The 4th one is the toughest: Blackhawks-Flyers, Game 6 preview

It ends tonight. No more worrying, no more nervousness, no more games at the United Center. I’m ready for the 2009-10 hockey season to be over, and so are the Blackhawks.

Most sports experts will tell us the pressure rests on the ‘Hawks tonight to close out the series in Philadelphia and avoid coming back to Chicago for an always-tense Game 7. Well, forget it. Not only are the Flyers fighting for their season tonight, Q-Stache laid out the blueprint for victory in Game 5. His line shuffling had the Flyers on their heels most of the night, and it’s up to Peter Laviolette  and Philadelphia to provide resistence to the Blackhawks new-look attack.

In Game 3, Laviolette’s last-change advantage led to Philadelphia’s OT winner as the ‘Hawks struggled to get their desired personnel on the ice. He’ll use that same advantage tonight in hopes of countering the ‘Hawks offense. Still, he needs to figure out when to put  Chris Pronger  on the ice now that  Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane  and  Dustin Byfuglien  have been split up.

The Flyers’ aggressive forecheck didn’t do much to keep the ‘Hawks at bay, especially in the first period when most of the damage was done. In Game 4, Philadelphia caused havoc in the Blackhawks’ zone with  Mike Richards  making the most notable play when he swiped the puck from  Niklas Hjalmarsson  and slipping it five-hole past  Antti Niemi.  They’ll need more of that tonight to create more offense for guys like  Scott Hartnell, Claude Giroux  and  Ville Leino  – all of whom the Blackhawks are having trouble containing.

Michael Leighton  will get the start tonight after being yanked for the second time in the series in Game 5. Niemi has been sketchy for most of the series, and the Blackhawks will need his top performance to withstand the Flyers, who are sure to come out amped in front of their home crowd.

OK, I’m done analyzing this game because my stomach is turning writing this. Bottom line, the Blackhawks have a chance to clinch their first Stanley Cup championship in 49 years.

Go get it, ‘Hawks.

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Chicago Tribune gets into Pronger bashing with ‘Chrissy’ poster

Poster in print edition of June 8 Chicago Tribune

Never would I have expected to see something like this from the Chicago Tribune.  This is New York Post kind of stuff. I can’t remember the last time the Trib so blatently made fun of an opposing player with graphic like this. By no means am I saying this isn’t creative, but even the Chicago blogs haven’t come up with anything like this for him yet.

The above photo is a bit fuzzy when it comes to the writing, so sorry about that. Under ‘Chrissy Pronger,’ it says, “Looks like Tarzan, skates like Jane.” The overall knock to Pronger is quite obviously there, as the Trib traded his hockey pants for a skirt. But of course, they showed a bit of respect to Pronger, writing underneath the puck labled ’100%’, “… CHANCE we’ll change our minds if Hawks sign him.”

Not so sure about that…

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Don’t you ever touch my puck: ‘Hawks 7, Flyers 4 — One more, baby.

Here’s some humor to start the show:

CHICAGO - JUNE 06: Chris Pronger  of the Philadelphia Flyers sits on the bench beneath signs held by fans of the Chicago Blackhawks in Game Five of the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Final at the United Center on June 6, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Thanks for the minus-5, jackass. (Yardbarker)

One more. One. More.

Whoever bought the six cases of 5 Hour Energy the Blackhawks slammed before face-off, promote them and grant them sexual favors. The ‘Hawks started the game flying up and down the ice and had an answer for everything the Flyers threw at them in Sunday’s 7-4, Game 5 victory. It’s back to Philadelphia, and the Stanley Cup will be in the building.

These are the Blackhawks we’ve been waiting to see — slightly modified, of course. As many expected, Q-Stache shuffled up the lines and separated Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and  Dustin Byfuglien for the majority of even-strength shifts. It seemed to work out for everyone.

Toews was a beast  all night, Kane potted a goal off a beautiful feed from  Andrew Ladd and Byfuglien looked like a man possessed. Buff scored twice and splattered  Chris Pronger into the boards on a couple different occasions while being extremely effective in every aspect of the game. Kaner joked at the post-game press conference about Byfuglien: “Yeah, he gets rid of us then starts producing.”

