Fuggedaboutit: Coyotes Put Blackhawks on Brink of Elimination with Another OT Win

Oops, I did it again. (Scott Strazzante, Chicago Tribune)

Go ahead and think sweet thoughts about how the Blackhawks stormed back from 0-3 down against Vancouver last season. Say it. “Anything can happen!” “It’s not over yet!”

This doesn’t feel the same, though, does it?

Losing back-to-back overtime playoff games on home ice is one thing, but the manner in which they were lost is even more disheartening. Once again, Mikkel Boedker slipped one past Corey Crawford in the extra period, and the Coyotes took a 3-1 series lead over the ‘Hawks with a 3-2 win Thursday at the United Center.

What we’ve seen in this series is a team consistently one step behind the other, constantly giving chase, even making it interesting at times, but ultimately falling short. I don’t for one second believe the Blackhawks have been badly outplayed in this series, but Phoenix is playing just well enough to overcome the talent gap and is beating the ‘Hawks on scheme rather than skill.

The whole let’s-spot-the-Coyotes-a-lead-until-late-in-the-third-period-then-tie-it-when-we-look-defeated thing might be exciting, and this series has had no shortage of free hockey. It’s the mental lapses that lead the games to get to that point that are the most frustrating, and Phoenix is taking full advantage.

There’s no doubt the ‘Hawks missed Marian Hossa and even Andrew Shaw, but what ultimately changed? The same shit happens whether they’re in the lineup or not. The Blackhawks are that close, but it really doesn’t mean a damn thing. Losing one-goal, overtime games is the same as losing 10-0. If it was January and the ‘Hawks were playing this way, we could say, “The Blackhawks haven’t played at their best the past four games and they’ve still taken all of them to overtime and earned a point. That’s a good sign.”

In the playoffs, it gets you down 3-1 in a series to a team that doesn’t possess the talent, but just wants it more. And that’s the thing – it really doesn’t seem like the ‘Hawks want it until they’ve fallen behind. They can talk all they want about what needs to change and they know where their deficiencies lie. They did that all season. It’s nothing new. But if you can’t change what needs to be changed, if you can’t execute the way you know you must, then all that talk is about as useful as screen door in a submarine.

If seeing Hossa go off on a stretcher isn’t enough to get the ‘Hawks psyched to be flying all over the ice, then what in the funky hell is enough? What’s it going to take? If they know the answer, it may be too late anyway.

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Shaw Sits Three : ‘Hawks v. Phoenix

Yup

As you all know by now, Andrew Shaw has been suspended for 3 games by NHL chief disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan for his collision with Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith in Game 2. That’s right folks, Shaw will sit longer than Shea Weber, Matt Carkner and Byron Bitz - all of whom committed offenses far more  harmful to the game than Shaw did. So what did we learn today? Do not, under any circumstance, get close to a goaltender. Why the NHL considers the brains of goaltenders more important than the brains of other players is a question they will have to answer down the road. It’s absurd.

Shanahan, praised by many as the man who would save hockey from itself, has been unacceptably inconsistent with his rulings and is quickly losing credibility all around the league. Have his rulings really been any better than those of Colin Campbell? I’m not so certain anymore. Sure, he has been more transparent with his cute little video explanations, but what good is transparency without consistency? Wasn’t consistency the real problem with Campbell? Shanahan promised to step in and reform a broken system. To date, he has failed.

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Never Say Die: Blackhawks Even Series, Await Word on Andrew Shaw

"You know I was just bullshittin'." (Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune)

A full day has passed, and I still can’t believe the ‘Hawks won that game. Complete disappointment to utter elation to ridiculously nervous to celebratory shots all in about 40 minutes. Saturday had some of everything.

And once again, it had Brent Seabrook. Definitely the MVP of the first two games for the Blackhawks, Seabrook was a part of a last-second regulation goal to tie the game. His blast from the point was redirected past Mike Smith by Patrick Sharp, sending the ‘Hawks into OT where Bryan Bickell would win it 4-3.

Just a couple of quick things as we await Game 3 at the UC on Tuesday…

♦   First, let’s address the “hit” on Smith by Andrew Shaw. Before getting fully into it, the NHL needs to immediately institute a rule that states if a player needs medical attention from the bench due to an apparent blow to the head, said player should be required to be taken to the locker room for testing as soon as he’s able to stand on the ice. With all the constant policing against hits to the head and the effects on star players – Jonathan Toews, Sidney Crosby, etc. – you would think this would be in the rulebook already.

