If you watched the Hawks' 2-1 overtime loss against the Calgary Flames last night, you saw 50 shots aimed at Jonas Hiller with only one of them hitting the back of the net. Fifty shots total in one game with only one getting through -- a deflection, mind you, from Andrew Shaw via a Patrick Sharp blast from near the blue line.
When reading that stat line the next day, all one can do is shake their head and tip their cap to Hiller, who stood on his head. What Joel Quenneville and staff need to preach after such a frustrating performance is not to change a single thing, at least in terms of putting the puck on net.
It only was a matter of time -- at least by Tuesday, October 7, to be exact -- when GM Stan Bowman was going to pull the trigger on trading away a member of the Hawks so that he could trim $2.2 million against the payroll. That victim was Nick Leddy this weekend, to the New York Islanders, for a handful of players in return.
Regardless of how you felt about Leddy and his contributions to the team, in the salary-cap age in the NHL, players come and go, and sometimes the deals may or may not make sense. It's true Leddy was in coach Joel Quenneville's dog house for much of last season, and he did have the Western Conference-clinching puck go off of his backside from an Alec Martinez shot, but that doesn't mean Leddy's worth was anything less than recently acquired threat to humanity Dan Carcillo. Again, sometimes things may or may not make sense.
Measuring quality talent can be a tough test for any coaching staff, especially with as much of it that has come through the Blackhawks' organization in recent years. A mixture of key draft picks and trades have rebuilt a franchise, which captured two of the last five Stanley Cups and the imagination of a city.
With a nice balance of youth, speed and hockey awareness, it becomes a difficult situation -- a good problem to have, mind you -- to decide who makes the final 23-man roster and who heads to Rockford. The roster currently sits at 40, after a few young hopefuls were given the IceHogs assignment last Friday. That leaves 17 more tough decisions to make before opening night, Thursday, Oct. 9, when the Hawks begin the season in Dallas.
All was quiet on the South Bend campus of Notre Dame Friday morning. Students headed off to class with steam beginning to appear with each exhale; fall was yet a few days away despite a few leafs already beginning to change color.
Their eighth-ranked football team was going into a bye week, yet the energy in the air was still present. Later that day, the Chicago Blackhawks would arrive to open training camp in hopes to make good on a season that ended a little too early with so many expectations riding into it.
The Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup last season for the second time in three seasons, which had many prognosticators asking which of these two teams was the more dominant in the post-cap era. The Hawks and Joel Quenneville will look to address that this upcoming season, but first need to answer a few questions of their own regarding a young phenom, the team's ability to hold a lead and exactly how they'll be able to shave $2.2 million in the next month.
It never was a matter of if, but moreso when Stan Bowman would follow through on his promise of making Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane Blackhawks for life. The captain and most dynamic player in the league have come a long way in such a short amount of time in this town, and Wednesday afternoon, both were rewarded with dual eight-year, $10.5 million contracts, which lock in the stars through the 2022-'23 season.
Not to reminisce about a couple of players in their mid-20s, but looking back a mere seven years ago when both were coming into their own in the NHL, it was clear it wasn't a question of if, but when Toews and Kane would lead the Hawks -- a franchise in great need of a boost at the time -- to a Stanley Cup championship.
A few rings, Olympic medals and Conn Smythe trophies later, two of the most recognizable faces in the league were handsomely rewarded by the very team they helped resurrect from obscurity.
One by one, players from all around the league slowly began to learn their fate by way of free-agency acquisitions for big money and long-term deals. All the while, Hawks fans waited patiently while refreshing their Twitter feeds in hopes that their team would make a splash while not creating massive waves in the process.
First it was Jason Spezza, moving on to the Dallas Stars in a trade with the Ottawa Senators, a pretty big move for a team within the Central. Then, just before lunch time, the St. Louis Blues announced they had signed Paul Stastny for $28 million over four years.
One by one, from big names to role players, general managers across the league began opening up check books as if it were Black Friday. But all the while, the Hawks hung back and quietly worked through a strategy that ended up surprising most of the league at the end of the day.
With all the rumors swirling around last week about Patrick Sharp and his $5.9 million deal being dealt away to create more cap space, it turned out general manager Stan Bowman had other plans in mind -- at least for now.
Coming into the 2014 NHL draft in Philadelphia this past weekend, Bowman remained tight-lipped about the Hawks' leading scorer during the regular season and deflected towards the need to re-sign Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, the need to prepare for lining up new picks and locking in restricted free agents in Jeremy Morin, Ben Smith and Antti Raanta -- all three for two-year deals. Toews and Kane are asking for $12 million each, which they likely won't get, but probably will get close -- say, around $10 million each.
So, with all the drama coming to a crescendo Friday evening, Bowman pulled off a trade no one saw coming: a two-for that included the 20th and 179th picks from San Jose for the Hawks' 27th and 62nd picks. Then, Bowman followed that up Saturday by trading away "sometimes serviceable during the regular season fourth liner" Brandon Bollig to the Calgary Flames for the 83rd overall pick.
Coming into the 2013-'14 season, Duncan Keith and his teammates were fresh off the heels of winning their second Stanley Cup in four seasons. It was a summer of showing off the most prized trophy in sports across Canada, parts of Europe and here in the U.S., at a mix of donut shops, fishing trips and every bar in River North.
The joyous feeling was familiar to some, new to others, but one every member of this team agreed would never get old. Repeating as champs in any sport is extremely difficult, especially in one that implements a salary cap like the NHL. And while the randomness of the puck bouncing every which way plays a part in who wins or loses, the one thing that remains constant on the ice is the skill level of a player in his prime.
Keith didn't get his chance to hoist Lord Stanley over his head this season due to a few bad bounces and a Kings team that outplayed coach Joel Quenneville's team, but he was rewarded for his hard work throughout the season at Tuesday night's NHL awards ceremony in Las Vegas.
Now that the dust has settled after an epic NHL postseason, as well as your gut settling after a painful Game 7 loss in the Western Conference Final against the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, the Hawks are putting together some final decisions before entering this weekend's NHL draft in Philadelphia, PA. The season may be over, but the march towards regaining back the throne as champs starts Saturday with the twenty-seventh overall pick, followed by seven others over the course of two days.
Former Hawks general manager Dale Tallon built most of this current core via the draft, starting with Niklas Hjalmarsson (fourth round) in 2005, Jonathan Toews (third overall) in 2006 and Patrick Kane (first overall) in 2007, to name a few. Once Stan Bowman took over in 2010, he's added Joakim Nordstrom (third round) in 2010, and Brandon Saad (second round) and Andrew Shaw (fifth round) in 2011, with his most recent picks playing in the AHL, college or overseas.
As the Kings and Rangers wind down the 2014 Stanley Cup Final, the Blackhawks have been resting whatever injuries that came about during the long season and grueling postseason -- all while watching from the comfort of their respective homes. Surely, the watching part is more painful than any contusion or strain, especially considering how close the Hawks came from being in the Kings' current position up three games to none.
But, as Patrick Kane once said, "That's hockey, baby." Now that the gut punch of losing Game 7 has subsided, the Hawks' brass have begun looking to fill whatever holes exist on the current roster. With the draft coming in less than three weeks, Stan Bowman and company will work to clear some cap space all while adding around its current core.
While this city hasn't had much to cheer about over the years in terms of having a last team standing (Blackhawks 2010 and 2013 not withstanding), there's at least one thing for sure that resonates with fans from Lake County, Illinois down to Lake County, Indiana and everywhere around it, and that's the memories of the voices calling the action that have led us along the way.
The Cubs had Harry Caray and Jack Brickhouse before him; Sox fans have enjoyed the Hawk lo these years, although that might depend on who you ask; the Bears also had Brickhouse for a little over 20 years calling the action; the Hawks had long stretches of Bob Elson, Lloyd Pettit, and currently Pat Foley, whose 30-plus years behind the mic makes him the longest tenured in team history.
With the exception of Harrelson (he's been a Ford C. Frick finalist a few times) Caray, Brickhouse, Pettit and Elson are all hall-of-famers in their respective sport. On Monday, Nov. 17, Foley will receive his long-awaited Foster Hewitt Memorial Award in Toronto and will be immortalized forever, entering the Hockey Hall of Fame.
It's been said the hardest thing to do in sports is to repeat as champion. No truer words have been spoken about doing it in the NHL.
With a bullseye on your back the entire season, every other team in the league aspires to take the throne right from underneath you and put on the crown as champs. This is exactly what happened when the Kings ended the Blackhawks' run as defending Stanley Cup champions by way of a 5-4 loss in overtime Sunday night at the United Center.
Michal Handzus: 6 foot, 4 inches; 219 pounds; 37 years old; one overtime game-winning goal; third star of Game 5.
In the 1995 film The Usual Suspects, Kevin Spacey said a very memorable quote:
"The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist."
That's what the Hawks did to the Kings Wednesday night at the United Center, and that devil was Michal Handzus. If you predicted Handzus to score the eventual game winner, go ahead and pass Go and collect your $200 with a smile.
The old man, who defies time and space itself, channeled his inner Patrick Kane with a backhander to beat Jonathan Quick, which sent the entire area within the 312/773 into a frenzy while clasping their collective heads in awe in a 5-4 win in double overtime. But in all reality, the Hawks got away with convincing the world they shouldn't have existed for an upcoming Game 6 in La-La Land.
After a pretty solid Game 1 against a fatigued Los Angeles Kings team, the Hawks now face elimination down three games to one. As I said before, this is a far different Kings team than the Hawks faced in last year's Western Conference final, and it's showing on the ice.
Sure, claiming the Hawks are tired from a short offseason after winning the Stanley Cup, plus sending 10 Olympians to Sochi would make perfect sense, but there's more to it than that. All teams are tired at this point in the season, it's a matter of who has enough to dig down deep and come through with strong legs and a clear head.
If you went to bed late in the second period of Game 2 with the Hawks nursing a solid 2-0 lead, you probably woke up a little stunned hearing the final score was 6-2 Kings. How could this have happened, especially coming from a team that seemingly learned from its mistakes of losing late leads early on in these playoffs?
It wasn't as though the Hawks looked sluggish in any way during the first two periods of Wednesday night's game, but what went down in the third with five goals yielded (one an empty-netter) defies anything logical other than the Hawks took their lumps with a combination of too many odd-man rushes, too many dumb penalties and a bad bounce (karma?) that was allowed by assuming a play was finished. Sounds like a Bears game in early January.
After the Hawks disposed of the Kings in five close games during last year's Western Conference final, skeptics began to ask if undisclosed injuries to Anze Kopitar and others played a role. A deep run for a playoff team will produce any type of ache, pain or punctured lung, especially if said team's back is against the wall.
Going into the series, the then defending Stanley Cup champs were riding the hot stick and glove of Jonathan Quick, who ended his playoff run with the fourth best goals-against average of 1.86, a mere two one-hundredths behind the man who beat him, Corey Crawford.
What beat the Kings in five was a lack of scoring, exiting the playoffs with the eleventh-best goals-per-game average of only 2.06, compared to the Hawks' 2.78. And even though the Hawks took Game 1 at home on Sunday by the final of 3-1, it likely won't be as night and day getting through this year's rematch as last year's near sweep.
So much for that easy series against the Minnesota Wild in round two of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Admit it, you were just as nervous Tuesday night for Game 6 as you were last year in that epic series against the Red Wings.
The entire Blackhawks squad would be the first to tell you they dodged a few bullets in this series, that Corey Crawford is 90 percent of the reason they've made it to the Western Conference Finals for the third time in five years, and that a few lucky breaks went their way, including Patrick Kane's overtime game winner, the fourth in his career. Nevertheless, good teams always seem to find a way to win despite being overworked along the boards and being blocked on every single shot in sight.
If Mike Yeo's squad can continue to work that extra gear discovered in the Colorado Avalanche series, you can forget worrying about the Blues in the Central. It'll be the Wild that will haunt your dreams.
Sometimes it's better talent and a great game plan that works against your opponent in big-game situations. And then sometimes it's the dirty, greasy goals that work out in your favor when everything else fails to make it into the back of the net. That's pretty much how you'd describe the Game 5 performance of the Hawks against the Minnesota Wild.
After pretty much cruising through the first two games of this series; albeit, with some concern with the way the Wild counter-attacked the Hawks' rush, the inevitable occurred up in the Land of 10,000 Lakes when coach Mike Yeo's squad limited the defending Stanley Cup champs to only 19 shots in Game 3 and 20 shots in Game 4 and equalize the series going away. Enter Game 5 and a lot of tension in the air and questions as to how to beat the Wild's ability to limit shots against goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.
After the Minnesota Wild cut the Blackhawks' series lead in half with a 4-0 win in the Xcel Energy Center, Joel Quenneville and company no doubt went to the tape to breakdown exactly what went wrong. It was inevitable the Hawks were going to lose at least one game to the Wild in this second round of the playoffs, but how did the team go from scoring five and four goals in games one and two respectively -- both games with 22 shots on goal -- to scoring none after taking 19 shots on goal in Game 3?
It's something the Hawks knew was coming after watching coach Mike Yeo's team pick apart the Colorado Avalanche in the first round, and that's the Wild's ability to control the puck and limit shot attempts for its opponent. And while the Hawks still have to be feeling confident despite the loss, it's something they're going to need to adjust to unless they want another scare.
When Bryan Bickell signed a four-year, $16 million extension after helping the Hawks win their second Stanley Cup in four seasons, a few questions arose amongst the fan base and talking heads. Why pay that much money to a guy who only scored nine goals to go along with 14 assists during last year's shortened regular season?
It was a decent chunk of money going against the salary cap, and with Jonathan Toews' and Patrick Kane's contracts coming up before you know it, the thought was to save as much money as necessary to keep the heart and soul of the team in this city for years to come. Bickell certainly paved the way for a big payday during last year's postseason (nine goals -- one of which will go down as one of the best ever, and eight assists), but the real question was, could he consistently contribute like he did for a full 82-game season plus the playoffs?
After coming back from two games to none against the St. Louis Blues, the Hawks had a little time to kill before finding out its next opponent in the Stanley Cup playoffs. During this stretch, the Minnesota Wild played a little catch-up of their own against the Colorado Avalanche, evening out an 0-2 hole and then winning games six and seven to take the series.
After a thrilling three periods in the Pepsi Center Wednesday evening, the Wild and Avs took it to overtime, and that's when Nino Niederreiter fired a wrister past Semyon Varlamov to bury the Avs. So, instead of the Hawks traveling to Colorado for Game 1 of the second round, it'll be the Wild packing their bags and flying into O'Hare to start the series. Time to look at what lies ahead and how the Hawks should take this series.
After six grueling games against the St. Louis Blues, a series that mirrored a Western Conference-Finals matchup in intensity and physicality, the Hawks clamped down on defense and broke out in scoring to win four straight against a dangerous team.
Out of those six games, there were four that went into overtime -- the first of which that went three overtimes -- and an 0-2 hole that didn't look very promising to coach Joel Quenneville and fans at home. The defense played on the backs of its skates and looked hesitant in its own defensive zone, allowing the Blues to whatever it wanted to offensively.
The only glimmer of hope was comparing what the Blues did last season against the Los Angeles Kings in their opening round of play: the Blues went up 2-0; the Kings fought back and won four straight to take the series. It didn't seem very likely, but now the Hawks find themselves awaiting its next opponent in round two, when exactly one week ago, fans were looking into purchasing Cubs or Sox tickets.
After back-to-back wins against the Blues at the United Center, the Hawks have tied things up at two a piece, which now cuts it down to a best-of-three series. All things considered, this series actually should already be over with the Hawks losing late leads games one and two by a combined 1 minute, 52 seconds.
And, in all actuality, the Blues were a few close shots away from sweeping things themselves, so really there's no need to look back on the past to dwell on "what could have happened." That is unless it concerns the Hawks' play in its own defensive zone.
It's no secret Corey Crawford receives a lot of unwanted and unnecessary criticism with the way he performs in between the pipes for the Hawks. Sure, the occasional softy floats by in the middle of December, or perhaps he's exposed on his glove side from time to time. But regardless of your thoughts on the Hawks' starter, he shows up when needed and he's a far cry away from what used to be in town.
It's fun for fans of the opposing team to chant "CRAW-FORD! CRAW-FORD!" in other towns, only because the cadence fits. But when you have a goaltender stop 34 shots in what pretty much was a must-win game against the St. Louis Blues, it's hard not to root for a guy who fights off more shots his way in criticism than pucks.
Coming into the first-round series against the St. Louis Blues, the Hawks preached how it was important not to fall into the trap of getting too frustrated against a tough team. During the 2013 championship season, and all throughout this last regular season, the Hawks were successful by way of outskating and outshooting their opponents, which more times than not led to a victory or, at the very least, a point.
Since last Thursday night's opener against the Blues, there have been costly obscene gestures, a brutal hit by Brent Seabrook on David Backes, which will cost him the next three games, multiple penalty kills -- all of which have contributed to an 0-2 series deficit. And while the Hawks seem a little out of sorts in falling into the Blues' style of play, it's their inability to close -- a problem they've had all season -- that has Hawks fans asking if this actually is their year.
It seems a little surreal that the NHL playoffs are set to begin, considering how quickly the Blackhawks arrived here after an even more surreal ending to last season. But nevertheless, the postseason is upon us and head coach Joel Quenneville's squad is set to open the first round in St. Louis against the Blues at the Scottrade Center for Game 1.
By comparison, the Blues were seventh in the league in scoring at 2.92 goals per game and third at goals against per game at 2.29. But all that matters now is which team will hold it together and stay consistent over a longer period of games that either could go as quickly as five or as grueling as seven
With just two games remaining on the Blackhawks' regular season schedule, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews continue to recover from their respective injuries (Kane: lower-body injury; Toews: upper-body injury) in preparation for the postseason and defense of the Stanley Cup.
Not since 2007 has the team been without both stars for an extended period of time. But thankfully with the steady play of Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp and Duncan Keith, not to mention the emergence of Ben Smith and Jeremy Morin, the Hawks have rattled off four wins in a row (one in OT, a 3-2 winner over the Montreal Canadiens), and now await either the Colorado Avalanche or St. Louis Blues in the first round of divisional play.
If you would have known two months ago that both Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were going to be out for the remainder of the regular season down the stretch, odds are you wouldn't have pictured Jeremy Morin and Ben Smith as two of the key components keeping the Hawks afloat for home ice in the first round. But lo and behold, with just three games left in the 2013-'14 season, the Hawks are two points behind the Avalanche and have won three in a row thanks to these two on the ice.
With all the focus on the likes of veterans Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith to help keep the Hawks on pace with the Avs for the first-round divisional playoff matchup while Toews and Kane heal, there's no doubt been a focus on the opposing teams in containing this talented triad. And while each has contributed per usual, it's been the play of Morin and Smith that has turned the heads of fans and caught the attention of head coach Joel Quenneville.
After Brooks Orpik's questionable, but legal hit on Jonathan Toews in Pittsburgh, Blackhawks fans were faced with a reality they posed at the beginning of the season: If the team remains healthy, they should be able to repeat as champs.
As Toews skated off on his own nearly halfway through the second period, he was added along with Patrick Kane on the team's list of injuries. And while his upper-body injury doesn't appear to be serious, at least according to head coach Joel Quenneville, the crushing blow by Orpik sent a fan base into a state of panic, counting how many games remained on the regular-season schedule.
For the last few weeks you've been hearing about the next big thing for the Blackhawks organization. No, not Midnight Hawk, the racehorse owned by Joel Quenneville and Mike Kitchen; It's the arrival of Finnish star Teuvo Teravainen [TAY-VOH TARA-VINE-ENN].
Call it Teuvo-mania, which has swept through this city like a Polar Vortex from the north. Teravainen was the Hawks' first pick (eighteenth overall) in the 2012 draft, which miraculously fell into the lap of Stan Bowman as the Finnish Flash was projected to be a top-10 pick that year.
The 19-year-old, 185-pound blonde-headed forward had a lot of hype coming into his debut Tuesday (Teuvo-sday? Sorry, that's the last one) in a game against the Dallas Stars. Leading up to his debut, Teravainen proved very serviceable for his home country in the 2014 World Juniors (seven games, two goals, 13 assists for 15 points) and was among the league leaders in SM-Liiga in scoring with nine goals and 35 assists for 44 points. So needless to say, there was a new kind of buzz in Chicago hockey not seen since the call-up of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
There's always that one person at work who is the nicest individual you've ever met, but always makes the most questionable decisions that eventually sends ripples throughout the organization. They're full of vigor, and come quitting time, they're right there to buy the first round for the team with a smile and a quip regardless of the situation.
You know the type -- heck, they probably sit on the other side of the partition of your cube. They always speak too loudly on the phone while trying to communicate some kind of deal with a client, or they're bragging about their Final Four bracket in the common area while you're simply trying to eat the rest of your leftover Potbelly's sandwich from the night before.
Deep down you love this person, only because you know you'll never hang out with them, but in all reality, they might threaten the betterment of your hard work in the office due to questionable practices. This is what Jonathan Toews must think on a nightly basis about Andrew Shaw.
There's never a good time to fall into a losing streak; however, if there's a time to get it out of the way, it's now before the start of the playoffs. The Hawks have had a couple of bad games recently, which put its fandom into a state of emergency wondering if this team was ever going to win another game again. Season over, man. Season over!
Since the Sochi games, the Hawks are 4-4-0, including 0-2-0 coming into last night's game against the Red Wings. A 3-2 loss in Colorado against the Avalanche followed by a 3-2 loss at home against the Predators last week proved two things for fans at home: they're putting a lot of shots on net and taking a lot of bad penalties.