Kris Versteeg scored possibly the biggest goal of the night when he put the ‘Hawks up 3-0 and chased  Michael Leighton  in the first period. The Flyers needed only 32 seconds (more on this later) at the start of the second period before  Scott Hartnell’s goal cut the lead back to two. Without Versteeg’s goal, the game would’ve had a completely different feel being a one-goal game at that point after the ‘Hawks dominated the first period.

Giving a hell of a lot of credit to Philadelphia, it never went away and was within inches of completely turning the game in its favor. If the Flyers took more advantage of some iffy goaltending by  Antti Niemi, who was out of position on at least three great chances for Philly, they could easily be heading home with the series lead.

Alas, the ‘Hawks survived the threats and will have a chance to close this bitch out Wednesday.

Stuff and things…

– How rewarding is it that Pronger played like a complete pile of shit? That big, goofy asshole was minus-5 in 28:47 of ice time, deflected  Brent Seabrook’s shot into the net off his skate, took a beating from and was rendered ineffective by Byfuglien and watched one of Buff’s goals from the penalty box. Justice.

As the clock wound down,  Ben Eager picked up the puck and skated toward the benches. I can only hope he tried to give it to Pronger and said, “Here, you want this one, too?”

– The refs were absolutely horrendous for both sides tonight.  They missed obvious high-sticking penalties when  Brian Campbell and  Daniel Briere almost had parts of their face torn off. Dicks.

Marian Hossa. He’s… I would bear his children. He might get arrested tonight just for being so damn awesome.

– Byfuglien also had two assists. He should be allowed to skate around the Flyers’ next practice with a giant middle finger in the air for 12-15 minutes.

– Kind of a disheartening stat: The Flyers have answered a Blackhawks goal with one of their own within two minutes 4 times in the series, and they’ve scored  4 goals in either the first or last minute of the period. Not cool. It’s the Stanley Cup Final. We’ve heard a lot about momentum and while I believe overall “momentum” heading into the next game is a bit overrated, momentum within a game is not. Especially on the road in Game 6, this kind of shit can’t happen.

– The Blackhawks are still losing sight of Flyers creeping to the net from behind the cage. Briere missed two golden opportunities tonight in which he was pretty much standing by himself. Scoring seven goals made us overlook this a bit, especially since the ‘Hawks took it too the Flyers offensively most of the game. However, blown coverage bit the ‘Hawks in the ass multiple times this series. Keep your eyes peeled, fellas, and tighten up along the blue line to disrupt the Flyers’ rush into the zone.

– I’m not sure what’s scarier: Brent Sopel and Nick Boynton with their hideous faces standing in front of me in a dark alley, or the two of them being paired up on defense.

Peter Laviolette is the biggest sore loser in hockey. If the Flyers win, he sits at the post-game press conference with a smile on his face like he’s getting a blowjob under the table from  Megan Fox. After a loss, he’s the biggest jerk to every single media member asking so much as a simple question that would require a simple 20-second answer. He talks down to everyone and treats them as if they know nothing, and it’s the most egotistical, smug thing I’ve ever witnessed. He could take a page out of Q-Stache’s book when it comes to dealing with the media. You have to do it, so suck it up and answer the goddamn question like a man and not a smug pansy.

The NHL is channeling its inner-NBA by giving the ‘Hawks and Flyers two days off between games. We have to wait until Wednesday for the Blackhawks to play in their first potential Stanley Cup-clincher since 1961. Damn that sounds awesome.

‘Til then…

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10% off a Blackhawks two-puck commemorative set!

Home better be where the heart is: Pregame thoughts as Game 5 looms

Following Game 4, myself and McClure of Second City Hockey discussed his optimism and my pessimism for the remainder of the Stanley Cup Final. It ended with McClure giving me a hug.

I’m still not in a good frame of mind. I’ve come to realize fans in Chicago either overreact or don’t react enough when it comes to sports. There’s no in between. Everyone has gone from, “Eh, we’re going to sweep this series and the Flyers have no chance,” to, “OMFG what are we gonna do? It’s over. It’s over! IT’S OVER!”

Granted, I’m leaning more on the side that we’re in trouble. Tell me all you want about how history is on the side of the team which takes a 2-0 series lead. But if you’re referencing that, you’re forgetting 41 of the last 45 teams which has won Game 4 ended up hoisting the Cup. History isn’t on our side anymore.