Smith laid there for a few minutes as if he had gotten shot. Shaw clearly was trying to avoid the contact, and whatever happened incidentally did not require the sack-of-bricks fall and ensuing fake blackout by Smith. If it was that serious, Smith should never have stayed in the game. Instead, we may have witnessed the best dive of the playoffs – even better than Ryan Kesler’s load of bullshit on Sunday night – that almost cost the ‘Hawks the game due to a major penalty call.

Shaw will meet with Brendan Shanahan today, and if Shaw is issued any sort of suspension, Shanahan should immediately be fired. For the rest of his career as The Shanahammer, he’ll have to answer for not penalizing Shea Weber and rightly so. For Shaw to be levied a suspension and Weber allowed to skate free would be such a crime there’s no way Shanahan can ever be taken seriously again.

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Weapon Of Choice : Game Two Preview

Unknown to Johnny, Shane Doan is about to punch him in the back of the head ( Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune)

After suffering heartbreaking loss on Thursday night, the ‘Hawks still have a chance steal home ice in the series tonight. At the afternoon skate today the Blackhawks were rolling with the same lines they played with onThursday night. One suspects (prays) that Quenneville is just bluffing.

It’s hard to imagine that Q would be crazy enough to throw Sean O’Donnell back into lineup tonight, but this is a man who played John Scott on a regular basis. O’Donnell was consistently out of position and made horrible decisions all night long.

Niklas Hjalmarsson had one of his worst games as a Chicago Blackhawk on Thursday and one can’t help but attribute some of that to his partner. The Coyotes are a team that is ferocious on the forecheck and  getting someone who can move the puck on the other side  would probably go a long way in getting a minimally competent, non-panikly Hjalmarsson back for the ‘Hawks. Sami Lepisto is the guy who fits the bill here. But again, we don’t know what Q plans to do tonight.

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Iced: Game 1 Boxing with ‘Hawks and ‘Yotes

The three of you can just keep walking. (Chicago Tribune)

When teams finish off the regular season hot and head into the playoffs on a role, you can throw the records and the seeds out the window. Sometimes, things inexplicably just seem to go right for said team.

Phoenix played roughly 59 and a half minutes without their leading scorer, survived a possibly deflating tying goal late in the third and beat the Blackhawks in Game 1 3-2 in overtime on Thursday night in the desert.

Radim Vrbata played all of 30 seconds before leaving with an injury, but Martin Hazal’s redirect past Corey Crawford ended up being the difference – along with some help from Mike Smith.

A series of icing calls in OT didn’t help either, the last coming from Marcus Kruger, who subsequently lost the ensuing draw to Hanzal before he scored the winner.

It ruined the comeback of Jonathan Toews, who wasted little time showing how much the ‘Hawks missed him. He scored the game’s first goal and later assisted on Brent Seabrook‘s tally with less than 15 seconds left in regulation.

So, what went wrong? A lot of things…

♦   The Coyotes’ first goal had such incredible amounts of horrendous shit happening that I can barely bring myself to discuss it. Niklas Hjalmarsson hasn’t exactly been Mr. Dependable in the last, well, most of the season, but that might have been the worst shift of his life. In a span of about 45 seconds, Hjammer made an errant pass for an in-zone turnover, whiffed on a clearing attempt, sent a blind ring around the boards, poked away a badly needed freeze from Crawford, before finally allowing Taylor Pyatt to slip behind him to knock in a goal that was all – and I mean ALL – Hjammer’s fault.

What a fucking deflating stretch that was for the ‘Hawks. And no, I won’t ignore the fact the Coyotes got away with a blatant too many men non-penalty that could’ve been called by Stevie Wonder. However, there was too much farting from Hjammer going on that it trumps those two seconds of blindness from the refs. I saw many people blaming the officiating after the game, but that’s just a poor excuse from sore losers. The ‘Hawks lost that game on their own, and it all started with Hjammer’s terrible play on this goal.

♦   If that weren’t enough, the Blackhawks got caught badly in a change, leading to known cocksucker Raffi Torres skating into the zone unabated before finding Antoine Vermette for the go-ahead goal. Hjammer is an actual human being and is not invisible, but he still parked himself in Crawford’s line of sight, allowing Vermette to blast it home.

♦   Quick give me a good reason why Sean O’Donnell played ahead of Dylan Olsen. Now, take your reasoning of, “Maybe Q doesn’t want to play so many rookies in the playoffs,” and shove it directly into your asscrack. Hurry and try and find another one. I dare you.