With the regular season winding down, the Hawks are looking to earn a top-three seed in the Western Conference playoff picture, which begins in about a month from now. After a much-needed 2-1 win in Buffalo the other night, the Hawks were able to keep pace with the division-leading St. Louis Blues, who have won five in a row and are 7-2-1 in their last ten games.
Right behind the Hawks in the Central are the Colorado Avalanche, who the Hawks face Wednesday night in the Pepsi Center. This game is huge for the Hawks, as a win in regulation would increase their point lead to three over the Avs with as many games played.
Yesterday at 2pm marked the end of the NHL's trade deadline for the 2013-'14 season, and all the while Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman held steady on any big-time moves. Outside of acquiring Kris Versteeg (and Philippe Lefebvre from the Florida Panthers for Jimmy Hayes and Dylan Olsen) back on November 14, and recently acquiring defenseman David Rundblad from Phoenix for a second-round pick in this year's draft, Bowman stated he felt nothing more needed to be added.
While the latter move may not have had the same cache of what happened between the Rangers trading its captain Ryan Callahan to Tampa Bay for its captain Martin St. Louis, Bowman still decided to let this core play through its remaining 19 games of the regular season and defend its title come mid-April without making any waves in the process.
There was a flurry of scoring at Soldier Field Saturday night in prime time that for once didn't involve Jay Cutler or any of his weapons on offense. Though, unlike the inhabitants of the 90-year-old stadium, sans enhancements, this defense actually showed up that would have made Papa Bear himself proud.
The NHL brought its Stadium Series to the shores of Lake Michigan for a nationally televised showdown in primetime, just as "Bear weather" moved in from the Hawk off the lake. It didn't stop nearly 63,000 fans from the North Shore to Northwest Indiana from packing the place, nor did it inhibit the defending Stanley Cup champs from marching "Sid the Kid" and his Penguins back to Pittsburgh after a 5-1 beat-down.
It seems like yesterday we were asking ourselves if sending NHL players to Sochi was a good -- heck, safe -- idea to compete on bigger ice for gold. Ten players from the Blackhawks made the trip to Sochi with six of them coming home with a medal (three gold, three silver -- let's not get into the bronze).
There really wasn't any doubt whether Team Canada was going to wipe through this tournament, especially in the preliminary rounds. But to have witnessed Jonathan Toews, Ryan Getzlaf, Sidney Crosby and the rest of that powerhouse blank the highest scoring team in Team USA in the semis to then turn around and do the same to the Swedes in the gold medal game is nothing short of impressive.
So, now that the most expensive Olympics in history (seriously, $51 billion? And you thought Chicago politics was dirty) is in the books, with Toews, Duncan Keith and Patrick Sharp bringing back gold and Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya and Marcus Krüger claiming silver, the rest of the NHL universe can get back on track for its stretch run to the most prized trophy: The Stanley Cup.
Of the 10 Blackhawks who packed up and headed for Sochi for the Winter Olympics, just seven remain for a chance at Gold. On Wednesday, Patrick Kane and Team USA beat Michal Rozsíval and the Czech Republic by the final of 5-2 in the quarterfinals.
Just a handful of minutes later, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp and Team Canada took down Latvia in a nail-biter by the final of 2-1 at the Bolshoy Ice Dome. Both teams will now face each other on Friday in a rematch of the 2010 Winter games from Vancouver, with the winner taking on either Sweden or Finland for the Gold.
Just because the NHL is on break, doesn't mean there's a lack of hockey for which to cheer, regardless of your nationality. The world's greatest tournament began last week with women's hockey dropping the puck in competition and continues through today with the men getting things underway, including the United States.
On the women's side, there really are only two teams of which to speak in terms of battling for the Gold, and that's the U.S. and Canada. There's no love lost between the two, stemming from 2010 when the Canadians took Gold in Vancouver. The Canadians lead the series between the two 10 games to five; however, the U.S. women have taken four out of the last five, with a few scrapes in between.
Nevertheless, the two faced off in preliminary action -- the last before the semifinals begin -- and the Canadians took it by the final of 3-2.
After a pretty successful west-coast trip that returned a 3-1-2 record, the Blackhawks find themselves at the Olympic break with 84 points, tied for second most in the league with divisional rival St. Louis Blues. Now, for the next two weeks, 10 of Joel Quenneville's skaters will represent their respective country in Sochi, Russia, while the rest sip on Mai Tais on much warmer land (Andrew Shaw already seems to have this down).
This is an opportune time for the likes of Bryan Bickell to rest any nagging injuries, and for the coaching staff to reassess any lines that might need tweaking. And although Corey Crawford's snub off Team Canada was a little upsetting, it's a chance for him to take this time to relax and forget about hockey for a little while before the real stretch run to the postseason begins.
As for everyone else, there will be no rest for the weary. Each player made the trip safely, including Patrick Kane, who missed out on the Phoenix Coyotes game in order to attend the funeral of his late grandfather Donald Kane. But before the puck drops for the men's tournament on Wednesday, let's take a look at which Blackhawks players are in, which countries they'll represent and the expectations throughout.
Any time consistency breeds success in sports, the expectation is to rely on each athlete to deliver every single day from his or her respective fan base. Sometimes an organization will reward an athlete for exceeding their expected value, especially if it's during the playoffs and most especially if it helps deliver a championship.
More times than not, what follows is the athlete returning to regular form the following season, which always falls below the fan base's expectations, and ultimately creates even more pressure and frustration on the athlete. They are viewed as an over-paid mistake and quickly went from hero to goat in the span of a handful of months. Welcome to the world of Blackhawks' winger Bryan Bickell.
Wednesday night's 5-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena marked not one, but two very important moments for the Blackhawks this season. The first was getting off the schnide from the team's longest losing streak in two years; the second was the team catapulting its coach into third place all-time in coaching victories.
Both markers derived from seemingly long journeys, but ultimately were inevitable. Mid-season blues are hard to shake for any team and the Blackhawks, with the help from everyone's favorite goalie in Roberto Luongo, got back on the winning track by scoring four goals off five shots in the second period alone. The result also made a certain mustachioed leader the top-three all-time in NHL coaching victories.
The Winnipeg Jets flew into Chicago Sunday night, which was to be the Blackhawks' last home game until Tuesday, March 4, when they host the Colorado Avalanche (Winter Classic against the Penguins on Saturday, March 1, not included). With a west-coast swing upcoming and 10 players heading to Sochi afterwards, Blackhawks fans will be relegated to watching their team from afar.
A win against the worst team in the division would be a great sendoff, especially coming off of back-to-back losses -- a 5-4 shootout loss to the Red Wings and a 2-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild -- and just before collecting thousands of air miles between O'Hare and just off the coast of the Black Sea. As it would turn out, a few old and familiar faces decided to spoil the going-away party.
It seems just like yesterday the Blackhawks and Red Wings tangled in an epic seven-game series in the Western Conference semis, which alone cleared Pepto-Bismol from the shelves of every Dominick's store in town. You remember the players: Abdelkader, Nyquist, Kronwall, Zetterberg -- just to name a handful -- gave most everyone watching at home nightmares by the mere mention of their names from Doc Emerick calling the action.
In the end, the Blackhawks won Game 7 by the final of 2-1 in OT off a Brent Seabrook blast, which put the Blackhawks in the Western Finals, sent the fans home in a daze and ended the Red Wings season and place in the Western Conference. Most didn't want to see the series end, just like they didn't want to see the Blackhawks' oldest rival move to the Eastern Conference, which meant only two games per season.
Would the rivalry die off? Would games against the 11-time Stanley Cup champs mean any less? Would the intensity on the ice cool off with each and every passing game amongst the players? Not any time soon, as it would seem, as both teams picked right back up Wednesday night at the Joe from where they left off last June. Call it Game 8.
Alec Baldwin's character Blake in the 1992 movie Glengarry Glen Ross gave a legendary motivational speech to the real estate sales team by mentioning to Shelley Levene, "coffee's for closers." In fact, the entire office was fired and they had one week to get their jobs back by simply selling: first place was a Cadillac El Dorado; second place, a set of steak knives; third place, no job. Blake had their attention, and the team at Rio Rancho Estates got right back at it.
The Blackhawks were in a similar funk of sorts, finding it tough to close out games while having a lead, or falling at the end of overtime or a shootout. Granted, no one is going to get fired from the defending Stanley Cup champs (a case certainly could be made for Nikolai Khabibulin or Michal Handzuš), but it's a safe bet Joel Quenneville's post-game locker room speeches might have been ripped from the sheets of David Mamet's play as away to "motivate" the team.
When the Blackhawks opened the 2013 lockout-shortened season in Los Angeles nearly one year ago, they began what eventually would be a record-breaking streak of consecutive games without a regulation loss. Forty-seven games later, the Blackhawks finished with the league's best record of 36-7-5 for 77 points, collected the Presidents' Trophy and made its way through the Stanley Cup playoffs, eventually winning its fifth championship in franchise history.
Fast-forward a year later -- thankfully with no lockout of which to speak -- and Joel Quenneville's squad finds itself 48 games into a full season and almost at the same pace as last year's epic run. After sweeping away the Oilers Sunday night in the season series finale, the Blackhawks crossed the 48-game threshold at 30-8-10 for 70 points. The point total is down seven, but certainly isn't from a decline in the level of talent on the ice; in fact, the Blackhawks look better than ever.
As the Winter Olympics approach next month with 10 Blackhawks making the trip to Sochi, it's time to reflect on a tournament that just ended in Sweden that featured the bright talents of the NHL's future in the 2104 World Junior Championship.
The main tournament features national players, all under the age of 20, from the top 10 hockey nations around the world. And what began in 1977 has blossomed into a must-see competition amongst the "who's who" of up-and-comers.
Patrick Sharp always claimed that his recent hot play was to better the Blackhawks and was not an audition for Team Canada for the 2014 Winter Olympics. He felt his selection was out of his hands and that whatever happened, so be it.
Over the last two weeks, Sharp has lit up almost every goalie in the NHL, clawing his way to second in goals scored with 25, only six behind leader Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals. He's scored two hat tricks in the span of five games and is sporting a plus-22 at the halfway point of the season. Team Canada general manager Steve Yzerman would have to be insane not to select the hottest player on the planet in favor of someone else.
If you happened to catch the annual Winter Classic on NBC yesterday afternoon, you witnessed two Original Six teams in the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs play in front of a capacity crowd at the Big House in Ann Arbor, MI (the Leafs won it in a shootout, 3-2). And just like the Winter Classic four years ago in Fenway Park, the league and network asked viewers to stick around for the unveiling of Team USA for the Olympic Games, this year to be held in Sochi, Russia.
Most of the 104,000 fans in the Big House New Year's Day decided to head for warmer territory and catch the highlights at home, while the rest of us at home continued to stay tuned to hear Patrick Kane's name be announced -- really just a formality -- and see which other Blackhawks would represent the Red, White and Blue come next month in Sochi.
It wasn't all that long ago when Patrick Kane was the poster boy for partying with co-eds and bumbling around in a drunken stupor through the streets of whatever town he visited. It was cute and at times blown off as, "Hey, he's a young kid with a ton of money. Who wouldn't do this?" We all said it, and even followed it with, "Let the kid have his fun, because, ultimately, he's going to show up on the ice and help lead this team to another Stanley Cup." Kane certainly had his fun off the ice, but ultimately was wasting away his talents on it.
The two seasons in between least year's championship run became a mirror on the ice of Kane's antics off: stumbling over his own two feet. Then, something clicked inside Kane's head. Whether or not it was his family intervening or captain Jonathan Toews putting a boot in his rear end, Kane responded and now Blackhawks fans, as well as the rest of the NHL, are witnessing the talent, skill level and just general excitement not seen in this city since Michael Jordan was at his peak in the United Center.
A goaltender is a lot like a relief pitcher in that they both need to remain focused, have pinpoint accuracy and, most important of all, they need to have a short memory. Any kind of cage rattling by the opposition or bad goals let up need to be cleared away like ice shavings by a Zamboni in between periods.
And just like a relief pitcher, quarterback, etc., a goaltender is going to have a bad game at some point during the season. It's almost inevitable that the defense is going to have an off night and the offense is shut down -- either out of sync or just the result of bad bounces from the puck. It's not the one bad game used to measure a goalie, but more so the following and subsequent games that are judged in how they are able to adjust.
Blackhawks goalie Antti Raanta had his bad outing against the Toronto Maple Leafs on December 14, giving up five goals in just two periods (The Blackhawks eventually would lose by the final of 7-3.) It was the backup's worst game in the NHL to date after starting 5-0-1, and the biggest question amongst Blackhawks fans was how the Finnish star was going to rebound while starter Corey Crawford remained sidelined with a lower-body injury.
There's something to be said about hockey players and what it takes to fly around on the ice with minimal padding, all while slapping at a puck with a stick. Actually, there are quite a few things that can be said but there's only so much room in this space.
The bottom line is that it takes a certain kind of crazy to strap on a pair of skates, and a special talent level to do it successfully -- and that's just on a rat-league level, not AHL or even NHL skill levels. So, when one covers the Blackhawks for a certain hyper-local content website, the obvious thing to do is join a local hockey league in order to put oneself into the mind of a hockey player. Like I said, a certain kind of crazy.
Back when Antti Raanta was signed by the Blackhawks on June 3, in the middle of the team's playoff run to its fifth title, the thought then was to slowly groom the 24-year-old Finnish star and get him acclimated to the dimensions of NHL rinks and speed level of NHL talent. Six months later, Raanta finds himself spelling Corey Crawford and stonewalling the competition to a 4-0-1 record with a 2.14 goals against average and .924 save percentage.
Raanta has played well, including a nice performance against the Dallas Stars on December 10, stopping 27 of 29 shots, which led to a 6-2 Blackhawks win. It helped that the defense, Brent Seabrook mainly, had a better game in their own zone by way of clearing the puck and cutting down on turnovers, but credit Raanta with stepping up in a pinch while Crawford rests his lower-body injury for the next two to three weeks.
It wasn't a question of "if" but more so "when" Dallas Stars' winger Antoine Roussel was going to have to face retaliation from any one of the Blackhawks over his hit on Patrick Kane, stemming from Chicago's 2-1 shootout win in Dallas on November 29. Then, with 4 minutes, 54 seconds left in the first period of their Tuesday rematch, Andrew Shaw threw his gloves to the ice just as the puck dropped between Kris Versteeg and Vernon Fiddler. Roussel shed his gear just as quickly, and the two traded a whirlwind of direct shots to each other's heads reminiscent to Black Friday shoppers entering their local Walmart.
The capacity crowd at the United Center rose to its feet and watched as Shaw battled back after first having his red sweater pulled over his head while swinging blindly at Roussel, only then to regain composure and connect on three direct shots to Roussel's jaw. The linesmen, Andy McElman (#90) and Vaughan Rody (#73), intervened as best they could while the two continued to pound away at one another.
Two weeks ago today, the Blackhawks were bound for its annual circus trip out west, which meant seven games in 12 nights. The defending champs were tied with the Anaheim Ducks for most points in the West with 32, and all eyes were looking towards game one of the trip against the Avs in Colorado.
The 5-1 loss against Patrick Roy's squad was hard to swallow in kicking things off, especially with all the controversy surrounding goalie Semyon Varlamov and wanting to pour on as many goals against as possible. But after the dust had settled and turkey and stuffing digested, the Blackhawks found themselves back in the comfort of their own beds, resting from jet lag off its most successful road trip in recent memory.
It's been a rough go of things here in the city of big shoulders as of late to say the least. The Cubs' rebuilding effort has everyone asking how much longer the aches and pains will continue. All the while, the constant battle as to whether or not owner Tom Ricketts can place signage on his stadium while pleasing rooftop owners is enough drive anyone crazy who pays attention.
The White Sox are coming off a season in which they lost 99 games; the Bears can't stop anyone with half an offense; and Derrick Rose tore his medial meniscus in his right knee and is officially out for the rest of the season.
Our city is broke, the Ventra card is a joke, and the Willis Tower got beat out for tallest in the country, which sparked a beat down towards our deep dish pizza on The Daily Show. It's cold, it's dark and there's no hope in sight for anything to get us excited about again to raise those proud broad shoulders. Thank goodness for the Blackhawks.
It's that time of year again, Blackhawks fans. When the brown leaves begin to blanket the frosted ground below and the Ringling Brothers, along with Barnum and Bailey, make their way to the west side with exotic tigers and elephants held against their will. It only can mean one thing for the defending Stanley Cup champions: road trip!
For the next two weeks, the Blackhawks will take their high-flying act on a West coast, southwest swing, which starts tonight in Colorado against the suddenly cold Avalanche. Both teams are two of the top-five in scoring in the entire league with the Blackhawks first at 3.57 goals per game and the Avalanche fifth at 3.10 goals per game.
After spending three season with the Blackhawks from 2007 to just after the 2010 championship season, Kris Versteeg was sent packing to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Viktor Stålberg, Chris DiMonenico and Phillipe Paradis as a way to make cap room from then general manager Dale Tallon's free spending ways. Since then, Tallon was relieved of his duties and was hired by the Florida Panthers, he reacquired Versteeg in 2011, and has now sent him packing again -- but this time back to the Blackhawks.
The "Steeger" is back in town, just in time for both he and Patrick Kane to rekindle their bromance during the upcoming circus trip next week -- shirts optional. In return, the dismal Florida Panthers get forward Jimmy Hayes and defenseman Dylan Olsen. In addition to Versteeg, the Blackhawks also receive forward Phillipe Lefebvre. The team retroactively reassigned Jeremy Morin and Terry Broadhurst to Rockford.
It seems lately that no matter wherever it is the Blackhawks go, fans come out in droves to watch. Sure, there's the throngs of thousands that pack the United Center each time the team takes to the ice (227 consecutive sellouts coming into the 2013-'14 season), but how about the representation while coach Quenneville's crew takes to the road each and every time?
As of late, whenever the Blackhawks don the white sweater and fire up the family truckster, the love and support that appears within the walls of enemy territory is unlike that of most other teams in the league. Chants of "Let's go Hawks!" begin to smatter about an arena until it swells in unison, only to be drowned out by angry locals booing at the tops of their lungs.
After the Blackhawks defeated the Edmonton Oilers 4-1 late last season on April 24, they locked up the Presidents' Trophy for the first time in 22 years. Back then, the Minnesota North Stars quickly brought Mike Keenan's team back down to earth with a first-round upset, and that alone was enough to remind Blackhawks fans that no trophy awarded prior to June should matter.
That 1991 team, albeit talented, was unable to finish the goal it set out at the beginning of the season; the 2013 team, albeit rebuilt from a championship three years prior, was able to stay focused and followed through from the Presidents' Trophy to a meeting with President Barack Obama.
They say that no matter wherever it is you go, you can always come back home. That will be the case for Blackhawks' captain Jonathan Toews, as he and his team head north of the border for a Saturday matinée in Manitoba to open up the month of November after closing out a pretty successful October
This will mark the first time in Toews' career that he will compete on a professional level in his hometown Winnipeg, which surely will provide mixed emotions for all parties involved. If you're a parent, sibling, close friend -- heck, even ex-girlfriend -- of one of the marquee players in the NHL, who happens to be making his triumphant return on your home ice, do you sport the iconic sweater from Chicago with the number 19 on your back or stay true to your team by wearing the Jets logo? All bets are on for a sea of red and signs reading "Welcome Home" at the MTS Centre Saturday afternoon.
The Blackhawks closed out the month of October with an 8-2-3 record after Jonathan Toews notched his third career hat trick, which helped his team overcome the Ottawa Senators Tuesday night by the final of 6-5. Nikolai "do svidaniya" Khabibulin was yanked halfway through the second period after giving up his fourth goal of the evening, tenth goal in his last two games, which prompted coach Quenneville to call on Corey Crawford to save the day.
The game was a microcosm of the first month of the season, which saw lead changes, lack of faith in back-up goaltending and a flurry of offense from the good guys when needed. A few questions that came about regarding the Blackhawks this early on included what to do with 36-year-old Michal Handzuš at second-line center. With Brandon Pirri playing well on the fourth line, it seemed only a matter of time before Quenneville made the switch -- and that has happened with early returns.
It only was a matter of time before head coach Joel Quenneville made the move, but tonight Brandon Pirri will get a chance to skate for the Blackhawks as the team's second-line center in Minnesota. The Blackhawks are coming off a 5-3 loss Saturday night at home against the Wild, and within that loss came an upper-body injury to Handzuš that will have him watching from the sidelines tonight and more than likely tomorrow night back at home against Ottawa.
According to Comcast SportsNet's Tracey Myers (@TramyersCSN), the morning skate lines at the Xcel Energy Center were paired up as Sharp-Toews-Hossa; Saad-Pirri-Kane; Bickell-Shaw-Morin; Bollig-Kruger-Smith/Mills. Usually, the morning lines are an early indication as to how the lines will look later in the evening. With that said, Pirri will get his first look at second-line center for the Blackhawks and will look to make the most of the situation.
Hopefully whatever was in the drinking water in Tampa Bay was sweat out onto the ice last night. Eleven goals after three periods, plus an extra 1 minute, 16 seconds into overtime, made for some exciting and somewhat predictable viewing last night.
The Blackhawks gained another point on the panhandle/mom trip, but leave only with three out of the four potential points spread out on the table for them, no thanks to some iffy goaltending from Nikolai Khabibulin. The "Bulin Wall" had a few mouse holes in it last night, after allowing six goals against a high-potent offense, which had Blackhawks fans asking, "Where's Ray Emery?"