Luckily, the Blackhawks and Flyers have to play hockey and neither team will win the Cup because of a penmanship contest on paper. Now, I have both good news and bad news leading up to Game 5.

THE GOOD NEWS

The Blackhawks are yet to play their best game.

One of the most prolific offenses in the NHL has been pretty much strapped, despite Game 1′s six-goal outburst.  Brian Campbell and  Duncan Keith have played tremendous on D through the first four games, but the blue-line unit as a whole has been less than spectacular.  Antti Niemi has played well, but he also hasn’t been “Sharks” good.  Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and  Dustin Byfuglien haven’t done close to what we — and they — expected.

Why is this good? Hopefully it means the best game is coming, the stellar play of  Marian Hossa in this series will be matched by everyone and the ‘Hawks will show us the team we’ve known and loved throughout the season and playoffs. It has to happen, right?

THE BAD NEWS

The Blackhawks are yet to play their best game.

Nope, that’s not a copy-and-paste fail. The good news and bad news are both the same. Why is this bad? Well, we’re four games into the biggest playoff series for this franchise since 1992, it’s the Stanley Cup Final and the Blackhawks are by far the more talented team. The fact the Blackhawks are yet to show the Flyers their best game is concerning.

The Blackhawks served up Game 3 to the Flyers with poor decisions and giveaways. Bounces didn’t go their way. It seemed as if each loose puck ended up on the stick of a Flyer. My thought has always been bounces go a certain way for one reason — the team receiving those bounces takes the luck factor out of it. While the Blackhawks played the overall better game in Game 3, Philadelphia skaters were in the right place at the right time and  Michael Leighton was in the position he needed to be more often than not.

OBLIGATORY RANT

The penalty disparity in this series is absolutely atrocious and each referee should be ashamed of himself. Friday night’s 5-on-3 advantage not withstanding, Philadelphia has received nearly every single call in this series. How  Chris Pronger has only been in the box once through four games is reason enough to ban these crews from refereeing another Stanley Cup Final for their careers. I hate to use the officiating as an excuse, but when I have Flyers fans telling me the refs have given Philadelphia the upper hand in this series I know there’s validity to what I’m saying.

LINE CHANGES APLENTY?

Who knows. Q-Stache can be creative, and we all haven’t been a fan of his panic-switch changes. However,  Justin Bourne put together a good read on how changes have a positive influence on the mindset of a player and how it could benefit the ‘Hawks. Check it out.

Nevertheless, it’s pretty clear whichever team wins Game 5 will win the Cup. I firmly believe this series ends in Philly on Tuesday night. The problem? I’m not sure if it’ll be Toews or  Mike Richards hoisting the Cup.

Puck drop is 7 p.m. CST from the United Center. Time to get nasty.

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Saddle up: Wild Stanley Cup Final continues with Game 4

While I’m still stinging a bit over the Game 3 OT loss, I’ve calmed myself enough to focus on tonight. These Cup finals have been nuts so far — 11 goals in Game 1, two goals in 28 seconds in Game 2, a third-period lead blown in 20 seconds, two reviewed goals and shitty line change in Game 3 …. what the hell could we possibly get in Game 4?

Well, probably much of the same. Both the Blackhawks and Flyers are saying all the right things and letting their play on the ice relate the substance of their words.

There’s been some talk around town of possibly changing the lines up to get  Dustin Byfuglien  off the top line, which would then draw  Chris Pronger  off the ice to create better opportunities for  Jonathan Toews  and  Patrick Kane.  As much as I hate QStache’s panic-switch changes, I don’t think this one would qualify as such. It’s no secret Pronger is a complete and utter pile of dog shit, but the bastard is a good hockey player and has limited Byfuglien from … well, doing much of anything through the first three games.

If this would happen, I would like to see  Patrick Sharp  on the top line. However, we have to wait and see about  Andrew Ladd’s  status for tonight, which now stands as him being a game-time decision.

Bottom line? The Blackhawks need to win this one to save the collective heart of Chicago. We’ve gone from thinking this series was a sure thing to wondering about the worst. I, for one, never said Philadelphia would be a cakewalk. But, that doesn’t change my mentality from being extremely nervous about tonight’s game.

Puck drop is 7 p.m. CST from Philadelphia, with Doc and Eddie-O calling the action on VERSUS. Also, be sure to make it out to Second City Hockey’s watch party at Bottom Lounge tonight. If you like fun, you’ll be there.

GO ‘HAWKS!

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Only 5,000 sets will be made…priced at $39.95 and comes with a separate display case.  One puck commemorates history of the Blackhawks franchise, the other is a salute to the 2009-10 season and includes a series-by-series recap of the post-season games.  Really a nice, historical collectible for that special Hawks fan.  To order, call 1-800-345-2868 or visit www.nikcosports.com.  Officially licensed by the NHL….made by Sherwood Hockey, the SAME pucks used in the Cup series!!!

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Again, don’t be a cheap-ass. It’s for kids. Plus, you get 10% off just for reading this Internet rag. 

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Everything sucks right now: ‘Hawks drop Game 3 in OT

There are so many ridiculous, un-edited thoughts running through my mind right now. I’d like to find  Bill McCreary and flood his hotel room with billions of fire ants while I watch in ecstasy as they chew his face off little by little. I hope Q-Stache is laying face down in his pillow with tears pouring out of his eyes wondering why he called a line change 2 seconds after a neutral zone face-off loss which led to the losing goal — and all this after the ‘Hawks had lost over 60 percent of the face-offs all night.

More importantly, I’m hoping the ‘Hawks are all languishing in the fact they’ve played like dog shit for three games in the Stanley Cup finals and that it finally caught up to them. Taking a third-period lead off of what should be a deflating-to-the-home-team breakaway goal on the road from your star player,  Patrick Kane, who hasn’t been on the score sheet all series should last more than 20 goddamn, motherfucking seconds.

Alas, I’ll hold back until tomorrow. I’m getting drunk. Fuck it. Right now, all I can do is be a pessimist and tell you this series is as good as fucking tied, and we’re going to be watching a critical Game 5 on Sunday at the United Center praying the Blackhawks don’t have to go back to Philadelphia down 3-2 — because right now, it seems completely feasible.

I’m not ready to look at any positives. I want to destroy everything in my path and will probably smoke an entire pack of cigarettes within the next 45 minutes.

Fuck everything. We’ll catch up tomorrow with some more relaxed, coherent thoughts.

Act or fact: Down 0-2, why do Flyers seem so relaxed?

Remind a Philadelphia Flyer he’s two losses from the golf course and you may hear him respond casually, “Yeah, and we’re four WINS away from it, too.”

No matter their 0-2 deficit to the Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final, the Flyers seem at peace with their play and stance in the series. They’ve been down before, picked themselves back up and marched through the Eastern Conference and into the finals. Now on hockey’s biggest stage, the Flyers don’t seem to mind the curtain could be drawn in 120 short minutes.

Are the Flyers simply playing opossum, hiding frustration and disappointment waiting to pounce tonight in Game 3? Or is it fact Philadelphia is immune to such situations?

Peter Laviolette and the Flyers have displayed the laid-back approach before, acting relaxed in the face of playoff adversity. Maybe it’s all about image. But with the amount of smirking, joking and shrugging done publicly, any hockey mind merits the right to wonder when Philadelphia’s sense of urgency kicks in.

If it’s all an act,  Chris Pronger plays the role of First Star Jackass to perfection. He’s cross-checked and jabbered his way through the first two games of the finals and trashed every question from the media with a smug answer. Pronger’s latest spat with  Ben Eager on the surface seems childish. Who takes a puck hoping the other team will be upset?

Maybe Pronger continues to bury his frustrations with small-minded antics in hopes of baiting the Blackhawks into stupid hockey. Or, maybe the guy is just trying to have a little fun and take the pressure off his teammates by deterring the media attention from them.

Whatever the case, the Flyers seem to be eating it up and following his lead. Laviolette acts ignorant to each question asked, and  Mike Richards did so much smiling at yesterday’s press conference you’d think he was at a photo shoot. And I’m sure if  Dan Carcillo had a soul, he’d muster a toothless smile as well.

The Flyers seem to hold hope of lulling the Blackhawks into their relaxed state of mind and getting the ‘Hawks to sit and bask in a 2-0 series lead heading into a raucous Philadelphia crowd. Rather, the Flyers may be attempting to confuse the ‘Hawks into wondering how a team facing such a deficit isn’t showing more desperation.

The Blackhawks don’t seem fazed, nor do the Flyers seem to be tipping their hand anytime soon. The starring contest continues in Game 3 tonight at 7 p.m. CST at the Wachovia Center.

Let’s see who flinches first.

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Not so sunny in Philadelphia: ‘Hawks edge Flyers 2-1, take 2-0 series lead

Two. For the first time since 1971, the Blackhawks are two wins away from bringing the Stanley Cup back to Chicago. While the ‘Hawks sure as hell haven’t won a damn thing yet, the feeling is incredible.

Analyze Game 1 and 2 all you want, but once the final horn sounds the only thing that counts is the scoreboard. The Flyers have scored six goals in the series, but have zero wins to show for it. A couple of “One Goal” games have the Blackhawks in control heading to Philadelphia. In fact, the ‘Hawks are coincidentally 5-0 in “One Goal” games in the 2010 playoffs. That’s what matters.

Here’s what I’ve got…

Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Dustin Byfuglien all missed the score sheet again tonight. You know who cares? Not this guy. While I’m a tad vexed Toews went 13 straight games with a point but is scoreless for the first two games, Toews doesn’t have to carry this team every single night. If the only thing Toews lifts when this series ends is 35 points of silver, I’m a happy man.

– I watched Game 1 with a bunch of Red Wings fans, then listened to their bitterness regarding  Marian Hossa. I heard for roughly an hour how Hossa was brought into Detroit last season to specifically score goals against Pittsburgh in the Cup finals — something he didn’t do. Now, they all hate Hossa and placed a great deal of blame upon him for the Red Wings losing to the Penguins.

Needless to say, it was complete justification Hossa got on the board tonight with his first goal and third point of the 2010 Stanley Cup Final. It’s almost as if Hossa woke up in the middle of the night and knew some bitter Wings fans were talking shit and said to himself, “That’s it, I’m fucking scoring in Game 2.”

Done and done.

– Toews came into the series as the consensus leader for the Conn Smythe. If  Antti Niemi continues to put in performances like Game 2′s 33-save gem, the Finn may be getting some hardware. Giving up five goals in Game 1 wasn’t ideal, but he bounced back with some key saves and withstood the Flyers’ furious comeback attempt Monday in the third period. The Blackhawks once again played well in front of him, but Niemi is doing a hell of a lot all by himself in these playoffs.

– Finally, after nearly 75 minutes of apparently PERFECT hockey, Philadelphia got whistled for a penalty with 5:12 left in the first period which drew sarcastic cheers from the crowd at the UC. In Game 1, the Flyers were the first team since Boston in 1953 to play a flawless Stanley Cup game.

– Speaking of penalties, I want to know how Chris Pronger hasn’t been called for shit through these first two games. He even broke Byfuglien’s stick while battling him for position in front of the net tonight, and got away with it. He continuously cross-checks the shit out of everyone within site of him. I hope he rots in hell.

Dan Carcillo and his so-called intangibles were supposed to make a difference tonight. The best thing he did all night? He checked the shit out of  Jeff Carter. Carter plays for the Flyers. Nice job, dickweed.

– I’ll say it:  Ben Eager has had a hell of a playoff run. He takes a lot of shit for being a bonehead half the time, but no one can ever question the kid’s effort. After scoring his goal in the second period, 28 seconds after Hossa’s, the excitement he displayed is what the Cup finals are all about. However, if I have to hear one more time how he used to play for the Flyers, I’m going to strangle myself. Taking it further, if I have to hear one more dipshit reporter ask him what it’s like to play against the Flyers in the Cup finals and/or have someone ask him what it’s like to score a goal against his former team, I’m going to hang myself with dental floss.

– Other than getting faked out of his strap at one point,  Brent Sopel played a heck of a game tonight. He made some nice checks, moved the puck fairly well and got a few more bruises by blocking shots. Like Eager, he takes a lot of shit. Overall, Sopel’s been a rock in these playoffs.

– Chicago is buzzing with this series lead, and rightfully so. But also acknowledge what I said before the series started: The ‘Hawks will win this series, but it won’t be easy. Philadelphia has proved it can compete in this series and won’t be pushovers like 80 percent of the hockey world thought. The Flyers don’t seem all that concerned with improving their play heading into Game 3. Both of these games could’ve gone either way with a couple bounces.

– With all that being said the Flyers should probably consider winning Game 3, or else they’re pretty much:

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