O’Donnell not only provided a lovely screen on the OT goal, but he was so far away from the net on an even-strength point shot that I have to wonder if he’s ever played hockey before in his life. Nick Leddy was left to deal with Hanzal in front of the crease, and that proved to be no good for anyone as Hazal got his stick on the shot and put it in.

As Nakis pointed out on Facebook, it’s time to send O’Donnell to the glue factory. Go ahead and play the “He has playoff experience!” card, too, if you wish. That’s bullshit as well. Put his old ass in the press box and call it a day. Damnit.

♦   Brandon Bollig over Jimmy Hayes in the playoffs, when teams barely drop the gloves? Yep, makes sense – for all six minutes of Bollig’s ice time. Thanks.

♦   Part of me loved the energy Andrew Shaw brought to the game. The logical part of me was screaming at him to calm the fuck down (oxymoron?). Shaw was at it before the puck even dropped and continued running his mouth throughout the game. He luckily got away with a blatant trip with about three minutes left that could’ve killed the Blackhawks’ chance to tie the game.

♦   Speaking of, when Seabrook scored that goal, not once did I think the ‘Hawks were going to lose this game. What’s got two thumbs and was very, very wrong? This guy.

♦   Once again dividing myself in two, I’m conflicted on what Vrbata’s injury may do in the grand scheme of things for this series. On one hand, if it’s serious and he can’t play, it seems to be a great advantage for the ‘Hawks with the opposition’s leading score shelved. On the other hand, the Coyotes just beat the Blackhawks by taking advantage of mistakes and getting solid goaltending from Smith. Vrbata may not have made much difference. Let’s wait for the diagnosis, I guess.

Game 2 in the desert on Saturday night. Most of the CtA crew will be out and about watching the ‘Hawks hopefully tie things up, and we’ll let you know where we’re headed if anyone wants to watch me freak out over absolutely everything that happens while drinking heavily.

Here’s Boxing…

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Jonathan Toews: “It’s time to go.”

And with those 4.5 words, he’s back.

Jonathan Toews officially will play in Game 1 against the Phoenix Coyotes tonight, and may we all rejoice and breathe a sigh of relief. After sitting out 22 games due to a concussion, the Captain will return.

Here’s what he told Brian Hamilton of the Chicago Tribune:

“I’m very excited. I don’t think I’ve gone through anything like this in my career where it’s been touch-and-go for just over two months and you don’t really know when you’re going to feel 100 percent. (And) you’re doing everything you can and it seems to always be the same thing every time you wake up. These last couple of weeks have been really good. I’ve worked really hard not only to get over this but to feel ready and feel well enough to play a game. I’m really happy about that. Not only myself but the rest of the guys are excited to go out there and play.”

Obviously, this doesn’t guarantee anything in terms of wins and loses, but there’s no bad news about finding out Toews will be in the lineup. Does Q send him out there centering Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa? Will he shy away from contact at all? One thing is for certain, the Coyotes aren’t going to go easy on Toews for a single second. He’ll be the target of physical play every shift he’s on the ice.

Either way, things got a whole lot better for tonight’s matchup. See you on Comcast at 9pm.

The Season Starts Now: Blackhawks at Coyotes, Game 1

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America

It’s finally that time of year, folks.  The regular season is now meaningless history.  History will be made, starting now.  The two month grueling process of hell, otherwise known as the Stanley Cup Playoffs, begins its 2012 chapter.

The Blackhawks start their run in Phoenix.  Everyone was begging for the 3-6 seed matchup for the past month.  Well, folks, you got your wish.  We get to face the Yotes.

Game 1 will need to be a statement game.  Mike Smith has been very stingy against the Hawks (and the rest of the league, for that matter) in every game this year.  The Hawks will need to score, and they will need to score early tonight.

Jonathan Toews practiced with the team yesterday afternoon and expects to play tonight.  I hate to be cynical, but I’ll believe it when I see it.  His status seems to change by the hour, which is understandable with finicky head injuries.  Assuming Toews comes back, it could give the Hawks the spark they need to score early.

The Yotes are a physical team and will get after you and crash the net.  The defense needs to make a statement tonight too.  The Hawks cannot let the Yotes win the battles in front of Corey Crawford, leading to an easy tap-in.  When you’re facing a tough goaltender like Smith, you cannot give up easy goals.  The Hawks’ defense needs to make Phoenix work hard for their goals.  If they don’t, they will not win this game or this series.

The Hawks play a quick, open game of hockey, which is the exact opposite style that Phoenix plays.  They tend to grind it out.  Due to this, Phoenix will look to physically out-battle the Hawks and, excuse my language, knock the Hawks on their asses to slow the game down (see: Minnesota Wild vs. Blackhawks, regular season games 80 & 81).  The Hawks can’t afford to get caught up in the post-whistle stupidity and goonery.  The Hawks need to keep their cool and play at their level, rather than that of Phoenix.

Lastly, if Toews does indeed come back, the Hawks will need to keep an eye on him.  Phoenix will be going after him physically.  You can bet your house on it.  It will be really important for them to find the right balance of sticking up for their captain, and not getting carried away playing grab-ass.  Blackhawks fan-favorite Raffi Torres is nearing the one-year anniversary of his demolition of Brent Seabrook.  Just hope he doesn’t try to celebrate the anniversary with a gift for Toews.

Game starts at 9:00 PM Central on NBCSN.

I Would Shave My Beard, but We’ve Become Attached: A Brief History of the Playoff Beard

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

It is a tradition that has become both a fan-favorite and an essential glue of solidarity between NHL fans and players.  The playoff beard.  Many fans grow one.  Many fans wish they could grow one.  Almost all NHL players grow one while they are in the hunt for the Cup.  While many of us (myself, included) partake in this superstitious ritual, I would venture to guess that there are some out there who do not know the roots of its tradition.

Nowadays, if someone mentions the New York Islanders, it’s likely going to be a conversation about how terrible they’ve been in the past decade, how Rick Dipietro might be one of the biggest busts in recent memory, how they may or may not get a new stadium, or how John Tavares simply deserves to be surrounded by a better team.  It’s easy to forget that the Islanders of the 1980s had one of the most dominant and storied dynasties in NHL history.

In 1980, the Islanders, with the likes of Clark Gillies, Gord Lane, Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, and Ken Morrow, found themselves in the playoffs after an impressive 110 point season.  As a sign of solidarity, many of the players decided to grow beards during their Cup run.  Well, as fate would have it, the 1980 Islanders won the Cup.  In fact, they won the next three Cups after that as well.  The Islanders won an impressive 19 consecutive playoff series, while growing the playoff beards.  A tradition was born.

Although the beard-growing tradition took a break after the Islanders dynasty ended, it made resurgence in the 1990s and is now a league-wide phenomenon.

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We’re Almost There : A Quick Glance At ‘Hawks and The Rest Of The League

This team will not be discussed in this post.

The Leafs will not be discussed in this post. (BLAIR GABLE/REUTERS)

We’re only one horrible, awful work day away from the opening game of the 2011-2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs! The anticipation is certainly building and I know you’ve been reading all about the impending ‘Hawks/Coyotes series. I wanted to gloss over a few things related to the Blackhawks and then get you up to speed with the rest of the league.

Sean O’Donnell has been skating with Niklas Hjalmarrson this week on the third pair during practice. I can’t be the only person who is a tad apprehensive about this. I understand that this playoff series does not hinge on the play of the 6th ‘Hawks defenseman, but I’m not sure why Dylan Olsen was benched after he appeared to be coming along quite nicely down the stretch. Despite appearing in the final regular season game, it doesn’t appear that Sami Lepisto is going to see much ice time, if any, over the next few weeks either, so that leaves us with OD. Maybe the Blackhawks don’t want to dress two extremely young defenseman (the other being Nick Leddy) in a playoff series, but the burden of proof will be on OD to show he can keep pace in a playoff game. On the upside, the old man has been around the block, appearing in 104 career playoff games. He’s been here before.

♦  It hasn’t always worked out when tried in the past – but Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa are skating together this week in practice. If you’re standing near Keith Yandle and Derek Morris, you probably smell something putrid lingering. We should not forget that Viktor Stalberg and Marcus Kruger elevating their games made this possible. Those two are rolling along great with the always dependable Patrick Sharp. With that second line rolling, the top six of the Blackhawks is as strong as any team in the NHL. Goals will be scored.

Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

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Takes One to Know One: Blackhawks-Coyotes Powerplay Woes

Hard to believe they do this less on the PP than we do.

You know how we’d been used to referring to Joel Quenneville’s blender for the better part of his coaching tenture? The Phoenix Coyotes powerplay selections in recent weeks has made that look like a light blend. Granted the team made trade deadline acquisitions among their forwards by bringing in Antoine Vermette but both he and Gilbert Brule have struggled to find playing partners on the man advantage since relocating to Phoenix. I still think the Blackhawks can match up with just about any team in the Western Conference at even strength. The powerplay woes are well documented for those wearing the Indian Head but somehow the desert dogs make the Hawks powerplay look palatable. Here’s what they’ve been working with up front for the last 10 games on the powerplay.

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