The Blackhawks had to fight its way to get two points after a 3-2 shootout win last night at the BB&T Center against the Florida Panthers, which didn't seem likely back at the end of the second period. But after Tomáš Fleischmann and Dmitri Kulikov fired shots past Corey Crawford within 2 minutes, 47 seconds of each other, with less than 10 minutes left in the game, it marked a running theme of giving up late leads in games that has haunted coach Joel Quenneville's team once again.
For the fifth time out of nine games this season, the Blackhawks have given up a lead either late into the second period or deep into the third, with four of those games being decided by a shootout (the Blackhawks are 2-2 in those shootout games). It's surely an exciting way to go through the regular season, but one that cannot continue if this team has any plans of partying in Grant Park again in June.
For the first time this season, the Blackhawks will play back-to-back games on the road after running through six of their first eight at home (5-1-2). This trip involves heading south in the newly-formed Atlantic division to face both the Florida Panthers tonight and Tampa Bay Lightning Thursday.
The Blackhawks already faced the Lightning a few weeks ago in a 3-2 shootout loss at home, but haven't seen the Panthers since a 3-1 January 20, 2012 win at home. With last year's lockout, each NHL team stayed within its respective conference for games played, which now makes it seem like more than a decade ago since last visiting our friends from the south. And much like the last time around, the Blackhawks should continue its dominant play.
There are some people in the Twitter-verse, mostly fans, who still doubt the goaltending capabilities of Corey Crawford and question whether or not he has the mindset to protect a lead for another Cup run. The latest version of this debate started right after Alexander Steen of the St. Louis Blues scored the game-winning goal with 21 seconds left in regulation to beat the Blackhawks 3-2 last week.
Forget the fact that Brent Seabrook labored over to Alex Pietrangelo and missed badly, which started the three-on-one break. To some, it was Crawford's miss in the end, and now this franchise is stuck with him after paying him a king's ransom of $36 million over the next six years.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Exhibit A of why you should calm your fears and have faith in Crawford, simply because of the alternative along the bench: Nikolai Khabibulin.
With all the "new rivalry" talk leading into last night's game in St. Louis between the Blackhawks and Blues, one would think think these two teams just started playing each other. Playing the Detroit Red Wings in the same division for a stretch has that effect on people. But in fact these two teams have played with about as much vitriol for one-another over the years that penning it as "new" is like saying Jonathan Toews is good at hockey.
Nevertheless, these two teams will be the measuring stick all season in the division. And after all the hype coming into the third game on the schedule, the Blackhawks took to the road for the first time, hoping to make good off a lost opportunity at home last Saturday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning -- a game which they lost 3-2 in a shootout.
It seemed so hard to believe at the time, so unfathomable that such a stat ever could have existed. But after checking the line over and over again, it was indeed true that the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning were held without taking one single shot on goal after the first period in Saturday night's game at the United Center.
That's right. After the first 20 minutes, the Blackhawks fired 12 shots against goalie Ben Bishop while the Lightning sent over zero to Corey Crawford. It's the first time since December 4, 1946, that the Blackhawks last performed this feat, which happened to be against our buddies the Detroit Red Wings. In fact, the first shot Crawford saw wasn't until 1 minute, 22 seconds into the second period, just after Patrick Kane gave the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead with his second goal of the season.
Knowing that, and the fact the Blackhawks won the overall shot battle, 39-16, it would have been pretty clear to anyone who instead decided to stick with the Northwestern-Ohio State game that this one was going to be a clear snoozer. Just pack the bags for next Wednesday to the Scottrade Center, roll out the contestants for "Shoot the Puck" and take me home. Well, unfortunately, that's not how things wound up after the shootout ended.
It was a grand old party at the United Center last night, as the Blackhawks raised its fifth banner, saluted those who made it possible, as well as the fans, and dropped the puck on the 2013-'14 season. After what seemed only like yesterday that Dave Bolland tossed his gloves like they were on fire, the champs laced 'em up for real and tried to prevent the Capitals from spoiling the love fest.
Winning at home after raising a championship banner hasn't been easy for the past few winners. The Blackhawks spoiled the party for the Los Angeles Kings last season, the Bruins fell to the Flyers for their home opener, and the Red Wings doused water on the party for the Blackhawks in 2010. With that said, and not to mention all the glitz and glamour that came with all the pre-game ceremonies and resized contracts for Corey Crawford and Bryan Bickell, how would this team respond to the pressures of satisfying the masses?
It seems just like old times again, doesn't it? Regular season hockey once again is upon us, and the Stanley Cup defending champion Chicago Blackhawks open up at home against Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals. But just before the puck drops, a little bit of business is due.
For the fifth time in team history, and the first time since Saturday, October 9, 2010, when the Red Wings came to town to spoil matters, the Blackhawks will raise a banner to the rafters to mark excellence from the previous season. And just as the champagne finally came to dry on Lord Stanley, and Corey Crawford sobered up, in what was the shortest off season ever, coach Joel Quenneville's squad will look to do better than last time around when they came into a season with a target on their backs.
With just a week to go until NHL teams need to set its opening-day roster size to 23, the Blackhawks made some headway by getting its team down to 28. The last few weeks have been a make-or-break trial period for many of the fresh faces (and even some older ones) to stay east of Rockford and into the everyday lineup for the defending Stanley Cup champs.
Just yesterday, according to the team's site, the Blackhawks sent forwards Mark McNeil, Garret Ross and Alex Broadhurst; defensemen Dylan Olsen, Klas Dahlbeck and Adam Clendening; and goaltender Kent Simpson to Rockford. Much-talked about forward Teuvo Teräväinen was sent to Jokerit of SM-liiga in Finland while forward Ryan Hartman was sent over to the OHL's Plymouth Whalers; Viktor Svedberg was released from camp.
That brought the roster size to 36, but in the past 24 hours, the team trimmed even more to fall in line with NHL regulations.
How quickly time flies when the good times roll. After four games through the NHL pre-season, the Blackhawks are looking every bit the part as defending Stanley Cup champions.
After disposing of the Detroit Red Wings Sunday afternoon by the final of 4-3, coach Quenneville's crew took its record to 3-0-1, with only two games left against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals before kicking off the regular season. During these last few weeks of practice play, the Blackhawks auditioned young talent for roster spots and hoped to solidify its anemic power-play woes and wins at the dot.
Finally, the time has arrived for full competition against an opponent who doesn't happen to share the same locker room and training staff. The Blackhawks opened up pre-season play last night against the Detroit Red Wings at the United Center, and skated away with a 2-0 victory.
Corey Crawford stopped all 19 shots he faced and earned the game's first star. Patrick Sharp snapped a shot passed backup goalie Jonas "The Monster" Gustavsson at 16 minutes, 37 seconds in the second period, while Ben Smith scored on a wrister just 1 minute, 9 seconds later.
It's been 85 days since the Blackhawks raised Lord Stanley at TD Garden back on June 24, after winning Game 6 against the Boston Bruins. Eighty-five champagne-filled, beer-swilling, Cup-toting, finger-wagging days that had this city dreaming of more championships down the road with what looks like a dynasty on paper and what feels like a renewed sense of pride.
As summer was ready to swing into full gear 85 days ago, the city of Chicago was on top of the hockey world. Now, those days of bragging rights are gone, swept over like a Zamboni between periods for a fresh start, as quickly as the 17 seconds it took to get us there.
There's no looking back now as training camp has come and gone and scrimmaging wrapped up to give way to the official preseason. To mark the beginning of a new and full 82-game season, the Blackhawks, in relation with UnitedHealthcare and Fresh Wave Sport, held the "Mad Dash to Madison" 10K skate and 5K run/walk to get the fans ready for another successful run at the Cup.
After rebuilding a team to its second Stanley Cup in four seasons, and re-signing players to contracts -- which should keep the renaissance on West Madison intact for some time -- Blackhawks vice president and general manager Stan Bowman was rewarded with a contract extension of his own. Bowman, who is entering his thirteenth season within the Blackhawks organization, will stay on board after inking a two-year deal, which will keep him around through the 2017-'18 season.
There's no question that Bowman, who prior to last season was on the receiving end of biting criticism, which may or may not have been deserved, turned things around after being dealt a hand with a few aces and not much else. Many fans asked for the 40-year-old executive to skate out of town, especially with his decision to keep the team, for the most part, as-is prior to last season. Turns out it was the decision that turned Bowman from heel to hero.
With the recent re-signings of Corey Crawford to a 6-year, $36-million deal, and Niklas Hjalmarsson to a 5-year, $20.5 million deal, all eyes looked to general manager Stan Bowman in an effort to pick his brain on how he eventually will manage to re-sign franchise players Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.
You see, both Kane and Toews's (both unrestricted free agents) contracts are up after next season (2014-'15), which is the same time Marcus Kruger (restricted free agent), Brandon Saad (RFA), Johnny Oduya (UFA), Nick Leddy (RFA) and Michal Rozsíval's (UFA) contracts are all up. And while Bowman has proven to turn around the glorious, yet near disastrous, contracts signed by Dale Tallon, he'll certainly have some work to do come two years from now. (Saad likely is to get a significant bump.)
It's been quite a year for the Blackhawks' Corey Crawford. The Stanley Cup-winning goalie rolled through the playoffs with a 16-7 record and 1.84 GAA, recently got engaged, had his turn with the Cup in his hometown of Montreal, will get a chance to lead his country as the backstop in the Winter Olympics in Sochi, and just inked a deal to become one of the best-paid goalies in the league: a 6-year, $36 million deal. It's enough crow to go around for all his doubters to eat.
The offer kicks in after the upcoming 2013-'14 season, in which Crawford will finish out his current deal worth $2,666,667. The 55-percent pay increase has fans wondering what Patrick Kane and captain Jonathan Toews will ask for, a year after Crawford's deal kicks in, when the dynamic duo become unrestricted free agents.
USA Hockey made like Fashion Week yesterday, in our Nation's Capital, revealing the look of the team's jerseys for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Donning the twenty-third edition of garb for the red, white and blue were the Blackhawks' own Patrick Kane, Nick Leddy and Brandon Saad. The three representatives from the 2013 Stanley Cup champs (it's probably now safe to refer to them as defending champs), are three of 48 invitees, who recently attended the U.S. Men's National Team Orientation Camp at Kettler Capitals IcePlex in Arlington, VA.
With only 23 days left until the Blackhawks open training camp at the Compton Family Ice Arena on the campus of Notre Dame (Click Here for schedule info), it's time to look ahead at what important factors and obstacles the Blackhawks more than likely will face in order to repeat as champs.
Seven seems to be a popular number these days, most notably with Brent Seabrook welcoming in his first child, Carter Seven Seabrook (born Friday, August 16, at 8 lbs., 11 oz.). So why not go with seven items of note to get your blood pumping once again, in preparation for what looks to be another exciting season.
The Chicago sports landscape is a vast space, reaching as far as the Quad Cities to Nashville, with legions of fans who stick with their teams through thick and thin. And much like that landscape in the middle of February, it is often dark and cold for what seems like an eternity, with no hope in sight. But once every so often, a beam of light shines through, melting away the ice and once again restoring hope for athletics in the Second City.
With so much drama and so many teams in the country's third-largest market, it became necessary for news outlets to canvas the city's north, south and west sides with sports writers, just as they crammed the courts and morgues with beat writers as early as they dawn of the newspaper.
Get 'em while they're hot, and available! The Blackhawks, coming off their 2013 championship season, are opening up single-game preseason tickets to one and all, starting at 10:00am until there are no more.
According to the team site, those interested in purchasing tickets can go to ChicagoBlackhawks.com, Ticketmaster.com or by calling (800) 745-3000. It also should be noted that tickets are subject to availability and not guaranteed to be available for all games, price levels and/or seating areas.
We've all experienced what it's like to be in our early-20s -- going out and partying like there was no curfew, and living every night like there was no tomorrow. Mingling amongst your friends, while trying to hook-up with the opposite/same sex and ordering whatever drinks might sound good at the time: a rum and Coke; a Lite beer; something blue with an umbrella.
Yes, for most, it's a learning experience on what eventually not to do as your late-20s/early-30s creep up quicker than washing down a shot of Jägermeister at John Barleycorn's during last call. But for the very few, it comes attached with being captured on video, via smartphones, and having it submitted to sites like Deadspin. Patrick Kane knows the latter all too well.
For those lucky enough to have a pass to the Blackhawks Convention this weekend (all passes are sold out), it's time to dust off your Stan Mikita jersey and bring an extra bag to store your collectables. The puck drops for the sixth-annual Convention Friday morning at the Chicago Hilton Hotel and will feature many of the members who helped bring home its fifth Stanley Cup in franchise history.
Earlier today the Blackhawks announced the official panels for the Convention, via its site. The bulk of the panels will take place in both the International and Continental Ballrooms with the weekend starting Friday, July 26, at 5:00pm, and the final set of events starting Sunday, July 28, at 9:30am.
If you've been going through withdrawal over not hearing enough Chelsea Dagger, or simply forgot just how handsome Patrick Sharp really is, then load up the family truckster and zip down Michigan Avenue to take in a variety of events, which includes an improv set with members of Second City to re-living the Stanley Cup Final with WGN-TV's Dan Roan. Consider it your own personal Methadone clinic, sure to ease the anxiety away.
The Blackhawks have announced that eight of its players will attend Olympic Orientation Camps, which lead to the 2014 Games in Sochi. The organization has a league-high five players invited to the Canadian team with Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp, Brent Seabrook and Corey Crawford getting the call. Camp for Team Canada will be in Calgary in August with 42 other Canadians hoping to make the squad.
Three other members of the Blackhawks have been invited to the United States Men's Hockey Team with Conn Smythe winner Patrick Kane, Nick Leddy and Brandon Saad getting the honor. The three Hawks players will head to Arlington, VA, on August 26 and 27. They will join 45 other U.S.-born players in hopes to make Team USA.
It seems like only yesterday Dave Bolland scored the Cup-winning goal to beat the Boston Bruins in Game 6. That was 25 days ago. Since then, the team has whisked the Cup all over town, Bolland was shipped to Toronto, the NHL draft happened, with Stan Bowman wheeling and dealing the afternoon away, and free agency kicking in.
And now, just earlier today, the Blackhawks officially posted its 2013-14 schedule, with the first preseason game on Tuesday, September 17, against the Red Wings at the United Center.
The Stanley Cup made quite the impression during its parade, but its doppelgängers were up to some shenanigans too -- even at the Pride Parade. Enjoy a few photographs of the faux cups collected from around flickr and GB's own flickr pool. If you've photographed some, consider dropping 'em in the pool! We'll collect and embed them here.
After a successful parade downtown and rally in Grant Park, players on the Blackhawks began to take turns showing off Lord Stanley amongst the faithful in the Chicagoland area. Dan Carcillo took his date to a Rush Concert, parrot-headed Patrick Kane at the Jimmy Buffet concert, and the rest with upcoming dates on fishing boats and swimming pools.
While the players took in the fun, management found itself on the doorstep of the 2013 NHL Draft in New Jersey. No rest for the weary, as general manager Stan Bowman looked to secure future celebrations, while trimming salary in order to sign and resign key free agents.
As Chicago sports fans, we've been teased many times by those so-close seasons. With the D-Rose tragedy and all the Cutler concussions aside, those young guys in red have brought the Stanley Cup to our Championship-craving city twice in four years. We placed our South Side, North Side, or suburban pride aside and came together for the Hawks. It was truly a remarkable moment this past Friday when millions stretched across downtown just to catch a glimpse of that glimmering cup or to see our boys in red, the 2013 Stanley Cup winning Chicago Blackhawks.
After winning its second Stanley Cup in four seasons, the Hawks have been on a city-wide tour from The Scout Bar in the South Loop to Rockit Bar with a shower of bubbly to boot. There's no telling where Lord Stanley will pop-up next, with maybe the exception of Patrick Kane's appearance on "Late Show With David Letterman" tonight, but what has been confirmed locally is the parade this coming Friday.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel made it official yesterday by stating the city would host a celebration for the Hawks on Friday, June 28, that would be like a "'Ferris Bueller's Day Off' for the entire city."
It's almost unfathomable what went down Monday night in Boston, but then again, just as Game 6 hung on a thread, so did the entire 2013 season.
Just think about it -- the entire lifeline of professional hockey in 2013 was left in the hands of billionaires, agents, lawyers, union officials and prayers just as the eleventh hour struck on a season, which was so close to not happening. But then on Sunday, January 6, the NHL and Players' Association finally struck a tentative deal, which kick-started the heartbeat of the NHL. Turns out, it was the first of many hurdles the Hawks would face this year.
The Blackhawks look to close out the 2013 season tonight in Boston for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. The Hawks lead Boston three games to two, after an impressive win Saturday night at the Madhouse on Madison by the final of 3-1.
Patrick Kane returned to form and scored two goals by staying aggressive near the net and beating Tuukka Rask. Corey Crawford also bounced back and stopped 24 of 25 shots with only Zdeno Chára's slapper getting through in the third period.
A few items to note were the exit of both Jonathan Toews and Patrice Bergeron in Game 5. Toews took a shot near the head at the end of the second period from Johnny Boychuk and was sent straight to the locker room. Toews eventually came back out, but was regulated to bench duty. Bergeron, on the other hand, was sent to the hospital with a reported spleen injury.
So it's come down to this: Game 6 on Monday night, for the whole kit and caboodle. If you'd have asked yourself earlier this year if this even would have been possible, when Gary Bettman and the like were trying to sort out millions, would you have believed it?
In any rate, here we are. On the precipice of reliving the ecstasy from 2010 when the Hawks downed the Flyers in Game 6 -- a road game, which this Monday will require calming your nerves with every superstition, Old Style, heck, every Malört shot your body can take, within arms' reach, in order to counter-balance all the stress that comes attached. Yeah, we've been here before, and no one is complaining.
And just like that, we have a new series. The Blackhawks went into Game 4 in Boston last night, down two games to one, and with a facelift on its first line. They came out of it having scored six goals with the winner coming in overtime.
After yesterday morning's skate, it was reported that head coach Joel Quenneville would revert back to a line consisting of Bickell-Toews-Kane, which proved to be successful against the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Finals. It also was expected that Marian Hossa, who missed Game 3 from an injury, would in fact suit up and play in Game 4. (Hey, Tony Amonte. Zip it.) What wasn't expected was how Michal Handzuš would get the whole thing started.
It's being reported out of Boston, after the Blackhawks' morning skate, that head coach Joel Quennville very well could pair his top line as Bickell-Toews-Kane for Game 4 tonight. This potential pairing could provide the Hawks with more scoring chances up front, compared to the Game 3 line of Kruger-Toews-Frolik.
This potential move should help the captain attempt more shots during his ice time, with Kane able to move the puck his way. The move also should provide a bigger presence at the net with Bickell camping out in front of his good buddy Zdeno Chára.
According to behindthenet.ca, Toews' time on the ice per 60 minutes (TOI/60) is just under 17 at full strength, during the 2013 playoffs. During that time, he leads his team with a +28.15 CORSI number. (CORSI measures how many shots are taken on net by a team while that player is on the ice.) That leads both teams with players who have played at least 19 games.
The fog which moved into Chicago Tuesday morning might be a direct result of Hawks fans fuming on their way to work amongst the cool breeze. Game 3 shifted out east to Boston Monday evening, and began with a mysterious Marian Hossa scratch, which may or may not have resulted from a puck in the face during warm-ups. It just depends on who you ask.
Either way, the Blackhawks were staring down an 0-3 performance in its previous Game 3s, a raucous TD Garden crowd, and a triple fist pump from Rene Rancourt. No worries -- that is, until, the drop of the puck.
After another thrilling overtime game in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, which for whatever reason was aired on NBC Sports Network instead of NBC national, the Blackhawks now find themselves tied at one game apiece with the Boston Bruins. The Hawks came out guns blazing in the first period, outshooting the Bruins 19-4. But another bad day at the office for faceoffs and the power play helped lead to a 2-1 loss to tie the series up.
With the series now shifting out east to Bahhh-ston, the Hawks look to gain back home ice and shake off what was a bad turnover, which led to the game-winning goal for Daniel Paille. The turnover came off the stick of Brandon Bollig, who was filling in for the "healthy-scratched" Viktor Stålberg, which was a decision by Coach Joel Quenneville for who knows what reason. But you can't blame one guy for the loss -- it just was a bad play all around.
Considering everyone just woke up from the Game 1 triple-overtime thriller, now seems like a good time to preview tomorrow night's Game 2 matchup between the Blackhawks and Bruins. The Hawks won Game 1 by the final of 4-3, after nearly playing the equivalent of a doubleheader Wednesday night/Thursday morning. The game was the fifth-longest Stanley Cup Final game in NHL history, which simultaneously sobered everyone up inside the United Center (beer sales cut off after the second period), while making insomniacs out of everyone else at home or at their local watering hole.
Looking back on Game 1, it's safe to say the Hawks dodged a bullet, especially after watching Zdeno Chára hit the post with 11.5 seconds left in the second overtime. Outside of baseball, hockey relies a lot on lucky bounces and lucky breaks (see every post hit by the Hawks versus the Red Wings). Yes, the Hawks are very good, but if Chára's shot is one inch to the left, there would be a vastly different narrative and mood coming from each respective city.
So it's all come down to this -- the Chicago Blackhawks, a team which had many questions about its starting goaltender; its coach; its oft-pickled left-winger, coming into this season, a season which almost didn't happen, now finds itself four wins away from winning its second Stanley Cup in four seasons.
No one could have imagined back on opening day that Corey Crawford eventually would be co-recipient of the William Jennings Trophy (his teammate, Ray Emery, was the other recipient) and would post a 1.74 GAA through three rounds of the playoffs; that coach Joel Quenneville eventually would make brilliant line changes that included the re-pairing of two veteran defensemen in Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook that would make a difference in a Game 7 against its oldest rival; and that party boy Patrick Kane would improve upon not only his numbers from previous seasons, but also his attitude with, perhaps, a little bit of help from his own mother while in Switzerland.
The Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Los Angeles Kings last night 3-2 to take a commanding 3-1 series lead into game five of the Western Conference Finals this weekend. The Blackhawks are in position to end this series sooner than later. Admittedly, I didn't think it would happen so quickly but here we are.
Here are five reasons why the Blackhawks can close out the Kings tomorrow at the United Center.
It can't be this easy, can it? The Hawks are up 2-0 against the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, after holding home court at the United Center on back-to-back nights (thank you very much, Rolling Stones) this past weekend.
It's possible the backhand the Hawks received across the back of their collective heads from the Detroit Red Wings woke them up in time for Darryl Sutter's bunch in these Western Conference Finals. Brent Seabrook is back to his old self, Bryan Bickell is doing his best 2010 Dustin Byfuglien impression, and Jonathan Toews isn't throwing tantrums on the ice. A perfect recipe for a 2-1 win in Game 1 and a 4-2 win in Game 2.
It doesn't get much better than a Game 7 in any sport, but when it happens in hockey, and your opponent happens to be your biggest rival, it's the best thing going. All together now, everyone, take a deep breath...now exhale.
The Hawks' 4-3 win over the Red Wings in Game 6 last night put smiles on a lot of faces, but not before fans raised alert status to DEFCON 1, while flipping over to the Cubs and Sox game. Those who stuck it out witnessed a classic effort from the Hawks, which almost turned into disaster at the end of the game. Nevertheless, game over, Hawks win, Game 7, all is right with the world (for now), and someone tell the Stones to end their show early tonight so that the stadium crew can get the rink ready.
The recent turnaround from Coach Joel Quenneville's squad is becoming something of legend and mystery. Here was a team which broke records during the lockout-shortened season and looked every bit the part of a champion which would raise Lord Stanley's Cup come June. But then came Games 2, 3 and 4, and a Hawks squad that resembled a pee-wee league team, dressing against a 1970s Russian national squad.
The Western Conference semis are here and, as sometimes the case with the Hawks, Games 1 and 2 had a very "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" feel to them. Game 1 witnessed a barrage of shots on goal from the Hawks (41) with four of those getting through Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard, all the while, Corey Crawford stood on his head, stopping 20 of 21, and all was right with the universe.
Then there was Game 2, a Saturday matinee at the United Center, which was the exact opposite of anything Hawks fans have seen all season, let alone from Game 1. Sloppy play, too many turnovers in their own zone, and shots taken from area code 847, with most of those being blocked, led to the 4-1 pantsing at home.
Yep, it was a real eye-sore, which had many Hawks fans asking themselves, "I woke up at 11:00 AM for this?" and, "Exactly how much sugar did Viktor Stalberg pour into Quenneville's tank?" or, "What channel are the Cubs on again?"
The regular season awards trophy case might be a little crowded after all is said and done. Chicago Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane was named one of three finalists for the Lady Byng Trophy this week. Kane was the third player on the team to be named a finalist for a regular season award along with Brandon Saad (Calder) and Jonathan Toews (Selke).
According to the National Hockey League's website, "The Lady Byng Memorial Trophy is an annual award given to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability."
With the seventh-seeded Detroit Red Wings taking out the Anaheim Ducks in Game 7 Sunday evening, the Hawks will now take on their most hated rival in the second round of the playoffs. After the Hawks dismantled the Wild in five, there was nothing left to do except to rest and wait to see who they would play.
After the San Jose Sharks swept the once-mighty Vancouver Canucks, the formula became simple: if Anaheim wins, the opponent would be the Sharks; if Detroit wins, the battle of I-94 would be set. There's no doubt Hawks fans, the NHL, and NBC were hoping for Hawks v. Wings, and now it's a reality.
Of course the Hawks players and coaching staff are approaching this series as though the Wings were a number-one seed themselves, which is what you want to hear. But in the end, there's only one thing Hawks fans need to concern themselves with in regards to this series: Red Wings fans.
NHL realignment will make these two long-time rivals distant cousins. Blackhawks fans along with hockey purists would love to see these Original Six rivals duke it out one last time on a regular basis. The Stanley Cup semifinals would be a good place to end such a bitter rivalry on the high note. Expect the pace to be ratcheted up for the aforementioned reasons. Even though the Blackhawks have had their way with the Red Wings this season, don't expect more of the same. It should be noted that Detroit has taken a team in Anaheim, whom the Blackhawks lost to three times this season, to a seventh game. The coaching staff has to have their eye on that. That could be one of the reasons Coach Joel Quenneville switched up the lines in yesterday's practice. Brandon Saad and Viktor Stalberg were removed from the top four lines. PREDICTION: Blackhawks in five.
San Jose Sharks
The last time the Chicago Blackhawks faced the San Jose Sharks in the playoffs, they on their way the to the Stanley Cup finals. This time around,the goalie who helped them get there, Antti Niemi ,is now a Vezina Trophy finalist with the Sharks. Also, Raffi Torres is now on the team. Expect for Torres to get booed as soon as the steps onto the United Center ice. San Jose is a lot more physical than than Detriot is. San Jose will use physical play to get the Blackhawks off of their game. That is what most teams do when the want to rattle their cage.The most offensively gifted team will win the series eventually. That will be the men wearing the sweater with the Indian head on it. PREDICTION: Blackhawks in six.
Either way, a formidable opponent will stand in the way of postseason greatness for the Madison Street Hockey Club.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville and his players have said it all along about the Minnesota Wild: they're a tough team who shouldn't be taken lightly in the playoffs. And while the rest of Hawks nation rolled its eyes at the comment, the truth is, the coach was right about the Hawks' first-round opponent.
All signs pointed to the Hawks sweeping its way through a team which backed its way into the playoffs and suddenly had lost its starting goalie in Niklas Backstrom before the puck dropped in Game 1. The series suddenly had become laughable, but that's why they play the games.
The Chicago Blackhawks will take a commanding 2-0 lead into their next game against the Minnesota Wild on Sunday. Even though they struggled in game one against Minnesota, they found a way to pull out an overtime victory. Last night, the game was never in doubt as the Blackhawks coasted to a 5-2 victory. Except more of the same from the Madison Street Hockey Club during their stay in the land of 10,000 Lakes. Here are five reasons why:
1. The Minnesota Wild do not have offensively gifted stars like the Blackhawks do.
Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa. There's no one on the Minnesota Wild that can keep up with those players except Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Even though those two are great players, they can't be everywhere at once. The Blackhawks roll four lines deep. That amount of depth will be too much for the Wild to overcome.
Well, here we go again. It only seems a mere 22 years ago that the Hawks won the Presidents Trophy and skated into the first round of the playoffs against Minnesota - only to skate out as first-round losers. Here's hoping this outcome is a different one.
With two games left, it is safe to say the Chicago Blackhawks have had a stellar season. Most people who follow the team did not know what to make of the team before the lockout-shortened season started. It's been one hell of a ride thus far.
A record setting points streak; two goaltenders in the top ten in most statistical categories, and several players and their coach are in line for postseason awards. They couldn't do much better, and they recently clinched the President's trophy for having the most points in the National Hockey League.
Let's look back on the predictions I made before the season started.
With the Western Conference all wrapped up, and the President's Trophy (award given for best overall record in the league; includes home-ice advantage in Cup Final) within grasp, the Hawks find themselves looking back on a season in which pretty much everything went right. It's hard to believe that nearly three months ago to the day, Joel Quenneville's squad was taking to the ice for the first time in what otherwise appeared to be another lost season due to a lockout.
Cooler heads prevailed, and now the Hawks have the most points (73), the second most goals scored (146) and the least amount of goals against (94) in the entire league. The awards and accolades are all great, and obtaining the President's Trophy would be a great honor, but one question arises in this and every sport: is it best to rest your top players, or do you keep riding into the playoffs with momentum?
Since the Chicago Blackhawks' record-setting regular season is coming to an end soon, it's time to take a look at some predictions of the National Hockey League individual awards. The playoffs are coming up soon and due to the type of season the team has had thus far, the NHL awards night will be another feather in the cap of the league's best team. The Madison Street Hockey Club has several players and a coach that has a realistic possibility of winning the following awards.
In this lockout-shortened season, coach Joel Quenneville laid out a three-step goal for his team before the first game: win the Division, win the Conference, win the Cup. Along the way, his squad just so happened to go on a streak that broke franchise and NHL records, which has made this dream season one for the books.
After a season of an immense rise in popularity, a Sports Illustrated cover and a record setting points streak, the Chicago Blackhawks are just about set for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. After all, winning the whole thing is the biggest priority. Anything short of a Cup victory, and this lockout-shortened season will be looked at as an abject failure. No one is going to care about all the exciting things the team did this season if a trophy doesn't come home in June.
Case in point, recent seasons saw the Vancouver Canucks and the Washington Capitals breeze through their seasons to win the President's Cup but not Lord Stanley's Cup. No one in Chicago wants a regular season trophy. The "One Goal" slogan isn't about that.
A lot can happen during the course of the NHL playoffs. For my money it's the most exciting event in any sport, mostly because the intensity level is dialed up a notch and there aren't any shootouts.
But increased defense during a seven-game series is where the drama is born and makes me a nervous wreck every year the Hawks make a play towards June. With that comes stellar goaltending, which can ride a team to the ultimate prize: Lord Stanley's Cup.
This week, the Chicago Blackhawks brought San Jose Sharks centerman Michal Handzus into the fold. Most fans wanted more of a splash, but the acquisition helps the team in several areas. Size, depth, and experience were a few of the things that helped the team to a Stanley Cup win a few seasons ago, and Handzus can provide all three -- some of which was on display during last night's game vs. St. Louis.
Most fans might remember him from an eight game stint with the team during the 2006-2007 season. He's the type of player the team needs at this point in the season. The Hawks have struggled all year in the face-off department, and Handzus immediately becomes the team's second best center in terms of faceoff percentage this season (won 165-of-297 -- good for 55.6%).
I was heading to the south side for Easter with my family yesterday morning, when it occurred to me that the Blackhawks were going to be playing the Red Wings in Detroit for an early tilt. Odds were that I wasn't going to get to watch much of the game, which ended up being the case, but I figured it would be close and I'd try to catch a score on my phone when I could.
The better part of the midday Easter festivities got the best of me, when I overheard my father-in-law mention in the other room that the Hawks were up 3-0 after the first period. Sure enough, I checked my phone and read that recent Rockford call-up Jeremy Morin, Brandon Saad and Dave Bolland had all three scored.
By the time we were on our way back home, I had heard the Hawks eventually won the game 7-1 and, thus, making the Red Wings their sacrificial lamb on this holiest of days. The Hawks were 6-1-2 against Detroit coming into yesterday's game, which made me smile with delight.
The Chicago Blackhawks need a second line center. After the captain Jonathan Toews, a precipitous drop off in faceoff percentage has taken place. After the this week's trade speculation focused on then Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla, the Blackhawks should look into acquiring a second line center. Iginla would not have worked out in Chicago. The team is stacked at right wing, and it's doubtful Iginla would have played left wing or center. He eventually went on the Pittsburgh -- probably to the betterment of the Hawks.
Dallas Stars center Derek Roy is a player the Blackhawks can make use of. Yes Roy had an injury plagued season in Buffalo last year. At one point in time, he was a number one center in the NHL. He's also an unrestricted free agent this summer. Being a part of an extended playoff run can influence any player to resign.
Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman is sitting at the poker table, peering over his stack of chips with a grin on his face. Everyone else at the table knows he has a great hand.
No one exactly knows what he plans to do, but the 39-year-old GM is looking to go all in and cash out with Lord Stanley's Cup come June.
With the NHL's trade deadline approaching on Wednesday, April 3 at 2pm, the biggest question isn't if the Blackhawks are going to make the playoffs as the number-1 seed, but with whom they'll be starting throughout. The annual buzz and current front runner is the Calgary Flames' Jarome Iginla. The right winger is 35-years-old and he wants to play for a winner. So much so that he's recently been quoted as saying he would welcome a trade to Boston, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, or right here in Chicago.
The Chicago Blackhawks played some top-notch competition in their last game. Even though fans didn't like the outcome, they had to like how the game was played. Another thing that they should have noticed was that the Anaheim Ducks are a spitting image of the Blackhawks. Even the radio team noticed the various similarities between the two teams. Just like the guys in red who can score multiple goals in seconds, the Ducks did the same in the third period of Wednesday night's game. Most people probably thought the game was in hand up until that point. Remember during the points streak when the Blackhawks pulled out games at the last minute by scoring a flurry of goals to even a game or put a game out of reach against the opposition? It wasn't much to see the tables turned in such as dramatic fashion.
Both teams have a strong core of offensive stars. The Blackhawks have Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Anaheim has Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf, Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu, Corey Perry and Francois Beauchemin.
Hawks fans, be prepared to get "Detroit Sucks" out of your system. An argument can be made that you should have already done so.
The National Hockey League's Board of Governors approved realignment this week. The league will be split up into four divisions divided up based on geography.
Many Blackhawks fans don't like it because of the 87-year rivalry with the Detroit Red Wings will come to an end. Rocky Wirtz recently told ESPN.com that losing Detroit as a division rivals is a good thing for the league.
Since we last talked earlier last week, the Blackhawks started a new streak: going winless in their last two games. Not as sexy as their last streak, but a streak nonetheless. Let's hope this one doesn't garner as much attention.
The loss against Colorado was bound to happen. An ugly 6 to 2 beat down that would have made a red-headed stepchild jealous. They were playing their sixth game in nine nights, and made me tired watching them.
Last night's game against the Edmonton Oilers started the same way (slow, sluggish, no fight), and before you could ask "is there a new 'Walking Dead' episode on tonight?" the Hawks were down 4 to 0.
This week, ESPN pundit Stephen A. Smith got on the wrong side of Blackhawks fans everywhere with the following comments.
"Excuse me ... it wasn't 21 games. It was really an 8-game streak. There are three ties. I'm sorry, that doesn't count.
"I'm not into the tie business. This isn't soccer. OK?
"And and and and and and the hockey stuff, I'm sorry, I'm not buying it.
"Not only that: If you go to the overtime you get a point. If you win the game, you get a couple of points. I'm sorry, you want a cookie? Last time I checked, when you take to the ice, it's to actually win. It's not to tie. So I don't get all of this stuff. Hockey's clearly all about points, because if you go to overtime 20 times you get 20 points. I don't understand that. You either win or you lose in sports.
The Blackhawks (19-0-3) found yet another way to keep their streak of starting the season without a regulation loss, this time by beating the rival Red Wings (10-8-4) in Detroit with a 2-1 win decided by a shootout. Patrick Kane scored the game-tying goal with 2 minutes, 2 seconds left in regulation, as well as the game-winning goal in the shootout.
I've never had high blood pressure in my life, but after watching this instant classic, which was nationally televised for all to see, I may have to make doctor's appointment later in the week. After the Hawks got past the Blues last Thursday, I had Sunday morning's game circled as a potential for the streak to end. The Red Wings, who started the season rather flat, have come on as of late, and there was no doubt Joe Louis Arena would be packed with whoever hasn't moved away from the nation's worst city in which to live.
(OK, Chicago was ranked fourth. Fine. But I'm sure we'll fall back down the list after we clean up all this violence.)
The Blackhawks have won games this season in every way possible: Defense, offense, grit, etc. Most observers like to point out that the team has a goaltending tandem most team would love to have.
Starter Corey Crawford and backup Ray Emery have provided the stability at a position that has long been a problem for the Blackhawks. During the Stanley Cup run, no one wanted to see Christobal Huet in goal if something happened to Antti Niemi. This time around, no matter who's in goal, the team doesn't seem to mind.
Everyone is aware how a goaltender's play can either elevate or torpedo the season for any team. Remember what Tim Thomas and Jonathan Quick did for their respective teams? As soon as those players turned it on, the Bruins and the Kings were unstoppable.
Corey Crawford returned between the pipes for the Blackhawks last night, recording his second shutout of the season in a 1-0 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. Andrew Shaw scored the game's only goal in the second period, as the Blackhawks extend their winning streak to open a season at 18 games (15-0-3).
All is right with the universe, as the Hawks are in overdrive nearly 40 percent of the way through the season. And after gaining another two points by toying with the lowly Blue Jackets (if you watched the game, you know that the score was in no way any reflection of the sharp play from Columbus, but more or less the lackadaisical play on behalf of the Hawks), it looks as though the Central Division is all but theirs.
After the Blackhawks defeated the Vancouver Canucks the other day, most fans and media talked most about the hit Vancouver Canucks winger Jannik Hansen put on Marian Hossa. When I first saw it, I remember tweeting something to the effect of, "Here we go -- typical dirty play from the Vancouver Canucks."
That type of blow to the back of the head is outlawed in boxing and mixed martial arts -- it has no place hockey either.
When I saw what Hansen said about the hit to the back of the head, I wanted to believe his excuse since the puck was in the air and Hossa appeared to be backing up towards him as well, but then I realized what team Hansen plays for.
My wife and I just celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary last week on Valentine's Day (no, I'm not that hopeless of a romantic. It was cheaper and it scored points with my in-laws so that they didn't have to make plans). And overall, we have been together for nearly six wonderful, glorious, fun-filled years, where I feel we have both learned so much, not just about our favorite music and foods, but about what makes us tick as individuals.
Early on in the relationship, my wife got an inside look at my love for the Blackhawks, Bulls, Cubs, Bears and, sadly, one of my favorite pastimes, fantasy sports. While dating, I would come over on Sundays and take over her front room by snagging her laptop to monitor football scores, while flipping between the Fox and CBS games.
Needless to say, she had the patience of a Saint while I marched my way through the playoffs to eventually capture my first ever fantasy sports championship. I had my good luck charm in her, and she got a nice dinner out of the winnings.
The Blackhawks are looking to tie an NHL record for starting the season without a regulation loss at 16 games, set by the Anaheim Ducks during the 2006-07 season. There's no doubt that Joel Quenneville's squad has been playing lights out after opening the first 15 games with an astounding 12-0-3 record, but they shouldn't let this be a distraction.
There's no doubt the Hawks will suffer a regulation loss this season. It has to happen. It defies all logic and every set of odds that they would go unbeaten in regulation, even in a shortened season such as this.
The hated Vancouver Canucks roll into town this evening and will try to extinguish the fire of Patrick Kane, Jonathan "Buster" Toews, and a red hot Ray Emery, who will start again in place of an injured Corey Crawford. The last time these two teams faced each other, the Blackhawks "lost" in a shootout back on February 1.
Remember when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup and we all thought how funny Patrick Kane, aka "Kaner," was when he was clearly inebriated at championship celebration? Good. Then you also remember the subpar season he had only to follow it up an ill-advised trip to Wisconsin.
The summer after the team lost to the Phoenix Coyotes, fans called for Kane to be traded. At one point, you would have thought that Deadspin and 670 The Score were following him around. I still think it was ironic that an intern from The Score just happened to be at the bar the same time Kane was.
The kid had some growing up to do. No one can front on that, even though some Hawks do not want to admit it. A fanbase that likes to coddle Kane knows that the team expects more from him. He is the other face of the franchise. It seems like Kane worked hard in the off-season and during the lockout.
Hard hits have been a part of hockey as long as anyone can remember. Especially on teams that are regarded as being soft.
Hawks fans may not want to hear this but I'm going to go ahead and say it. They know the scouting report says: Be physical. Every team in the NHL knows that the Hawks are an offensive team. The derogatory term for that is "finesse."
After Raffi Torres laid out Marion Hossa in last season's playoffs, Hawks fans wanted blood when the team played the Phoenix Coyotes last week.
Ever since the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup three years ago, not only has the popularity of the team grown, the demand for the sport in Chicago is higher than ever. The festivities at Soldier Field last Friday might be a stepping stone to bigger and better things as far as hockey in Chicago is concerned.
The Chicago Park District, Office Max and the Chicago Blackhawks Alumni Association, along with members of the ICE (Inner City Education), held the "Light the Lamp" event last week. The ceremony kicked off the OfficeMax Hockey City Classic Winter Festival, a two-week celebration of winter activities capped off with the first outdoor college hockey games ever to be played at Soldier Field. The festival will include several activities for Chicagoland hockey fans, including free public skating, community hockey events, along with high school and college hockey games. The events will take place on a newly constructed hockey rink at Soldier Field.
"That was criminal.We have to call the cops after that performance. We stole two points, he was spectacular. I've never been out-chanced and out-played like that in my life. It was a special performance."- Coach Joel Quenneville
"We obviously got out-played and shouldn't have won that game but he was the only reason we did." - Right Winger Patrick Kane
The Blackhawks opened up the 2013 season with a win against the Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings. The Hawks spoiled the championship celebration by beating the Kings 5-2. Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa (2), Michael Frolik and Jonathan Toews scored goals for the Blackhawks.
The next night, they beat the Phoenix Coyotes. The team that eliminated them from last season's playoffs. Goals were scored by Dave Bolland (2),Patrick Sharp,Marian Hossa, and Viktor Stalberg. Backup goaltender Ray Emery made 25 saves.
The Chicago Blackhawks released their 2013 schedule this week. Here are some keys dates to pay attention to:
Jan. 19 - Season opener against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings.
Jan. 22 - Home opener vs. the St. Louis Blues.
Jan. 26 - vs. Columbus Blue Jackets. These games against Columbus makes Viktor Stalberg look like Wayne Gretzky.
Jan. 27 - vs. Detroit Red Wings. Yes, Pavel Datsyuk still plays for the Wings. Do Hawks fans still dislike this team? At this point in time, there is plenty of dislike for St. Louis and Vancouver to go around.
Hockey fans all over woke up Sunday morning to find that the lockout had ended. Thanks to a marathon bargaining session Saturday night, a 48-game season will start Jan 19. After 113 days of he-said-he-said, hockey is upon us. The deal was agreed to at approximately 4:40am, and it was announced jointly by National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr.
Commissioner Bettman released this statement: "Don Fehr and I are here to tell you that we have reached an agreement on the framework of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the details of which need to be put to paper. We have to dot [sic] a lot of I's and cross a lot of T's. There is still a lot of work to be done, but the basic framework has been agreed upon."
Will the shortened season affect the Blackhawks?
The players who played overseas during the lockout, like Patrick Kane, Bryan Bickell, Michael Frolik and Viktor Stalberg, should be fine. The players who have been working out at Johnny's Ice House during the lockout might need more game action. Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Dave Bolland, Daniel Carcillo, Corey Crawford, Jamal Mayers and Sheldon Brookbank are among the players who have participated in "practices" during the lockout.
Athletes are held under a tight microscope, both criticized as villains and heralded as gods for things that any other man might just call a full weekend. To some extent, an athlete must be allowed the right to make mistakes, and even drink to excess every so often, like any other person. However, as a society, there is the hope that the people who wield extraordinary talent will also demonstrate extraordinary self-control and prove themselves worthy of being a role model beyond their jersey. Somewhere in the middle though, an athlete's image is also a brand, and poor maintenance can be bad for business.
Patrick Kane is one such athlete. The kid likes to drink. It's not surprising when he goes out and gets himself into a little bit of trouble (or a lot, depending on which side of the cab you're on.) He likes to celebrate too. Who knows how much of the Stanley Cup parade he remembers from 2010, though he held himself together pretty well - enunciating most of his words during his speech, and even throwing a shout out to cabbies. In his latest outing, he joined hoards of other inebriated 20-somethings in Wisconsin and was raked over the coals for it.
The Blackhawks' coaching staff has been doing some shuffling in the wake of the season. Assistant General Manager Marc Bergevin left to take the General Manager job with the Montreal Canadiens and his space was quickly filled by the promotion of Director of Player Personnel Norm Maciver.
In a surprising move a day later, Mike Haviland, who is recognized as one of the top assistant coaches in the NHL, was relieved of his duties, and the Blackhawks are searching for a replacement. Amid the whispers of new leadership and coaching shifts, a story rose to the top that coach Joel Quenneville might be leaving Chicago as well.
There is a conspicuous vacancy in Montreal's staff for a head coach. Bergevin has already begun to recruit old friends like former Blackhawks colleague and current Leafs Director of Player Personnel Rick Dudley, who will likely be the next assistant coach for the Canadiens. A familiar face, Quenneville would be a welcome addition to the staff, and after a season of turmoil, a new challenge with a blank slate could sound tempting.
The lockers have been cleared. The playoff ice has melted. A number of other hockey teams still play like it matters. But for Chicago, it's the offseason, and it's time to get ready for next year.
Coach Joel Quenneville and general manager Stan Bowman have some choices to make. After a disappointing end to a rollercoaster of a season, no position on the team can be counted as truly secure. Some players may be worth more in a trade than they are on the ice. That said, it's not time to trade out the stitching on those jerseys just yet.
This year Patrick Kane has been a favorite for trade rumors. He had a lackluster year on points. He scored 23 goals in the regular season, and none in the playoffs. However, Kaner played a supportive role on the team, filling a gap by playing center, and stepping up in leadership when Jonathan Toews was injured. Bowman and Coach Q have stood by the 23-year-old through it all. Chances are good Kane and Toews will still be the faces of the franchise come October.
After so many comebacks and difficult games, the Game 6 loss was a frustrating end to the Blackhawks season. Maybe they wouldn't have gone all the way this year, but a first-round elimination was a hard letdown.
The Hawks have had a dynamic year though. Coming off another disappointing first-round elimination in the 2011 playoffs, the team had worked to recoup and make adjustments in the off-season. They looked like a promising team in October.
As the season got fully underway, however, the Hawks hit a few bumps. Long road trips tended to leave them sluggish. In mid-November their performance left something to be desired after six straight games on the road. But that was nothing compared to the nine-game losing streak that started in late January and carried on through most of the nine away games in a row, marking their record with an atrocious nine-game losing streak. But the men in red recovered, returning with a hot streak and a few stellar performances by goalie Corey Crawford. They pulled themselves up by their laces and earned a playoff spot with hard fought and well-deserved victories in March.
Phoenix didn't win Game 6. The Blackhawks out skated, outmaneuvered and out shot the Coyotes nearly two to one. Goaltender Mike Smith won Game 6.
The arena pulsed with excitement as the game commenced. If there was a Coyote fan in the crowd, they certainly didn't make themselves known. From the national anthem to puck drop and into the game the Mad House lived up to its name.
The team was likewise exhilarated. Marion Hossa, who was missing his third straight game due to an injury stemming from Raffi Torres' reckless hit in Game 3, stopped by the United Center earlier in the day to provide some encouragement for the team. The Hawks were also getting rookie forward Andrew Shaw back on the ice after being suspended for three games for a hit on Smith.
Going into Game 5, the Phoenix lead the series 3-1, putting Chicago in a tight spot. They had to win, or call it a season. Meanwhile, the match up came on the heels of the announcement of Raffi Torres' punishment for his vicious hit on Marion Hossa in Game 3. Much to the delight of retribution-seeking Chicago fans, Torres was dealt a 25-game suspension, which will carry into the next season. Until he serves his 25 games, Torres will not be able to participate in pre-season games and will forfeit $21,341 in salary for every regular-season game he sits out.
This is the longest suspension in the NHL since 2007 when New York Islanders forward Chris Simon was given 30 games for stomping on the leg of Jarko Ruutu, and the longest ever in the playoffs. Torres' history of violence and unsportsmanlike performance contributed to the sentence.
Though both sides were suffering wounds both physical and personal, the players kept their heads, or were at least on their best behavior, delivering a game with just a handful of penalties, and no significant fighting.
At this point, an overtime period is practically printed on the playoff programs. Hand it to the Hawks though for fighting it out in the third, sneaking in another last minute shot to tie the game. With plays like that, Michael Frolik, who's filling in for rookie Andrew Shaw, is really taking advantage of his time on the ice.
It's been a hard week for the Blackhawks between losing Shaw to a three-game suspension for a run-in with Coyotes goalie Mike Smith in Game 2, and Marion Hossa, who was knocked unconscious in Game 3, leaving him unable to play in Game 4. The small victories must be counted though. Coyotes left wing and all around thug Raffi Torres has been put on suspension indefinitely pending a hearing, to take place Friday. Chicago fans are still crossing their fingers for a heavy sentence on Torres, who's vicious and entirely unsportsmanlike hit on Hossa leaves the team without one of its best players.
Game 4 seemed quiet for two teams with such bad blood stemming from hits on both sides. The only action in the first period arose from a fight between Brandon Bollig and Coyotes' Paul Bissonnette. However, the third picked up first with a wrist shot from Shane Doan, closely followed by another goal from Taylor Pyatt just 44 seconds later.
Leading up to Game 3 the hot topic was the three-game suspension lobbed at Andrew Shaw for Saturday night's collision with Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith. Shaw could have arguably been trying to avoid Smith. It didn't look pretty, but Smith was back in the game in no time. He took a single practice off and returned ready to play in Game 3, poor guy... Now, tonight's game saw an illegal hit of entirely different proportions.
Just minutes into the first period, Coyotes left wing Raffi Torres smashed into Marion Hossa with such deliberate force that Torres left his feet, launching his entire frame into Hossa's head. Hossa lay unconscious, coming to only after being loaded onto a stretcher. No penalties were dealt, because the refs were watching the puck, which was nowhere near Torres, and missed the incident entirely.
The second match up of the series in Phoenix was another high-intensity battle. It's clear both teams have been working on their special teams, having started the series with some of the worst power-play percentages in the league - Chicago ranked 26th and Phoenix 29th out of 30. Chicago's rookies are also proving vital in the series alongside their veteran teammates.
Early goals in the first period made sure both teams were on their toes. Bryan Bickell started the scoring in the first three minutes, finally turning a power-play into a goal for the Blackhawks. However, the Coyotes quickly answered with a wristshot from Raffi Torres and a power-play goal from Antoine Vermette after Jonathan Toews was given two minutes for interference on the goalkeeper.
Rookie Brandon Bollig has been racking up minutes on the ice and in the penalty box since being recalled from Rockford in February. But he switched it up in the second period of Game 2 to claim not only is first playoff goal, but his first Blackhawks and NHL goal.
In typical Blackhawks fashion, there was no such thing as a dull moment or a sure thing for either team in Game 1 of the first round of the playoffs. The Hawks were skating circles around the Coyotes in the first period, wearing them down with quick, intense play. Jonathan Toews returned to the ice with flare, coming up with a goal within the first few minutes after missing 22 straight games. Coyotes goalie Mike Smith is a force to be reckoned with in the net, so Tazer's goal is a sign that the Blackhawks' concussed captain is back in action and ready to reclaim his lead scoring position.
Though the Hawks dominated the first period, the second belonged to Phoenix as they put two goals past Corey Crawford. The Coyotes held the lead through intense back and forth. Both teams got physical, with a brawl breaking out shortly after the second goal. Phoenix targeted Toews, at one point landing a blow to the back of his head, no doubt hoping to put him out of commission. Hawks teammates like Brian Bickell however, made sure to return the favor.
The playoffs are upon us. It's some of the most gratifying hockey fans will experience. With seven-game series allowing for instant rematches and revenge following less desirable games, and four-game sweeps bestowing gloating rights to the winning team for having taken such a decided victory. It's dramatic, exciting, and above all, another opportunity for the Hawks to reunite with the Stanley Cup.
The Blackhawks secured the sixth seed in the Western Conference, clinching their fourth consecutive playoff berth. Their regular season saw a fair amount of success, but was riddled with injuries and tainted with inconsistencies. Let's take a look at how the men in red are stacking up as they enter the post season.
It's true, the Hawks didn't have a single shutout in the regular season. But in no way does this mean the goaltenders don't have what it takes to get them through the playoffs. Corey Crawford will likely be starting in Game 1, as he did last year. His record isn't stellar, with a 2.72 GAA and .903 save percentage. However, Crawford is talented and plays well under pressure. He helped keep the team afloat last year in the playoffs when they suffered three straight losses in the first round and answered with three wins before falling in the seventh game in overtime. Even when Crawford is off his game though, backup Ray Emery, who was recently given a one-year contract extension, is an asset to have at the ready.
Another shootout loss to the Minnesota Wild on Thursday doesn't necessarily inspire confidence as the Hawks prepare for playoffs. The Wild is looking at their possible worst season finish in 10 years. Though, the team seems to be going out with a fight - taking their last five games past regulation with a 4-0-1 record to show for it. That said, playing casually, as Coach Quenneville described it, isn't a great way for the Blackhawks to get in the postseason mindset.
Saturday, they face the Detroit Red Wings in the regular season finale. This game determines which team the Blackhawks will face in the first round of playoffs. A win will put the Hawks in fifth place in the division, pitting them against the Predators in Nashville territory to begin the series. A loss puts the Hawks in a position to play the potentially weaker Pacific Division champ, which is currently a tight race between Los Angeles, San Jose and Phoenix.
Despite the hype of being the regular season finale, this isn't necessarily a "must win" game. The Predators have been a tough competitor, beating the Hawks in four of their last six meetings. A win may put the Blackhawks in just as challenging (if not more so) of a position as a loss.
Saturday's win over the Nashville Predators clinched a playoff spot for the Blackhawks. This will be the fourth consecutive year that the Hawks have made it to the postseason. Currently they are ranked sixth in the Western Conference and eighth in the NHL.
With two games left in the regular season, they'll be wrapping up with the Wild followed by the Red Wings. While their standings aren't at the top of the heap, the Hawks have some good things, and players, going for them as they prepare for playoffs.
First of all, Tazer is no longer concussed! Fans are celebrating the long awaited news that Captain Jonathan Toews has been cleared for contact. He's been skating regularly for two weeks now and the club announced his status on Saturday. He did not play in Sunday's home game against the Wild, but with the next one coming up on Thursday, it's possible Toews will see ice time in at least one more regular season match. The center is a huge asset for the offence. Despite missing 20 games in a row, he still has the second-most points on the team.
Way back in February, when the trade deadline was fast approaching, the world of hockey was wondering what Chicago would do to shake their team up. They had just surfaced from a nine-game losing streak and needed a good center and a stronger defense. Rumors flew that something big was going to happen. Some even talked about trading Patrick Kane for a new goalie.
In the end, the Hawks sent John Scott to the New York Rangers in exchange for a fifth-round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, and traded second- and third-round picks in the 2013 Draft for Swedish-born defenseman Johnny Oduya. It wasn't the press-stopping decision that was expected, but a month later it's clear that the pick paid off all the same.
The moment he came to Chicago, Oduya blended beautifully with the team, as though he'd been there all along and adapting easily to Joel Quenneville's style. He plays with patience under pressure and uses his head. He's a great puck mover and five games in, the defender slipped one in the back of the net to break the Blackhawks' streak of nine scoreless power-plays. Oduya has claimed four assists since and taken a significant role in the power-play.
Last week's game against the Vancouver Canucks was a heated battle, as evidenced by the vicious interactions between Duncan Keith and Daniel Sedin. Keith was suspended for five games after a particularly brutal elbow to Sedin's head. While Keith's hit was excessive, the suspension seems a bit heavy handed when, not seven minutes before, Sedin dealt an almost identical blow to Keith after the play and didn't receive so much as a wrist slap or a dirty look from officials.
Despite the injustice of the situation, Keith is taking the suspension in stride, and all that's left is for the rest of the team to compensate for the missing defenseman and leader until Chicago can see him skate again in the last two games of regular season, and likely, the playoffs.
His absence was felt during Sunday's game against Nashville when the Hawks failed to score during any of their four power-plays, and allowed six goals, falling 6-1 to the Predators.
This month, the Blackhawks took a typical game-day morning practice and transformed it into a full production. Morning Skate Live debuted on March 9 before their match up with the New York Rangers and was streamed live online and on mobile apps. The first production of its kind, it gave fans the chance to watch some of their favorite players practice and listen to commentary.
Airing the practice gives fans an inside look on how their Hawks spend their game days, and the empty stadium setting feels more intimate without screaming admirers trying to get into the shot and hold up signs in the background.
Morning skates aren't, in and of themselves, thrilling events. It's a practice. They skate. They pass. They shoot. However, the practice served more as a background image than the main event.
One of the beautiful things about hockey is the fighting. In just about any other sport, aside from boxing, it's considered petty, rude, immature, and ungentlemanly. But in hockey, it is strategic, aggressive, and, if you're Brandon Bollig, it might just be good old-fashioned fun.
The rookie left-winger was recalled from the IceHogs in February. He made his NHL debut on Feb. 29 against Toronto and threw his first NHL punch against Luke Schenn. The Hawks seized a win that night, and Bollig established himself as a fearless victor.
Bollig fights with ferocity and lands some solid blows, but his most entertaining fighting feature isn't in his fists. He smiles through most every battle, like a brother wrestling with his siblings, not a hockey player drawing blood. The 25-year-old fought in five of his first seven NHL games, grinning through them all.
Before Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, there was Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull, the iconic duo that brought the Blackhawks to life in Chicago in the 1960s and reinvigorated this hockey town when they returned as team ambassadors in 2008. They are a crucial piece of Hawks history, and after 50 years, points of civic pride.
This month, the Blackhawks and Navy Pier are celebrating their contributions with free screenings of Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita: Monuments to Excellence, an in-house documentary that chronicles the life and career of the two Hockey Hall of Famers.
Produced by Blackhawks TV, the film uses the creation of the bronze statues of Hull and Mikita, which joined Michael Jordan's at the United Center last year, as a pivot point to reflect on exactly why this pair was, and still is, so incredible.
Blackhawks center Dave Bolland has been active on and off the ice these days - recently announcing the launch of his new charity, The Dave Bolland Foundation. The goal to provide support to marginalized and at-risk youth is evident in the chosen beneficiary organizations. The foundation will benefit the international organization, Easter Seals, which is committed to enhancing the quality of life of people with disabilities, and The Remix Project, a Toronto-based organization that provides resources to underserved youth interested in a creative career.
While those efforts focus on his native Canada, Bolland is also investing in Chicago directly by supporting Beyond the Ball, which uses sports as a basis for teaching both athletic skills and life skills, while building a stronger community. The organization operates in Little Village, which has 40,000 youth under the age of 20, giving it the youngest median age of any neighborhood in the city, yet the least amount of green space per capita.
As the trade deadline approached, the Blackhawks had been struggling with game after game of inconsistent play. For a GM, this means it's time to shake things up.
But Stan Bowman gave the Hawks more of a gentle nudge: He traded enforcer John Scott to the New York Rangers to make room for Johnny Oduya, a defenseman from the Winnipeg Jets.
There are a slew of talented players already on the roster, and it is possible that Bowman's conservative moves are a vote of confidence in the guys he has, but that's a dangerous way to trade, especially given the number of injuries and missed opportunities the Hawks have seen this year. The trades could also reflect a limited market. When more teams are within reach of playoff positions, there's simply less on the table.
The Hawks have gone through a fair amount of ups and downs in the past week, from snapping the Red Wings' winning streak to breaking down defensively in a 4-0 loss to the Kings. And while some of the big names like Jonathan Toews and Niklas Hjalmarsson have been injured, two new names are emerging.
Jimmy Hayes, a 22-year-old Boston native, is putting away some solid goals. Dylan Olsen, 21, has competed in a dozen NHL games but is seeing significant ice time. The two may just be carving out a place for themselves on the team.
Maybe the Blackhawks should ditch Joel Quenneville. Maybe it's time to trade an underperforming scorer for a decent goaltender.
Or maybe they shouldn't change a thing.
On January 20, the Blackhawks took the NHL lead from Detroit. Not long before, Coach Q had been lauded for reaching his 600th win. The team was boasting two goalies with competitive talent and increasing potential.
Little changed during the nine-game skid. It's essentially the same big names, the same goalies, the same captain and the same coaches.
The Blackhawks haven't won a game since Jan. 20 against the Florida Panthers. They've now dropped their eighth straight game, and tenth on the road. They have also allowed thirteen goals in their last three games. Their latest game against the Phoenix Coyotes was their sixth shutout loss this season, losing 3-0.
It's safe to say the Blackhawks need to find themselves and win their next game badly. The next three stops on their nine-game roadtrip aren't going to make that an easy goal to achieve either. The next three opponents the Nashville Predators, New York Rangers, and Columbus Blue Jackets are all going to take the ice in much better positions than the Hawks.
The Predators and Hawks have meet three times so far this season, and the Hawks have only been able to win one of those games. They have a clean slate with the Rangers, hopefully getting a win for their first encounter.
The Blackhawks fell 3-2 in overtime Tuesday night against the Vancouver Canucks, extending the team's losing streak to three in a row. The game had the feel of postseason hockey with game-changing saves by both goalies, a few unfortunate calls by officials and an intense overtime.
The Hawks' two points over the evening would have been a little easier to swallow had officials called Vancouver's Dan Hamuis' slash against Viktor Stalberg, who had a breakaway in overtime.
There were some familiar faces back on the ice for the Hawks. Patrick Sharp came back from missing eight games with what was believed to be a broken bone in his left wrist. Captain Jonathan Toews returned to the ice as well after his own wrist injury.
The wise and powerful Octophant, Phineas X. Jones, has seen fit to bestow upon us a series of gorgeous designs for every corner of the Chicago sports world. Feast your eyes on our new icons for the Bulls, Bears, Blackhawks, Cubs, Sox, Fire and derby demons.
While the Blackhawks weren't at their best Monday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the team was able to snap out of it and bring home a 4-1 victory after their four-day Christmas break.
The Hawks continued their December domination, winning their second consecutive game and being the first in the league to reach 50 points. They are 9-1-1 this month, with home games on the horizon tonight against the Kings, Friday against the Red Wings and Monday against the Oilers.
The Blackhawks' 4-2 victory Sunday night against the Calgary Flames brought lots of cheer to the festive crowd at the United Center. Coach Joel Quenneville hit a career milestone by becoming the 10th NHL coach to earn 600 victories.
The Hawks also extended their winning streak to five in a row, and put their team above the Minnesota Wild for the most points in the league with 46. Out of their last eight games the Hawks have been able to pick up 15 of a possible 16 points.
The victory had a lot of characteristics that Cup-winning hockey does. They were able to hit well, hold the Flames to only three shots in the first period and only 11 after 40 minutes, and the offense was very productive. Goalie Ray Emery also helped the team to victory with 22 saves.
While the victory had its fine moments the dirty hit on defensemen Brent Seabrook was not. Seabrook took a hit from behind by Flames winger Rene Bourque, sending his face first into the glass and leaving the game in the first period, while Bourque was ejected immediately.
Luckily for Seabrook and the Hawks, the defensemen seemed to be doing better after the game and headed to Pittsburgh with the team for their matchup with the Penguins tonight.
Even though the Blackhawks were able to come back in overtime and bring home a 3-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks in Sunday night's game, the overall performance of the team was a bit confusing at times. There seemed to be three different teams on the ice last night, the Sharks, and two very different Blackhawks teams.
Facing former teammate Antti Niemi in goal, the Hawks forgot to apply pressure on him and lay on heavy traffic in front of the net for the first two periods. Luckily for the Hawks and a packed United Center they were able to rally back in the third period to tie up the game with one minute left.
The Hawks have had problems with slow starts this season, some not ending as nicely as Sunday's. The Sharks, who played Saturday night in St, Louis, seemed crisper and much more active on offense than the Hawks, who only had 13 shots through two periods.
The momentum quickly turned around in the third period when the Hawks outshot the Sharks, 16-3, sending the game into overtime. Between taking shots and getting traffic in front of the net the Hawks were able to come out on top.
Heading into OT the Hawks continued with their newly found presence and with 33.2 seconds left Patrick Sharp got one past Niemi for the victory. Sunday night's win was the Hawks second straight win and fourth victory in the last five games.
Just when you think the Blackhawks are about to hit a small winning streak, and that maybe they've finally reached their stride this season, they start off slow and fall short. The Hawks fell 4-3 in a shootout against Phoenix on Monday at home, losing not only the game but also a point.
The team's slow starts, especially prevalent while playing the Coyotes the past two times, have cost them games. Luckily the team was able to rally back from a 3-0 deficit on the shoulders of captain Jonathan Toews last night ensuring the loss wasn't a shutout.
Toews had two goals and an assist, while Patrick Kane had one goal and an assist, giving the team the morale boost most fans thought necessary to bring home the win. Unfortunately that wasn't enough to get the puck past Coyotes' goaltender Mike Smith during the shootout and the Hawks went home disappointed.
It's no secret the team is still searching for their identity this season, ranging from small winning streaks to a mediocre circus road trip. When the Hawks come out of the gate strong they're a force to be reckoned with, and when they start off slow they give up points.
The Blackhawks not only got revenge on their rivals the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday with a 5-1 victory, they also began their long circus road trip with a win.
The Hawks avenged a brutal 6-2 loss against the Canucks on Nov. 6. Among the highlights of the game last night was a power play goal by Andrew Brunette, who has scored all four of his goals this season on the power play. Patrick Kane scored on the Hawks' second power play of the evening, putting Chicago up 2-1 midway though the second period.
Patrick Sharp, Steve Montador and Jonathan Toews all put the puck past Canucks backup goalie Cory Schneider in the third period. Toews' goal was his fourth in the past five games.
Compared to last season, the Blackhawks are off to a much better start than this time last year. The Hawks have an 8-4-3 record with 19 points, whereas this time last year they were 7-7-1 with 15 points.
Of course it's nice to see them come out at swinging this season after such a lackluster start in 2010, but the Blackhawks have some obvious kinks to work out at the moment. The team has looked a little sloppy, struggled with routine passes, and haven't been moving their feet enough.
Hindered by their first losing streak this season, the Hawks are looking to right their wrongs as soon as possible.
The Hawks have the worst power play percentage in the NHL at 8.8 but have been able to counteract that with one of the top penalt- killing units in the league. However, even that has begun to falter. The team is on a 0-2-1 drift, allowing seven goals out of nine opportunities -- including five brutal ones to Vancouver on Sunday for a 6-2 loss.
Last night's game against the Nashville Predators marked the second straight game Swedish left winger Viktor Stalberg has won for his team. Stalberg scored twice in the Hawks' 5-2 victory against Columbus on Saturday. Last night he scored with 2:18 left in overtime to put the Hawks ahead of the Predators 5-4.
Stalberg's speed paid off as the Hawks and Predators skated 4-on-4 in overtime Monday night. The puck escaped Nashville's goaltender Pekka Rinne to end the festive evening at the United Center and extended Stalberg's point streak to all seven games the Hawks have played at home.
With the second straight victory, the Hawks' record was lifted to 7-2-2, with an at-home record of 5-0-2 -- their best start since the 2008-09 season's 6-0-2 start.
Stalberg may have made the game-winning goal but center Patrick Kane also had his threatening moments with the puck and walked away from the game with two goals and an assist.
Bryan Bickell and Nick Leddy also scored, while Marian Hossa had three assists and Patrick Sharp and Brent Seabrook had two each.
The Hawks played a lot of the game without defenseman Duncan Keith, who suffered an upper-body injury and left the game in the second period. Keith's injury is considered day-to-day at the moment.
Goalie Corey Crawford was able to finish strong with 24 saves after beginning the game a little rough. He was able to stop two Predators breakaways while the game was still wide-open and helped the team record another victory.
Up next for the Hawks is a stretch of road games, 10 out of the next 13, beginning Thursday night, Nov. 3 in Florida against the Panthers.
After two consecutive failures in shootouts this season, the Blackhawks came out on top against the Anaheim Ducks Tuesday night with a 3-2 victory. The win also extended the Hawks' point streak to seven games.
The Ducks' Teemu Selanne had an assist on Getzlaf's power-play goal in the second period that put the Ducks ahead by a score of 2-1. The Ducks' goal was the first against the Hawks since their second game of the season against Dallas Oct. 8. The goal may have given the Ducks the lead, but it was their only goal in six power-play opportunities throughout the night.
Despite Selanne putting the Ducks in front, the Hawks' Patrick Sharp, with an assist from Patrick Kane, sent the puck past Hiller in the third to send the game into overtime and eventually into a shootout.
Kane had a highlight reel game with two assists in regulation, one of which is causing quite a stir among hockey fans. Kane does a no-look spin pass around Ducks defenseman Toni Lydman, sending the puck to Marian Hossa, who simply had to guide the puck into the wide-open left side of the net.
The pass also broke a streak of three games for Kane without a point after he started the season off with two goals and four assists within his first four games.
Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller had 33 saves while the Blackhawks' Corey Crawford had 29. Crawford stopped shots from Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf in the shootout for the Hawks, who choose to go second.
Captain Jonathan Toews and Kane beat Hiller in the shootout to give the Hawks the two points to come away with the win.
The Hawks head down south to take on the Carolina Hurricanes tonight, Oct. 28 where they look to extend their point streak even further. The puck drops at 7pm.
The Blackhawks took on the Phoenix Coyotes on Tuesday in their first of two road games, and they rolled to a 5-2 victory.
Winger Marian Hossa also came back to join the second line with Patrick Kane and Daniel Carcillo after missing the team's game against the Boston Bruins on Saturday. In his first game back after suffering an upper-body injury, Hossa scored on a 5-on-3 power play at 15:06 in the first period.
The Hawks (3-1-1) out-shot the Coyotes 35-16 in their best effort so far this season. Phoenix goalie Jason LaBarbera had 30 saves in his second start of the season, including the first 13 shots before Hossa's goal with 4:54 left in the first period.
The Blackhawks begin a two-game road trip tonight in Phoenix where they take on the Coyotes at 9 p.m., and then head to Colorado to face the Avalanche on Thursday. The Hawks and Coyotes have the same 2-1-1 record.
In addition to coming off a tough loss in a shootout, the Hawks are also hoping to see Marian Hossa back on the ice against the Coyotes. The team won't know until close to puck-drop whether the winger will hit the ice. Hossa has been out of the lineup and hasn't skated for four days due to an upper body injury.
The Blackhawks didn't start strong during their game Friday against the Dallas Stars, but they came back with vengeance on Saturday to show they'll be scoring points early this season.
The season opener in Dallas was a clean slate for the team after their "Stanley Cup hangover" season last year and even though goaltender Corey Crawford had a solid start with 31 saves it wasn't enough in a 2-1 loss.
Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen muted the Hawks' offense, stopping 37 of 38 shots on goal. Nick Leddy was the only Hawk to break through with 13.6 seconds left in the game to deny Lehtonen the shutout.
Coach Joel Quenneville produced some line changes due to injuries or suspension but even then the team wasn't running four full lines. We saw Michael Frolik join Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp for a bit, and Patrick Kane did the same towards the end of the game.
Luckily the Hawks had a second chance on Saturday at their home opener to get some retribution. Maybe it was the anger from losing the first game, or the excitement from being back at the United Center with a roaring crowd of 21,674 but the Hawks came through with a 5-2 win.
There's no doubt that last season the Blackhawks got rocked on the ice more than they would like to admit. Patrick Kane's black eye at the end of the season was a nice reminder of their lack of hard hitters and winning puck battles in front of the net.
Luckily during the offseason General Manager Stan Bowman set out to bring some players in who would make the Hawks a little rougher. Bowman brought in Steve Montador, Jamal Mayers, Andrew Brunette, Daniel Carcillo, Brett McLean and veteran Sean O'Donnell all on one-year contracts.
The Hawks also signed Corey Crawford to a three-year contract over the off season. He will no doubt start in goal this season after his rookie year with a 2.20 goals-against average and a combined record of 33-18-6 in 57 regular season games. He's also looking to put a nix to the "sophomore jinx" this season by continuing on the path he started last year with the team.
Even though Quenneville hasn't outright said the Hawks are missing something in the center, he has been looking into moving Kane to the middle, as a potential forward for the second line with Hossa. This could be Quenneville's only choice for a while due to Patrick Sharp still in recovery after an emergency appendectomy on Sep 12. Sharp played center a lot for the second line last year, but due to the surgery and his only now beginning to skate on his own, the Hawks have begun to put Kane in the middle during preseason.
Along with the possible move to center, Kane has also come back from his injury (a broken bone in his wrist) earlier this summer and begun leading players in exhibition. Proving he really meant what he said at the end of last season promising to do whatever it took to become an "elite."
With all the moves made over the summer the Hawks should have no problem starting off much stronger than they did last season.
The Blackhawks added 11 youngsters in the NHL entry draft this weekend, including four of the first 43 picks, but it was a pair of departures that had Chicago fans buzzing.
Two more members of the 2010 Stanley Cup-winning team were sent packing: Brian Campbell, traded to the Florida Panthers for undistinguished winger Rostislav Olesz; and Troy Brouwer, traded to the Washington Capitals for a first-round pick.
GM Stan Bowman didn't get much in return, but he was mostly just trying to clear some money under what's expected to be a $64 million NHL salary cap next season. Tribune beat writer Chris Kuc explains:
The trade of defenseman Brian Campbell and his anchor of a contract that carried an annual salary-cap hit of $7.1 million along with the deal that sent winger Troy Brouwer -- who was due a substantial raise from his salary of $1,050,000 -- has taken the financial shackles off Bowman. He has had very little wiggle room under the cap since taking over for Dale Tallon as GM in 2009 and now has around $14 million to spend as he retools the roster of a team that is one season removed from winning the Stanley Cup.
Any true assessment of the trades will have to wait until we see what the Hawks do with the money they've freed up -- the NHL free agency period officially opens Friday -- but the initial reaction in many corners is skeptical at best.
Yes, that's Patrick Kane, in full Colorado Avalanche regalia, getting his picture taken years ago with Joe Sakic. He's featured several times in our favorite new single-serving Tumblr blog, NHL Players as Kids.
It's pretty much what it sounds like.
They've got a bunch of Blackhawks: Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Brent Seabrook, Troy Brouwer and a gloriously Slovakian-looking Marian Hossa.
To your right is Toews, looking adorable in his holiday best.
If you're wondering, Kane grew up in Buffalo. I'm not sure why he would be dressed in Avalanche gear. (I think his hat says "Sakic"?) But hey, they were really good in the late '90s.
On the brink of playoff elimination for four games, the Blackhawks gave their fans one last thrill Tuesday night, raising heart rates all over Chicagoland when Jonathan Toews tied Game 7 with a short-handed goal with less than two minutes remaining.
But the excitement was short-lived: Vancouver's Alexander Burrows scored at 5:22 of overtime after a Chris Campoli turnover, lifting the top-seeded Canucks into the second round with a 2-1 win.
The fat lady has sung; the Stanley Cup run is officially over. But after losing the series' first three games, the Hawks went out with a bang, winning decisively twice before the series turned on a pair of overtime games.
Tuesday's finale was no less exciting.
A physical Vancouver team came to play, with goalie Roberto Luongo showcasing the confidence and skill (and little bit of luck) that got him through the first three games with ease. He was matched by an equally impressive Corey Crawford, who ended the night with 36 saves.
Burrows gave the Canucks a 1-0 lead just 2:43 into the game, but overall, Crawford was all you could ask for. The same could not be said for the Hawks attack.
Despite 32 shots on goal, Chicago didn't seem to have the aggression and fire of the previous games. Coach Joel Quenneville must have taken notice, as he switched up the lines multiple times during the final two periods, most noticeably replacing Patrick Kane with Marian Hossa in the third.
In the end, Hawks fans have nothing to be ashamed of. The team fought hard, but finished their season with the same theme they kept throughout: coming up short.
You go into it not really knowing what to expect for certain, but have high expectations founded strictly in teen movies and the occasional wild stories from parents and older siblings.
You live it up freshman year, going out on weeknights and drinking far too much of the cheap liquor someone got with a fake ID from the place that knows they're serving college freshmen. You make out with other random freshmen, and skate through your introductory courses. You're thinking that this whole college thing is going to be a blast.
Then, you move on to the next two years of school, where the party to study ratio shifts dramatically. You start to remember why you came to college in the first place, and pack your schedule with tough courses and internships. You get your ass kicked during finals and get your first C in a class. You sit through hours-long lectures by professors who tell you that you'll never make it, and that your industry is dead. (Thanks for that, journalism department.)
Finally, you make it to your senior year. At this point, you're over it. You're ready to just get it over with. The memories of wild nights and drunken adventures have faded fast, and are replaced with frequent panic attacks about the future and the increasing amount of energy it takes to drag yourself to class.
Then, there's the light at the end of the tunnel. There's the massive excitement that you're about to begin your true adult life, the pride that you accomplished something not everyone does, and the hope that you'll continue that success.
As overly sentimental as it sounds, I can't help but feel the same way about the Blackhawks' season.
After more than 75 minutes of playoff hockey, the list of heroes was long for the Blackhawks last night at the United Center:
Dave Bolland, the third-line center just back from injury, whose forecheck created the turnover that led to Chicago's first goal, tying the score in the first period;
Patrick Kane, the dashing, mulleted man about town, whose quick thinking and quick wrists set up Bolland in the second period for another tying goal;
Michael Frolik, the right winger acquired mid-season, who tied it still a third time in the opening minutes of the third period with the first penalty-shot goal in Blackhawks playoff history;
Corey Crawford, the precocious rookie goalie, whose 32 saves helped Chicago force overtime and survive chance after chance for the top-seeded Canucks in the extra session;
And finally, at long last, Ben Smith, the little 22-year-old with the patchy beard, who scored on the rebound at 15:30 of overtime, giving the Blackhawks a 4-3 win that tied this first-round playoff series at three games apiece.
After a roller-coaster regular season, a humble No. 8 playoff seeding and three straight losses to open the series, there will be a Game 7 for the defending Stanley Cup champions. Tuesday in Vancouver, the Hawks will aim to become the fifth team in North American sports history to win a playoff series after trailing 3-0.
Chicago's Duncan Keith and Marian Hossa led the team with two goals each. Hossa had an additional assist, while Keith had two.
For the second game in a row, Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo was pulled and replaced with backup Cory Schneider. Schneider was greeted with cheers by Vancouver fans, who, at this point, have apparently taken their all-star goalie off his pedestal.
ESPN's Jesse Rogers tweeted that, in a locker room interview, when Hossa was asked if the team had gotten in Luongo's head, he replied with a simple "I can't see in his head, so I don't know."
Vince Vaughn mocks Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo in the second period Tribune photo: Brian Cassella
It's not over yet, y'all.
Scoring four times in the second period, the Blackhawks crushed the Vancouver Canucks 7-2 in last night's Game Four, putting Chicago down 3-1 in the series. It could have been the final loss that would allow Vancouver to sweep the series, but the Blackhawks came out fighting at home.
The story of the game was Dave Bolland. The Blackhawks center was stellar in his first appearance in 17 games, helping Chicago take a 5-1 lead in the second period with a goal and three assists. Bolland had been out with a concussion since early March, but returned to create a power line with Brian Bickell and Michael Frolik, all of whom scored goals Tuesday.
Duncan Keith, Brian Campbell and Patrick Sharp (2) also scored as the Hawks scored six straight goals and threw in a couple fights for good measure.
The underdog Chicago team got into the head of all-star goalie Roberto Luongo, giving the Hawks the opportunity to rack up the points. Luongo ended the game with six goals allowed before he was pulled for backup Chris Schneider near the end of the game.
The sellout crowd at the United Center couldn't have helped the frustrated goalie, as nearly 22,000 fans tauntingly chanted "LUUU!" throughout the game, mocking the Canucks fans' traditional cheer after each save.
Through all the trials and tribulations of a frustrating season, the Blackhawks could fall back on their position as defending Stanley Cup champions. But now they're one loss away from losing that title after Vancouver won 3-2 on Sunday night, taking a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven first-round series.
Duncan Keith and Patrick Sharp scored for the Hawks, but Christian Ehrhoff and Daniel Sedin matched them in the second period and Mikael Samuelsson put the Canucks ahead at 6:48 of the third.
The dirty hockey of the Canucks' regular season made its first true playoff appearance, with winger Rafi Torres handing out the ugliest hit. Torres' head check on Brent Seabrook landed him only two minutes in the box, but will likely be met with a multi-game suspension from the NHL on Monday. [UPDATE: Or not.] This is nothing new for Torres, as Sunday night's game was his return from a four-day suspension for a similar cheap shot.
In what can only be described as improvement after Wednesday's shutout, the Blackhawks lost 4-3 to the Vancouver Canucks in Game Two of their first-round playoff series on Friday night. Jannik Hansen, Daniel Sedin (2) and Alexander Edler all scored easily for Vancouver, blowing past the Chicago defense to land beautiful shots in the back of the net.
Ben Smith scored twice for the Hawks, his second and third career goals. Viktor Stalberg scored early into the third period, only to be answered quickly by Daniel Sedin, pushing the Vancouver lead back to 4-2. Smith's second goal gave Chicago one last-ditch chance to tie the game at the end of the third, making for a furious, extra-attacker finish in the final 1:30.
The Canucks' early first-period goal means their record of wins after scoring in the first stands at 42-2-6, easily the best in the league.
In a major step up for the blatantly out-sized Blackhawks, they were only out-hit by Vancouver 45-40, compared to Wednesday's 47-21. However, an increase in Chicago's physical presence wasn't enough to translate to a win on Friday.
Overall, turnovers were the key to the loss. Vancouver finished with 15 takeaways, compared to Chicago's eight. The Blackhawks struggled to get the puck in Vancouver's zone, let alone set up offensive plays. Once again, the Canucks' defense kept the Blackhawks' passing lanes closed, forcing the Hawks to lose puck possession more than twice as much as they took it.
Despite 32 shots on goal -- three of them off the post -- the Blackhawks were shut out by Roberto Luongo and the top-seeded Vancouver Canucks in Wednesday's playoff opener, losing 2-0 after allowing two first-period goals.
Right-winger Troy Brouwer made his return to the ice after being out since early March with an upper body injury, but in keeping with this season's Blackhawks' injury curse, Tomas Kopecky left the game because of an upper body injury after only 2:22 on the ice.
The Hawks were blatantly outplayed in the first period, with both of the Canucks' goals scored in the first 20 minutes. The Hawks' defense couldn't get past the physical play of Vancouver, with the Canucks out-hitting Chicago 47-21.
The second period showed significant improvement from the Blackhawks, with Luongo barely saving their biggest scoring chance with the toe of his right skate.
There's no doubt the 97-point Hawks are underdogs against a powerful Vancouver team led by star forwards Daniel and Henrik Sedin and goalie Roberto Luongo, but No. 8 seeds have a better chance in hockey than any other sport.
Here are three things Chicago can do to pull off the upset, starting with Game 1 on Wednesday (9 p.m., CSN):
1. No room for error in goal
Calder Trophy contender Corey Crawford has had a phenomenal rookie season, but he will be facing the terrifying Sedins on their home ice. Crawford might also have the pressure of matching his counterpart Luongo, who is going into the playoffs with a career-low 2.11 goals against average and a .928 save percentage that ranks second-best in his 11 seasons.
Crawford also will have to live up to the standard set last year by Antti Niemi, a breakout star of Chicago's Cup run who outplayed Luongo when these teams met in the West semifinals.
While Crawford has easily outshined veteran backup goalie Marty Turco, moving into the starting spot early in the season, he'll need to play out of his head throughout the Vancouver series to give the Hawks a chance.
2. Defense is imperative
If the Blackhawks can't keep the puck in Vancouver's end, they'll be in major trouble. This could pose a problem against the Canucks' sheer size and strength, but the Hawks will need to use their speed and skating skills to control the game.
Chicago might get help from forwards Dave Bolland and Troy Brouwer, who might make their returns to the ice just in time for the first round of playoffs. Bolland missed the past 14 games after suffering complications from a concussion he received on March 9 in Tampa, while Brouwer has missed the past three with a shoulder injury from the Montreal game on April 5.
The duo can help out the Hawks defense in keeping the Sedins in their own zone and drawing penalties from the twins. Either Bolland or Brouwer could take some defensive pressure off the first line, allowing the Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane team to get to work offensively.
Speaking of Kane, look for him or Tomas Kopecky to be hanging around the goal when the Hawks are on the offensive. No doubt coach Joel Quenneville will try to find someone to fill Dustin Byfuglien's cherry-picking spot from last year.
3. Avoid key penalties
The Blackhawks can't afford the bad penalties that haunted them in early March. The team will have to come out calm and steady, avoiding any costly mistakes that could lead to Canucks power plays. This is especially true for defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, who cost the team valuable minutes after sloppy delay-of-game penalties during consecutive games.
Although the Canucks aren't the first team Blackhawks fans think of as rivals, this is a grudge match. The Canucks have been knocked out of the playoffs by Chicago the past two seasons, and they're ready to make up for it this time. This could lead to more scuffles than usual, and Chicago has to make sure they don't throw the first punches that could lead to time in the box.
After weeks and months near the edge of the cliff in the Western Conference, the Blackhawks will have a chance to defend Lord Stanley's Cup after all, earning the eighth and final playoff berth last night when the Dallas Stars lost in Minnesota in the last game of the NHL regular season.
Sunday afternoon, the Blackhawks lost 4-3 to the Detroit Red Wings, putting their playoff fate in the hands of the Wild.
Despite winning four of six games against the Wings this season, including Friday's 4-2 road win, the Hawks couldn't push past Detroit's defense on Sunday in their last and most important matchup. A win would have clinched Chicago a playoff berth without having to wait for a Dallas defeat.
Sometimes Twitter is a frivolous waste of time. Other times, it's a way to stay updated by the moment on events of worldwide importance. Last night, it was both, as the Blackhawks beat St. Louis in overtime, 4-3, moving within two points of clinching a playoff berth, and I live-tweeted the whole thing in haiku:
Welp, Blues scored quick goal.
The Stanley Cup is fading.
Don't worry you guys.
I haven't given up hope.
Not looking good though.
Hossa screwed that up.
Nothing that Crawford could do.
Offense step it up.
Don't take 30 shots,
And not score a single goal,
It's not Sunday night.
Tried to fast forward,
Remembered not DVR,
Damn you live TV.
Jonathan Toews and the Blackhawks are looking at a tough stretch run / Tribune photo: Nuccio DiNuzzo
Sunday night's 2-0 Blackhawks' loss against the Tampa Bay Lightning wrapped up a weekend of ugly Chicago hockey that may leave their playoff fate in the hands of their Western Conference rivals.
After Friday's 4-3 shootout win at Columbus, a huge victory wasn't expected Sunday night. The Hawks' numbers far outshined the Blue Jackets' going in, but they played down to their level, unable to clinch a victory in regulation time. Sloppy penalties didn't help, with a combined total of 16 minutes spent in the box.
If viewers felt a sense of déjà vu during Sunday's game, it's because referees' whistles once again haunted the team.
The Hawks outshot the Lightning 31-15, but couldn't manage to get the puck in the net, trailing 1-0 for most of the game before a last-minute empty-netter. Bad penalties again didn't help the team, with the Lightning scoring just seconds into a first-period power play caused by a questionable delay of game penalty on Niklas Hjalmarsson. Hjalmarsson spent two minutes in the box for the same call Friday.
Nursing a three-point lead for the final spot in the Western Conference playoffs, the Blackhawks begin their final, six-game stretch run with a weekend double dip: tonight at Columbus and Sunday at home against Tampa Bay.
The Hawks just need to tread water for another 10 days, but after a 4-4-2 stretch, with two more games left against Detroit, there's no telling if they'll be able to hold off ninth-place twins Dallas and Calgary.
Tonight's opponent, Columbus, is having a less than impressive season, ranked 13th in the West with 80 points and a 34-31-12 record. But the Blue Jackets won 4-2 when the two teams last met in late February, Chicago's last loss before an eight-game win streak.
Despite a weak record and low spot in the standings, the Blue Jackets have proven they're not a team to take lightly. The Hawks have to come out strong in the first, putting points on the board before Columbus lead scorers Rick Nash and R.J. Umberger have a chance.
Patrick Kane hoists the Cup at last year's victory parade / Tribune photo: William DeShazer
My love of sports is rivaled only by my love of people-watching. It's a habit I developed as a child that I've never been able to shake. Combine the two at a Blackhawks game and you find seven types of people. Chances are you've met them too.
White-Collar Hockey Elite
These men are hard workers -- typically VPs or CEOs -- heading to the game straight from the office. They have season tickets to schmooze their clients and impress their suppliers. These fans are the easiest to spot: a Chelios jersey (he's the captain, right?) over their white oxford shirt, dress slacks and loafers. (Tie optional.) These fans sit in the 100 level and sip Glenlivet instead of beer.
My Honey's Jersey
While some girls love hockey (myself included), others were clearly tricked into going to the hockey game. I'm sure he probably called and said, "I've got a big surprise for you tonight," then showed up with two XXL sweaters: one for him and a Toews one for her. Instead of the romantic dinner she'd envisioned, they are in the 300 level awkwardly eating undercooked French fries smothered in ketchup. Not only do these girls hate hockey, they don't care to understand it either.
Since it's too cold to meet at Wrigley Field for a Cubs keg party, these guys migrate to the United Center. They talk on their cell phones incessantly and break all the commandments of hockey. They get up to get more beers before the whistle and scream "SHOOT IT" every time the Hawks have the puck. They are drunk by the end of the first period because they pre-gamed heavily at a bar in Lincoln Park. They puke on the No. 19 bus on their way back to the Brown Line.
Last time we checked in on the Blackhawks, I was lamenting their fall from Stanley Cup champions to borderline playoff contenders. But they had begun to pick up steam at the end of February, and they surged into March, running their win streak to eight games before last night's 3-2 loss at Florida.
Formerly kicking around the edge of the Western Conference playoff standings, the Hawks now sit in fourth place as they get ready to drop the puck tonight in Tampa Bay.
Tuesday's first period was arguably Chicago's ugliest of the season, as the Panthers took a 3-0 lead and Marty Turco replaced Calder Trophy contender Corey Crawford at the first intermission, but the Hawks otherwise have been playing as well as they have all season. The chemistry on the ice is palpable, with the first line staying hot.
The Blackhawks spent the weekend before the NHL trading deadline scrambling to find blue line depth after their decision to clear space by waiving Nick Boynton was followed almost immediately by a season-ending knee injury to Jordan Hendry. This afternoon, just before the deadline, they found a body, trading a second-round draft pick and little-used forward Ryan Potulny to Ottawa for defenseman Chris Campoli and a seventh-round pick.
Yes, somehow, the reigning Stanley Cup champions are still clawing for a playoff berth as February turns to March. Their performance all season, led by a league-high four all-stars, has been nothing short of disappointing.
Sure, the Hawks took a major hit over the summer, losing several key members of the championship run. But fans still held high expectations for this year's team, never imagining that they'd be scrambling this late in the season.
I remember when Sarah Palin first started talking about the difference between hockey moms and pitbulls. (Lipstick.) I also remember wondering what the hell she was talking about.
Not that this is a strange reaction to anything that comes out of that woman's mouth, but this time it was for a different reason entirely. I was thinking something along the lines of "Oh that is just so Northern of her."
Growing up in Kentucky, hockey was always something I associated with frozen tundra, maple syrup and horrible, flat accents.
Obviously, my feelings since have changed. Now, I love hockey. I really, really do. Nothing gets my engines going more than a really solid hit or seeing the Blackhawks kill a power play. But I must confess, it's only been my man-on-the-side for the past three years.
Don't blame me! Blame the South!
I grew up about twenty miles outside of Louisville, Kentucky, in a land of sprawling horse farms lined with wooden fences. Where I come from, it's all about horse racing, bourbon and college hoops.
Blackhawks' fans held their breath yesterday after news broke Wednesday morning that Hawks' head coach Joel Quenneville had been hospitalized.
According to team doctors, Quenneville went to the emergency room late Tuesday night suffering from "gastrointestinal bleeding". The coach was admitted and diagnosed with a small ulcer caused from aspirin -- not a surprising cause considering the Hawks' performance the past month.
The team went on without him to beat the Minnesota Wild 3-1 on Wednesday. While Quenneville watched the must-win game from his hospital bed, he was replaced by assistant coaches Mike Haviland and Mike Kitchen.
It would be quite the understatement to say that Blackhawks hockey as of lately hasn't exactly been up to the high expectations the team set last season. The Hawks went 6-5 in January, and have gone 2-4 so far this month.
Winger Troy Brouwer told ESPN that the team better turn it around against their upcoming three opponents: the Wild, Blue Jackets and Penguins.
"The next three games at home are very important," he said. "We're looking to take all three games right now. Anything less than that right now is going to be a disappointment."
Agreed. So what can the Hawks do to boost their seemingly slacking performance?
Any fair trade has to be fair. Don't give me a carrot and expect a brownie in return. Wednesday's deal between the Blackhawks and the Florida Panthers isn't exactly brownie for brownie. It's more like Jello for pudding: Nothing spectacular gained, nothing spectacular lost. It's all a matter of preference and team needs.
Chicago general manager Stan Bowman made the official announcement just before last night's 4-1 win in Edmonton. Hawks right-winger Jack Skille has been sent to Florida with two prospects in exchange for center Michael Frolik, who should arrive in time for Friday's game at Dallas, and a young goalie.
It's been obvious as this season has progressed that Skille, 23, wasn't meeting the expectations of coach Joel Quenneville. He hasn't necessarily been bringing the team down, but stuck behind Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa on the right wing, Skille wasn't a vital player for the Hawks.
The Hawks started their post-break schedule with a 7-4 win Tuesday at Columbus, but things won't get any easier as they face the Canucks, the league's top team and a budding rival, tonight in Vancouver. The game is the second of a six on the road as Disney on Ice takes over the United Center, and the trip comes at a critical time for the Blackhawks.
With only 31 games left, the Hawks are fighting tooth and nail for every point available, and there's not a lot of room for the instability that defined the first few months of the season. Last season's Western Conference No. 8 seed finished with 95 points, and while the tightness of the current race may push that total down a few points this year, the Hawks likely need to win at least 18 more games to have a solid position in the chase. They're tied for ninth right now, one point behind eighth-place Phoenix.
So what do the Hawks need to focus on to achieve this goal? Here are some areas for improvement.
Patrick Kane (above) won the party, as usual, but it was another Blackhawks star who won the MVP award at Sunday's NHL All-Star Game.
Patrick Sharp took home that honor, along with a new Honda crossover vehicle, after scoring a goal and two assists for Team Staal. Yet Chicago's other all-stars -- Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith -- played on the other team, Team Lidstrom, thanks to the game's fantasy-draft format, and they flew home with an 11-10 win.
As a concept, last night's player draft for the NHL All-Star Game was born out of childhood pickup games and the explosive popularity of fantasy sports. In the execution, the NHL found a way to take a weekend often overlooked by the average sports fan and inject a little more buzz and excitement, giving the players a chance to show some personality and sell themselves (and the game) just a little bit.
Was it a cheesy gimmick and stilted at times? Sure, but it also kept hockey fans talking the past few weeks and captured the imagination of people outside their normal viewing audience. Overall, it has to be considered a success.
So here's some thoughts on the draft picks and the Versus broadcast of the draft. I'm all for Team Lidstrom, and not just for the Hawks-heavy roster. They did a great job of building a team with lots of skilled players who have played together for team or country. Sunday's game should be great to watch with some of those combos.
Maddeningly inconsistent to this point, the Blackhawks will be taking advantage of the upcoming all-star break to get focused on the final two months of what's shaping up to be an absolute dogfight of a playoff race. Of course, before that, Chicago's Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Patrick Sharp will head to Raleigh, N.C., to participate in this weekend's all-star festivities.
The weekend will also see the wide-release debut of the Guardian Project, a marketing collaboration between the NHL and famed comic book writer/artist Stan Lee to give each of the league's 30 teams its own superhero for use battling "the world's deadliest villain." (Whoever that is.)
The Blackhawks provide a solid undercard to Sunday's battle of heavyweights at Soldier Field, with a pair of big rivalry games of their own this weekend: Saturday at 1 p.m. at Detroit and Sunday at 11:30 a.m. against visiting Philadelphia, their opponent in last year's Stanley Cup Finals.
The hated Red Wings still lead the Central Division with 62 points, but they've been hit hard by injuries to Pavel Datsyuk, Tomas Holmstrom, Mike Modano, Dan Cleary and Brad Stuart. To make matters worse, goalies Jimmy Howard and Chris Osgood both are ailing, though Howard was in net Thursday. Detroit still is second in the league with 3.34 goals per game and its power play remains strong even without the missing skaters, but this is not a team at full strength.
Taking a pass in stride at center ice, Bolland completely twisted around defenseman Ryan Suter, moving the puck from his forehand to his backhand before beating goalie Anders Lindback five-hole. The goal, his second of the game, tied the score at 2 in the second period.
The Blackhawks are looking good as they begin the second half of the season, winning three of four games at the United Center with back-to-back shutouts by Corey Crawford and two of their more dominant performances this year. To top off the successful week, the two Patricks (Kane and Sharp) got word they'd be joining teammates Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith for the All-Star Game in Raleigh, N.C., Jan. 30. Pittsburgh is the only other team that will have four all-star representatives.
Yet despite the individual accolades, Chicago's performance across the first half of the season has hardly been all-star caliber. There's been some unexpected successes along the way, but the single word that sums up the Hawks so far is inconsistent. Here's a look at the struggles Chicago has gone through in their first 41 games.
Nice work, Blackhawks fans: Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith will make their second NHL All-Star Game appearances when the league convenes in Raleigh, N.C., in three weeks.
The league shook things up this year with an unusual "fantasy draft" format for the All-Star Game, so only six players -- three forwards, two defensemen and a goalie -- were announced this week as the leading vote-getters in fan balloting. Joining Toews and Keith are a quartet of Pittsburgh Penguins: forwards Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, defenseman Kris Letang and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. (Chicago had nine players in the top 20 at their positions.)
The remaining 36 all-stars will be announced Tuesday, and it'd be a surprise if Patrick Kane and possibly Patrick Sharp were not on that list as well. But because of the "fantasy draft" twist, the Hawks may not be teammates in the game. Instead two all-stars will be named captains and pick their teams the Friday before the game.
While the Blackhawks were happy to have both Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa back on the ice the past few games, the good feelings were short-lived. A 3-1 loss to the Blues on Tuesday was painful, especially given the Hawks' lackluster play, but seeing Jonathan Toews leave the game with "an upper body injury" (apparently his right shoulder) after being slammed awkwardly into the boards was downright gut-wrenching.
In the 11 games that Hossa and/or Kane didn't dress, Toews lifted the team on his back with six goals and eight assists while winning numerous key faceoffs and providing solid defensive zone coverage. As captain, his leadership and determination will also be missing, both on the ice and in the dressing room. During that stretch, the Blackhawks went 7-3-1 to keep themselves afloat in the Western Conference standings -- no small feat given the team's early struggles.
The Blackhawks celebrate Christmas with a stocking giveaway ahead of tonight's game against the Nashville Predators, but some of the gifts the Hawks are hoping to find under the tree will be delayed beyond the weekend. Although Viktor Stalberg is expected back tonight, forward Marian Hossa won't return until after Christmas. Patrick Kane has had some setbacks to his ankle while skating and will have the holiday break to rest as well, but is also aiming to return next week.
Of course, while missing your stars is tough, if the Hawks continue to play the sound defense they showed in beating the Detroit Red Wings 4-1 Friday and the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 Sunday, they can survive a few more days.
After dropping three straight games to fall well off the pace in the Western Conference, the last thing the Blackhawks want to see is their hated rivals from Detroit, the conference-leading Red Wings. To make matters worse, after saying there was a chance he'd return to the lineup tonight, Patrick Kane suffered a setback with his ankle injury and will miss the game after all.
With Kane, Marian Hossa and now Viktor Stalberg (who was injured on a hit from behind Wednesday) all expected to miss the game, an already struggling Hawks team finds themselves still shorthanded, though Fernando Pisani is expected back after missing the past eight games.
Pisani's return should matter little against the Wings, who enter the game first in the Western Conference with 43 points and mostly healthy (new acquisition Mike Modano is out until March) after having their own injury issues last season. Detroit is always a tough opponent that uses puck-handling skills and patience to wear down teams and capitalize on their mistakes. With the way the Blackhawks defense has been playing lately, the Wings should be salivating at the opportunities the Hawks seem all too willing to provide. That said, there's always an extra spark of energy in the air when these two teams get together, and the Blackhawks may have some added motivation to step up their play.
Also providing some theatrics to the evening will be the Heritage night for recently (and finally!) retired Chris Chelios. Cheli will drop the ceremonial first puck and have video tributes aired during intermissions of the game, in what figures to cause a bit of a mixedreaction in the stands, given Chelios spent his final 10 seasons as a Red Wing after nine years with the Hawks. (We'll just ignore his seven games with the Atlanta Thrashers last season). However, such a reaction would be misguided.
If you wanted to see the reason the Blackhawks have been struggling so far this season, it was in fine display last night in Colorado, where despite netting five goals and taking a third-period lead, the Hawks lost 7-5 to the Avalanche, giving up two goals and an empty-netter in the final 2 1/2 minutes. (Lowlights available here)
As was the case throughout the game, horrific turnovers and defensemen out of position led to the tying and winning goals, with Brent Seabrook getting caught in no-man's land on both tallies. Seabrook was abysmal, going -4 and causing an unfortunate turnover that led to an earlier Avs goal as well as the game clinchers.
Unfortunately, Duncan Keith wasn't much better, matching Seabrook's plus-minus and also contributing some ugly turnovers and getting caught up in the play. Throughout the game, the Blackhawks showed some major mental lapses, giving up goals at the start of the first and second periods, and the first period saw tying goals by Chicago followed immediately by the Avalanche reclaiming the lead on the next shift.
If you were on the fence about seeing "A Christmas Carol" this year at the Goodman Theatre, delay no longer! Tuesday's 7:30 show will feature a one-night cameo by Blackhawks legend Bobby Hull, probably just milling around the background in period costume and joining in the big "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" finale.
A small role, but a nice gesture in partnership with the Make-a-Wish Foundation. He'll meet-and-greet in the lobby after the show -- and of course, sell a few copies of his new book.
Christmas tidings aside, check out the above (1970s?) clip of Hull and Bobby Orr ... chatting poolside in Jamaica ... in swim trunks.
The Blackhawks passed their first two tests of games without stars Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane, defeating the Calgary Flames and the Dallas Stars. Both games saw the Hawks jump out to early leads, before fending off stiff challenges in the 2nd half of the game, to finally getting a sigh of relief and an empty netter to preserve the victory. Both games got a little too close for comfort, and continues an ongoing trend of the team having trouble putting games away, but with the short-handed lineup, the Hawks focusing on preserving a lead is understandable. Goalie Corey Crawford made some huge saves in the 3rd period against Dallas, but also let in a few somewhat soft goals.
Any fan of the Bears should be familiar with that bend but don't break defense, but in a game that can be decided in a split second, it's not a viable strategy. Coach Joel Quenneville's profane screaming during timeouts wouldn't be needed if the Hawks weren't surrendering successively quick goals and turning games into nailbiters. However, the wins were all that mattered, and the Hawks went 3 of 4 on their recent homestand (and are 8 of their last 11) despite the injuries and lapses and some terrible struggles on special teams.
While the Blackhawks exacted some revenge on the Calgary Flames in a 4-2 victory last night at the United Center, seeing Patrick Kane go down on his first shift is likely to be the more lasting image from the contest.
Kane was twisting away from a hit by the Flames' Cory Sarich, but Sarich's stick appeared to get entangled in Kane's legs, resulting in an awkward fall into the boards. Kane left the ice and was unable to put weight on his left leg, and the only news out of the team was that he would not return due to a lower-body injury. After the game, coach Joel Quenneville's only statement was he would be "out a little bit", which hopefully will mean only a minor sprain rather than anything more serious.
What a difference a day makes. After being downright embarassed (or worse, not embarassed at all) by the Calgary Flames 7-2 Friday night in a game where the entire Hawks team looked to still be frozen in the Alberta tundra, the Blackhawks took to the ice in Vancouver and laid a first-rate beating down on the Canucks 7-1.
It's really hard to imagine that the same team hit the ice in both games, given how drastically different they looked. Particularly galling in the Flames loss was the Blackhawks managing to register only 3 hits and gave up 7 goals to a team that had lost 7 of their last 8 games. The Hawks showed no hustle, won no battles and were chasing all night. Yet after what was one of their worst games of the year, Chicago went into Vancouver and dialed up last season's magic as if it were Game 8 of the post-season series, chasing Canuck goalie Roberto Luongo with 4 quick 2nd period goals, drawing 8 penalties and reclaiming residency in Vancouver's heads.
Still, despite the horrendous effort in Calgary, leaving Canada with a 2-1 record has to be a positive for the Hawks. The question is which memory the team will take as a memento from the Western Canada trek. 24 hours separating, on the one hand, a perfect microcosm showcasing the Hawks' lack of effort to start the season, paired with what has probably been the first game all year where everything has just clicked.
Now, after a mini-detour to Vegas for some R&R (how deserved depends on the effort exerted in each game, I suppose), the Blackhawks continue their circus trip with a trio of games in California. First on the docket is San Jose and old friend Antti Niemi, who's been struggling to a 2-4-1 record and a 3.91 goals against average for the Sharks.
Facing off against last season's conference final opponent should put the Hawks right back in that playoff mindset exhibited in Vancouver, but if there's anything that's been obvious this year, there's no telling how much the Blackhawks will care until the puck is dropped.
Jonathon Toews' second career hat trick led the way for the Hawks victory over the Edmonton Oilers, but more importantly, last night's game was a dominating, full 60 minute effort, exacting revenge against a league doormat who embarassed the Blackhawks twice at the United Center the last two weeks. There's lots of positives to take out of the game, and still some things that need to be worked on and some players that need to step up (looking in your direction, Dave Bolland), but for now, combined with Sunday's overtime win against Anaheim, the Hawks have a two game win-streak for the first time in a month, and some momentum to build on.
