry, but you’ll have to wait until at least around lunch time Thursday to get my thoughts on Game 1. I was at the United Center and feel like I played along with these teams. And after a one-hour drive in rain back to the suburbs, I’m running on fumes.

So, I’ll leave you – for now – with this pic of Shaw celebrating. Oh, and Holiday Road, courtesy of Mighty Mike: