Now that Jonathan Toews has been cleared for contact, it’s all up to him when he’s ready to don the Indian head once again. While Thursday would be ideal, the Captain has to be sure not to get Sidney Crosby-ed by returning too soon.
It’s a waiting game the Blackhawks have been playing since late February, and 22 games already have passed since Toews last suited up. I’m sure part of you has gotten used to him not being on the ice – especially given the ‘Hawks haven’t been as bad as expected without him – but it still won’t feel right if Toews isn’t on the desert ice in Game 1 against Phoenix.
A playoff series without the captain is probably the worst thing we expected when all of this came to light, and we’re only days away from having to take the ice without the 2010 Conn Smythe winner.
How much will the ‘Hawks miss him if he doesn’t play? Let’s take a look at some team statistics before and after the concussion. The stats listed before the concussion do include Toews missing a Jan. 24th loss to Nashville with an upper-body injury before suffering his concussion.
Hopefully those who celebrate are having a nice Easter Sunday, and you’re about to find out what day the Second Season begins in the Second City. You’ll be seeing a lot of posts around these parts in the coming week with a wide variety of things being covered as the playoffs begin.
For the Blackhawks, the quest for the Stanley Cup begins in Phoenix after Saturday’s 3-2 shootout win over Detroit.
Yes, Patrick Kane made a filthy move in the shootout. It had me taken aback, and his smiling face skating back to the Blackhawks’ bench gave me a nice giggle.
But did that meaningless shot simply mask the disappointment we should be feeling after the ‘Hawks blew a late lead for the second consecutive game? If Kane doesn’t make that move and the Blackhawks lose that shootout, aren’t we going around asking questions about how the ‘Hawks are going to survive in the playoffs, especially if Jonathan Toews isn’t quite ready?
Instead, we’re all “excited” to be playing the Pacific Division champion Phoenix Coyotes, who ended the season with 97 points, four fewer than the ‘Hawks. Avoiding Nashville sounds fun and all, but there’s still the fact the Blackhawks let a chance at home-ice advantage in the first round slip away over the past week.
Now the ‘Hawks get to face Mike Smith, who is pretty much the hottest goaltender in the world right now. Forget that he doesn’t have playoff experience. Some guy named Niemi didn’t have any either. The ‘Hawks were less than a minute away from avoiding him and a Phoenix team that has won five straight games barely breaking a sweat.
Chicago never had the lead in their game against Minnesota last Sunday, which isn’t how the Blackhawks play their best game. However they did fight back to erase 3 deficits and force the Wild to a shootout. A shootout which the Blackhawks lost, eventually. But beyond showcasing the pugilistic talents of the bottom-six forwards, this game showed that this Blackhawks team may have a lot more perseverance and “guts” than we saw earlier this season.
The playoffs are right around the corner. The Blackhawks had better get a heaping helping of guts on the menu, and start making quick work of trifling teams like Minnesota, pretty quick. Like, perhaps, tonight.
First thing’s first: with their 5-4 win over Nashville last night, the Chicago Blackhawks have clinched a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s the first time since 1995 that the club has managed this feat for 4 consecutive years.
And there was much rejoicing.
The story of how they got that win, however… Well, I’m going to quote Pat Foley (always a dangerous move, I realize) and say that, “It doesn’t have to be an oil painting.”
Every time the Blackhawks go up against Boris Badenov and the Nashville Predators I find myself sitting there wondering, Why the HELL does Chicago have such problems with this team? Other teams kick the crap out of them regularly, as evidenced by Nashville’s losses to Pittsburgh and cellar-dweller Edmonton just last week. Why, oh WHY, do the Blackhawks usually end up either on the short end of a close game, or being humiliated by a staggering margin against these pukes?
In the 5 games between these teams this season, the Blackhawks have come away with a only one win — and that one went into overtime. Chicago has better records this year against St. Louis, Vancouver, and Detroit (*spitting noise*). They’re laughing at us in Music City, counting the ‘Hawks as an easy win, and hoping that they manage to land Chicago as a first-round playoff opponent instead of the Red Wings.
Nashville fans are laughing at us. That has to fucking stop. Tonight. And that means the Blackhawks had better deliver a crushing blow to this Predators team, and make it clear that taking Chicago lightly will be a costly mistake.
Watching this game, I kept imagining what it would be like for the Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues to meet in this year’s playoffs.
It’ll likely be extremely nerve-wracking, but no one can deny how hard-fought of a series it would be.
For the second straight meeting, a 3-1 deficit was erased before a shootout decided the outcome, and the ‘Hawks once again came out on top 4-3.
Before getting into the good stuff, I’ll make it known that allowing a goal within a minute after scoring is goddamn annoying, and for it to happen twice makes me want to punt my cat. And blowing a two-goal lead with less than 10 minutes remaining in the third period makes me want to punt my girlfriend’s cat. Neither are acceptable – even with Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith out of the lineup. If you can get a two-goal lead in the third period with both of them out, then you should be able to hold it with both of them out. End of story.
With that said, no real harm done, as the ‘Hawks came away with two points, and giving St. Louis the extra one doesn’t matter one bit given the ‘Hawks have no chance to catch them anyway.
The Blackhawks did their part with a chance to clinch a playoff spot, but San Jose shit the bed once again and got shut out in Phoenix, delaying the inevitable for another couple of days. While the No. 6 seed may not make you feel all tingly inside, whoever comes out of the Pacific Division clusterfuck won’t exactly scare me. If the ‘Hawks pull the “upset” and St. Louis gets by whatever Pacific remnants are left in the eighth spot, us fans will be driving to road playoff games in the second round.
A couple notes before Boxing…
♦ Only 20 shots on goal for the Blues tonight, marking the 10th straight game the Blackhawks have allowed less than 30 reach the net. The ‘Hawks are 20-8-2 when allowing 25 shots or less.
♦ With that said, Corey Crawford can’t allow three to get past him and stop only 17, especially given the first one was pretty soft. He made up for it in the shootout though, which makes it forgivable.
♦ The ‘Hawks are 10-2-2 since beating Toronto on Feb. 29, and that’s with the power play going an are-you-absolutely-fucking-kidding-me 5 for 43 (11.6 percent). Can you image if the Blackhawks were simply goddamn serviceable with the extra man? Christ. Two more missed chances tonight, making the ‘Hawks 0 for 15 over their last four games.
Boxing for ya…
How did the Blackhawks beat the St. Louis Blues two weeks ago? By pounding them into submission? By Jamal Mayers making dents in B.J. Crombeen’s melon? By Brandon Bollig trying to tenderize Ryan Reeves? So many will say ‘yes’, and assert that a physical game will be imperative to beating St. Louis tonight. I’m going to disagree.
Chicago beat the Blues by first of all, recovering from a 3-goals-against meltdown by Ray Emery in the first period; and secondly, by throwing 46 shots at the Blues’ goal while limiting their shots against to just 24.
Tonight will be no different. If the Blackhawks use their speed, press their forecheck, take advantage of a demonstrably slower St. Louis defense, and not waste time and energy throwing the body, they will win. How do I know? One week prior to that game, the Blackhawks managed only 20 shots on goal against St. Louis while allowing 31 shots against. Chicago lost 5-1. And Bollig and Reaves went at it in that game too, precious little good it did.
Martin Brodeur isn’t using his goalie stick as a cane quite yet.
The 39-year-old did it all Tuesday night, making 37 saves and four more in the shootout as the Blackhawks fell 2-1 in New Jersey. Brodeur gets most of the credit for this one, and it’s well-deserved.
Save for the first 10 minutes when Corey Crawford withstood a barrage from the Devils, the ‘Hawks were the better team for roughly 55 minutes. It took a big screen from Bryan Bickell and a point shot from Brent Seabrook to finally get one past Brodeur in the third period to tie the game.
The Blackhawks blew two key power play chances that could’ve ended up swinging the game in their favor, but the Devils got an extra one past Crawford in the shootout and the ‘Hawks ended up taking only one point.
The 5-on-3 for roughly 1:20 in the second period created a couple chances that Brodeur snuffed out, then another missed chance game at the end of regulation which yielded nothing. To the Blackhawks’ credit, they were able to kill off a 4-on-3 to start overtime when Marian Hossa went into the box with under a minute in regulation.
One quick thing before Boxing…
If Ray Emery was healthy enough to play tonight, would Coach Q have started him over Crawford? Emery didn’t exactly set the world on fire when he came on in relief of Crawford in the 6-1 loss to Nashville on Sunday, but Q has been known to ride the man who relieved the other for at least a couple starts. Nonetheless, Crawford likely earned himself a start no matter how Emery feels for Thursday’s home tilt against league-leading St. Louis.
Crawford was one of the big reasons why the ‘Hawks came away with even a point tonight given the performance of Brodeur at the other end. Hopefully that carries over to Thursday.
Boxing coming up…
Having just done a brief tour of some of the less scenic parts of New Jersey, I can tell those of you who haven’t been there to skip it. New Jersey is to New York City what Gary, Indiana is to Chicago — except with half the smell and twice the abandoned buildings. Got the picture?
Hey, the truth hurts. And with the Blackhawks’ ranks depleting faster than they can call up reinforcements from Rockford, the truth is more painful than usual these days. But we’ll go there later.
Right now, the matter at hand is a New Jersey Devils team that, fortunately, won’t land in the basement of the Atlantic Division thanks to an Islanders team with a nice lottery position. But a team that is nonetheless in big trouble as its latest bout of losses presents the real possibility of missing the playoffs. Surging teams in the form of Buffalo and Washington may just use the last 6 games of the season to kick New Jersey straight to the golf course.
Will offensive titans Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias, and Zach Parise be able to light the lamp enough to make up for Martin Brodeur’s fading talents between the pipes? Hopefully not tonight…