Heading into the circus trip, it wasn't a stretch to say it could be a pivotal point in the whole season. By the time the Hawks return to the United Center November 30, they'll be almost a third of the way through the season, and if the kinks haven't been worked out by then, it provides for a pretty tough uphill climb. Getting the win in Edmonton is nice, because the Oilers are a team they should have no trouble with, but seeing the Hawks owning the shot differential (47-18!) and winning board battles is a welcome sight.
The trip only gets more difficult from here, as Chicago heads to Calgary tomorrow, followed by a tough matchup the next night against perennial playoff rival Vancouver. Then, turkey week sees the Hawks head to California to face the San Jose Sharks Thanksgiving eve, and the Anaheim Ducks and L.A. Kings that weekend. Other than the Flames, the other 4 squads all have winning records, with the Canucks and Kings leading their respective divisions. The Hawks have picked up an important 2 points; if they can finish the road trip with more than 6 it'd have to be considered a success. More games like Wednesday's effort makes that idea a little more palatable.
In other, less palatable, but more hilarious news off the ice, a commercial featuring Toews and Patrick Kane for the Dell Streak debuted on Youtube last week, only to be pulled shortly thereafter. Thankfully, the blog Subtle Like Seabrook managed to snag a copy and save it for all posterity. Enjoy, laugh, cry...actually, it'll probably make you do all those things at once. Think we can sign them up for acting lessons, fire their agents, or preferably, both?
Fourteen seconds. 35 seconds. In those short amounts of time, the Blackhawks gave up a pair of goals at the United Center to lose nearly identical 2-1 games to the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday and the Phoenix Coyotes last night. To pour salt in the wound, those two teams are in the bottom third of the conference, representing what should have been some easy points during a favorable stretch of games. Instead, with a pair of games left this weekend before the circus trip out west begins next Wednesday, the Hawks have gone 2-5 against teams with a combined record of 33-39-15, leaving Chicago's record under .500 at 8-9-1. Worse, despite a favorable number of games on home ice to open the season, Chicago's lost four straight and are 4-7 at the Madhouse, after losing only eight games there all last season.
So what ails the Blackhawks? While they've had injuries to key players and a heavy stretch of games after a short offseason, the issues come down to two intertwined items, chemistry and effort.
Brian Campbell made his season debut for the Blackhawks Monday in New York, and picked up his first goal in last night's frustrating 5-3 loss to the cellar-dwelling New Jersey Devils. But Dave Bolland missed the last three games with an injury and isn't expected back for another week, while Marian Hossa has started skating and has a chance to see action this weekend. Barring any further injuries, the return of Hossa and Bolland will be the first chance for the Hawks to play with their full lineup, just in time for the six-game circus trip to the West Coast.
The Blackhawks have lost three of their last four, including an embarrassing 7-4 loss to Edmonton last Friday, along with a 3-2 trip-up in New York and last night's demoralizing defeat. However, despite the downfalls, there are some things to take away from the losses. In the four games, the Hawks averaged over 34.5 shots a game, while limiting their opponents to only 23, a return to last season's dominance. However, defensive lapses have still contributed to that lesser amount of shots equaling more goals, something Chicago will need to turn around. Likewise, despite the heavy shot totals, the absence of Hossa has opened up some holes in the Hawks offensive attack and no one has picked up the slack (unless you count Jake Dowell's recent 3-goal streak, and if you're relying on your 4th line center to lead the team, there's some problems there).
Seeing Campbell on the ice will help alleviate some of those defensive concerns once he rounds into playing shape, as Niklas Hjalmarsson will finally have a steady partner he's comfortable with. But for the Hawks blue line to truly settle in, Duncan Keith needs to start playing to his level. While Keith has been asked to do a lot in Campbell's absence, leading the league in average time-on-ice, he also currently leads the league in giveaways and his passing and positioning have been all over the place.
As the Blackhawks snapped a two-game losing streak in Wednesday's 3-1 win over the L.A. Kings, they got a dose of bad news as Marian Hossa left the game midway through the 2nd period. With Hossa's upper-body injury expected to keep him out for a few weeks, the Hawks have called up forward Ben Smith for tonight's 7:30 puck drop against the Edmonton Oilers and #1 overall pick Taylor Hall. Chicago also travels to Minnesota to face the Wild tomorrow.
Given that Hossa's been one of the few Hawks putting the puck in the net with any regularity, his absence provides a fine time for Jonathon Toews, Patrick Kane and Dave Bolland to start picking up the scoring slack. As for Smith, the callup is his first NHL game after spending four years at Boston College, and he's produced a goal and 3 assists in Rockford so far this season. Unless Smith clicks, it's a good bet the Hawks will shuffle a few players through in Hossa's absence as a chance to get their younger players some NHL experience.
Thankfully for the Hawks, the Oilers come in the losers of 6 straight, with the last two losses from shootouts, including last night's 3-2 decision in Columbus. On the tail end of a back-to-back, the Oilers will be in a tough position to come out firing, which gives the Hawks a chance to score early and put the pressure on Edmonton. However, given the Blackhawks recent trend of taking periods off, there's no lead that seems insurmountable. Former Hawks Nicolai Khabibulin is expected to be in net for the Oilers, In his lone return to the UC last season, Habby gave up 4 goals in a 4-3 loss, before a back injury ended his season in early November.
No one said it would be easy. 10 games into the season of a very busy October finds the Blackhawks with a 5-4-1 record and looking to break a recent 2-game skid against the Los Angeles Kings tonight at the United Center. The Hawks have played the most games in the league so far, with those 10 games coming in the first 17 days from the Oct. 7 opener.
With the amount of turnover from last season's Stanley Cup champs, there figured to be some growing pains and adjustments, and that's just what's been happening. What follows is a rundown of the good, the bad and the ugly, 10 games in.
With the Hawks winners of 3 straight and back atop the Central Division after a 1-2-1 start, things are right again at the Madhouse - not that there was much reason to distress this early in the season. Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp have been setting teams on fire, with Hossa leading the league in goals with 7 and points with 11, and Sharp right behind with 6 goals, including 3 straight game-winners. And Marty Turco's looked more than fine in net and made some big saves the past few games. That's not to say that all's well in Chicagoland, as the defense has been porous and some key players have yet to notice it's the regular season, but that's for another time.
Tonight, on the other hand, is one of the first games that's been circled on the calendar since the schedule was announced, as the Blackhawks welcome their favorite second-round punching bag the Vancouver Canucks to town. Even without Dustin Byfuglien around to torment the 'Nucks and goalie Roberto Luongo, there's no love lost between the two, meaning tonight's rare 8 p.m. start figures to provide some great entertainment (watch on Comcast Sportsnet or listen on WGN radio) .
While the changes in the Hawks this offseason saw many predicting the rise of the Canucks in the West, Vancouver's struggled to a 2-3-1 record and is winless on the road, including last night's 6-2 drubbing by the Minnesota Wild. Luongo was pulled after the 2nd period in that game, but the former captain will most likely be in net trying to atone for both last night and last year's playoff flameout. Meanwhile, the bigger news story out of that game was Rick Rypien's act of idiocy, which not surprisingly has led to his being suspended indefinitely.
Even though the Hawks are still adjusting to new faces and injured players, tonight's game doesn't figure to have near the importance it does for Vancouver. Seems like even though it's still October, the Canucks meltdown level is already rounding into post-season form, and a loss will only fuel that fire.
If anyone thought the Blackhawks would have it easy, the opening week of the season should have disabused them of that notion. Though the Hawks managed to go 1-1-1 in their first 3 games, all 3 contests were tightly contested, 1 goal games.
Opening last Thursday in Colorado, Chicago opened up an early 1-0 lead thanks to Brian Bickell's powerplay goal, but the Avalanche kept coming and firing shots on goalie Marty Turco, to the tune of 41 total. Though the Hawks forced overtime after being down 3-1, the Avs first shot in the extra session dribbled past Turco.
Saturday saw the Stanley Cup on home ice, and the banner raised to the rafters, and though the Hockeybroad's picture captures the magic nicely, the ceremony (the final part seen here is well worth a watch...very nicely handled. The banner raising will also be rerun on Comcast tonight at 11 p.m. The Hawks hung tough against the Red Wings despite the last-minute scratch of Patrick Sharp, and it was a back and forth game. But a fluke goal started when John Scott went "Tiiiimber!" at the blue-line and Valtteri Filppula mishandled the puck off a sliding Niklas Hjalmarsson and past Turco gave the Wings a 3-2 win.
After giving up 2 goals in the first 3 minutes Monday night in Buffalo, the Hawks clawed back with 4 unanswered goals before finally picking up their first victory 4-3 over the Sabres. Marian Hossa tallied two goals to lead the Hawks, while rookie Nick Leddy picked up his first goal and hometown kid Patrick Kane scored his first of the season for the Hawks. However, the talk after the game was on this scary play, and the possible consequences.
Word came down today that Hjalmarsson was suspended two games for this hit from behind on Sabres forward Jason Pominville. While Hammer doesn't have a reputation as a dirty player, and I'd hesitate to classify the hit as that, the replays show he makes contact on the backside rather than from the side, and even if the winger sees him coming, following through leads to a much more dangerous play. While Pominville was carted off on a stretcher and diagnosed with a concussion, the news out of Buffalo is that he's only expected to miss about a week, thankfully. Hjalmarsson will miss tonight's game against Nashville and Friday's in Columbus, leaving his return for this Saturday against...the Buffalo Sabres. It'll be interesting to see if the matter is settled with the suspension or if things escalate.
Meanwhile, with Hjalmarsson and both Brian Campbell out, the Hawks will face last season's first round playoff foes the Nashville Predators very shorthanded on their blue line tonight. This is especially troubling as the Hawks defense has already been less than stellar so far this season, including the top pairing of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. For the Hawks to earn a win, those two will have to play some major minutes and not make some of the mistakes seen so far.
Given that the biggest amount of turnover on the Blackhawks roster happened at the forward positions, a lot of attention is going to be paid to this group. Seeing names like Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg and Andrew Ladd depart after their contributions in winning the Stanley Cup was difficult, no matter how expected and necessary they were. However, even with the losses, general manager Stan Bowman kept together a core group of forwards that is still one of the strongest in the NHL.
Jonathon Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Troy Brouwer and Dave Bolland are all integral players to the Hawks, and a list that includes last season's top 5 goal scorers and 5 of their top 7 in total points (Versteeg and Duncan Keith being the other two). And though Bolland missed half the season with a bad back, his tenacity and two-way play in the postseason was essential in shutting down opponent's top lines. Add in Tomas Kopecky, whose game seemed to grow after a strong Olympic performance, and the Hawks have a talented group of 7 wingers and centers that can play a variety of styles.
Of course, the loss of the 3 players above, along with John Madden, Adam Burish and Ben Eager, whose 4th line work when clicking could provide a spark to the entire team, means the Hawks need their new faces to come together cohesively and complement the core.
With all the departures that grabbed headlines after the Blackhawks Stanley Cup victory last June, the biggest story may have been the one player that stayed. The Hawks matched San Jose's 4-year, $3.5 million per year offer sheet for defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, keeping a key young blueliner who blossomed last season and who still has upside. While resigning Hjalmarsson set the wheels in motion for goalie Antti Niemi, he's a much more integral part of their system, and ensured that last season's 5th ranked defense in goals against (and 1st in shots against, at 25.1 per game) would keep its top 4 intact, at least for this season (Brent Seabrook's contract is up at the end of the year).
That means Hjalmarsson and Seabrook will be rejoining 2010 Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith and Brian Campbell to form the defensive core. Also returning is midseason pickup Nick Boynton and Jordan Hendry, while the lone departure is Brent Sopel, who was part of the Atlanta deal with Dustin Byfuglien and Ben Eager. Sopel's heart was always his biggest asset, and Boynton showed he's willing to step in, block shots, and do what it takes when he was called upon in last season's Cup run. Hendry's an underrated player who can jump in to the offense when needed, but always plays positionally sound defense, and can usually be counted on to take some key shifts every game.
As the clock winds down to the start of the Hawks Stanley Cup defense Thursday night at 9 p.m. against the Colorado Avalanche (Versus, WGN Radio), it's time to begin examining what the wholesale changes mean for the Hawks' chances this season.
Starting today, Tailgate offers the first of a 3-part preview leading up to Thursday's face-off. We'll begin between the pipes and work our way forward.
First things first, though it's already been discussed to death this summer...was Antti Niemi one of the reasons the Hawks won the Cup last year? Sure. Do I think he has the goods to be a bonafide NHL starter? I do. Was there any feasible way for the Blackhawks to meet the arbitration price of $2.75 million, let alone the higher price Niemi was asking for, and not make the team worse up front? Not that I was ever able to find, and I spent a lot of time this summer on Cap Geek.
Fact is, adding Marty Turco at $1.3 million for a year is more valuable to Chicago than Niemi and his 64 career starts (regular season and playoffs) would have been even at the $2 million Antti ended up getting from San Jose. Throw in shipping off Cristobal Huet to Switzerland and finally giving Corey Crawford a shot in the big leagues, and the Hawks changes in net, while major, are bigger for what else they allowed general manager Stan Bowman to do this summer.
As the Hawks finish up preseason play with a pair of home games against the Penguins tonight and the Blues Sunday afternoon, it's the last chance for many of the team's younger players to impress and earn a roster spot before Thursday's opener in Colorado. (Tailgate will have a full season preview leading up to that game).
The team enters tonight's game with a 1-4 record, not necessarily surprising given the turnover from last season's Cup winning team. Training camp has moreso been about evaluating the talent gained and finding players ready to take the next step and fill some of those skates. However, with final roster cuts coming and the team's title defense ready to begin, the Blackhawks are looking to end the preseason on a winning note.
Speaking of that title, there was two last bits of business to take care of from last season: the handing out of the championship rings, and the engraving of the Cup itself. Pictures and more info on that after the jump.
Though it seems as if last year's dream season just ended, the Blackhawks Stanley Cup win created a party that's raged all summer long. As the summer officially becomes fall as of yesterday, it's time to wake up from the hangover (especially, we hope, in the case of Patrick Kane) and prepare for the title defense for the Hawks, beginning with their first preseason game at 7 p.m. tonight against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The game will take place in Jonathon Toews' hometown of Winnipeg, the once (and future?) home of the Jets, and will air on Comcast Sportsnet.
Though Tailgate will have a full season preview of the drastically revamped Blackhawks (We're as guilty of enjoying the championship and taking the summer off) before the team's season opening game Oct. 7 in Colorado, you can check out the roster for tonight's game (and the first start for new goalie Marty Turco) and the first round of training camp cuts here.
The Stanley Cup is currently on tour with the Blackhawks (you win the Cup and you can take it wherever you want.) And a certain NHL franchise's Twitter account --possibly after drinking too much champagne from Lord Stanley's fancy-schmancy chalice-- tweeted the impossibly hunky fellow over at Old Spice's Twitter asking what he'd do with the Stanley Cup if he had it for a day. The answer is below from hunky fellow's mouth on a Youtube. It's dreamy, social media, Internetty, hockey happy zone:
After the Kris Versteeg (and the rights to minor leaguer Bill Sweatt) trade hit last night, I figured I'd wait til the end of the first day of free agency to wrap up the moves the Blackhawks had made. Little did I imagine the amount of movement, and non-movement, that would follow.
Heading into the start of free agency, despite GM Stan Bowman's assertions to the contrary, it was pretty clear the Hawks had to make some cuts to work with the salary cap. Even assuming Crisotbal Huet is shipped to the AHL or plays overseas next season to get out from his overpaid contract, the Blackhawks had only 12 players signed and roughly $7.5 million to work with.
Sending Versteeg to Toronto helped clear up some space, as his $3 million-a-year salary that resulted from last year's contract snafu was a clear target to move. Despite his speed and stickhandling abilities, and the career year he had, he still has a tendency to make some bad plays and no backhand to speak of. As a 24-year-old, there's still some upside to Versteeg that could come back to haunt the Hawks, but their concerns are elsewhere. In return the Hawks got Viktor Stalberg, another 24-year-old who bounced between the Leafs and the AHL in his rookie season, as well as prospects Chris DiDomenico and Philippe Paradis. Stalberg's a 6'3", 210 forward who also has speed, and seems like the kind of player who might blossom in the Hawks system, but is also not nearly as established (and hence the cheaper price). It's a deal that makes sense for both teams, but if Stalberg's development stalls doesn't do much for the Hawks this season. As versatile and clutch as Versteeg was last season, it was tough to see him go, but given the cap constraints and the need to sign goalie Antti Niemi and defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, it was a necessary deal.
The Blackhawks used the number 24 first-round pick acquired from the Atlanta Thrashers to draft 18-year-old Kevin Hayes from Noble & Greenough High School in Massachusetts, then traded the final pick in the first round to the New York Islanders for the Number 30 and 58 in the second round, which continues tomorrow.
With that move, the Hawks now have five picks in the second round (30,35,43,54,58,60), and six more in rounds 3-7, which gives the Blackhawks a number of options. Use the picks to continue building a strong junior team that will be NHL-ready in a few years, or make more moves to help alleviate the salary cap crunch and land some cheap help.
As for Hayes, the 6'2", 201 lb. wing is slated to attend Boston College next season, though his size and hands fit with the kind of players Chicago thrives on. But at this point, it'd be a surprise to see him on the team within the next two years.
First things first, congratulations to Duncan Keith, the Norris Trophy winner for best defenseman at last night's NHL Awards. Keith's honor was well-deserved and a chance to show off those new pearly whites.
Now, the big news yesterday was the trade that sent Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Sopel and Ben Eager, along with minor league prospect Akim Aliu, to the Atlanta Thrashers for the 24th and 54th picks in the draft, center Marty Reasoner, forward Joey Crabb and prospect Jeremy Morin. The Blackhawks followed that up by shipping Colin Fraser to the Edmonton Oilers for a 6th round pick in this weekend's draft.
The moves may had been a surprise to some, especially given the crucial goals Byfuglien scored and the multiple shots blocked by Sopel in the run to the Cup, but the Hawks find themselves in a perilous salary cap position due to previous overpaid contracts and new extensions for Jonathon Toews, Patrick Kane, and Keith. Add in arbitration with goaltender Antti Niemi, and a slew of restricted free agents, and the Hawks find themselves needing to shed salary, fast. Byfuglien's $3 million and Sopel's $2.3 million cap hits were obvious targets, and the first of possibly more moves to come.
Thought I was kidding when I said I was speechless, didn't you? With the press overload on the parade and all the Stanley Cup partying post victory, I sat back and basked in the excitement and glory with everyone else. (And as detailed in Merge, fans will get another chance to celebrate at this weekend's Pride Parade with Brent Sopel and his family).
However, it was also a chance to drink in the championship before worrying about the difficult position the Blackhawks find themselves in entering this offseason. The drought of '61 has been broken, but the team that takes the ice next year figures to look pretty different, and some fan favorites are bound to be wearing new sweaters in October.
More on this next week, after the completion of this weekend's NHL draft, which may see the first in a flurry of moves for the Hawks.
In the meantime, there's still the matter of finishing up this season, with tonight's NHL Awards show on Versus, where Duncan Keith is up for the Norris Trophy as the league's best defenseman. Were the award voted on after the postseason, Keith and his "Teeth" would probably be a shoo-in, but the competition looks tight between him, the L.A. Kings Drew Doughty, and Mike Green from the Washington Capitals. All three can make convincing arguments for the award with three different styles of play, though Keith's skill set is unrivaled in both ends. Good luck.
One other item of note, the schedule for next season was released on Tuesday, after opening the season in Colorado on Oct. 7, the Blackhawks return home to hoist the Stanley Cup banner Saturday, Oct. 9, against the rival Detroit Red Wings. Other highlight games include a Cup rematch against the Philadelphia Flyers Sunday, January 23, Sidney Crosby and the Penguins Sunday, February 20, and the return of former GM Dale Tallon in his new gig with the Florida Panthers Wednesday, March 23.
Check out the full schedule here.
The Tribune ran a "very special" poster in today's paper of Flyers enforcer "Chrissy" Pronger wearing a skirt and tights, with the subhead "Looks like Tarzan, skates like Jane." Not surprisingly, it has Flyers fans riled, but doesn't elicit a reaction from Pronger himself. He'll answer on the ice tomorrow night, no doubt.
Recaps and highlights are everywhere by this point, but a few thoughts on the Blackhawks 7-4 Game 5 win, giving them a 3-2 series lead heading back to Philly for Wednesday's Game 6.
While there will be a focus on some of the team's bigger stars (Dustin Byfuglien's 4 points primarily, but also Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Kris Versteeg's great games), the win last night was a total team effort, from top to bottom. The Hawks came out of the gate absolutely flying, and the 1st period may have been their best effort of the postseason, and definitely the first time all series they've played a game that everyone knew they were capable of. The Hawks were controlling the puck, dictating the tempo, and firing off shots at will, while also limiting in their defensive zone. While they let up at times in the final 2 periods, and the Flyers never stopped fighting, they were able to respond and keep the game in hand. With another performance like they had last night Wednesday, Philadelphia would need some major breaks to force a Game 7.
For all of coach Joel Quenneville's constant line tinkering throughout the season, the decision to break up Kane, Jonathon Toews and Byfuglien was necessary and gave the Blackhawks the spark they needed in the game. Chicago has the depth to attack every which way, but with the focus on the Flyers' shutting down the top line, and the Hawks' line of Dave Bolland, Versteeg and Andrew Ladd/Tomas Kopecky out primarily as a defensive factor on the Flyers top line, the Blackhawks were far too reliant on a single scoring line. The switches made Philadelphia rethink their matchups, while still giving Chicago firepower and backchecking on all 3 lines.
Power plays were key, and for once, in Chicago's favor. The Hawks went 2-for-4 with the man advantage while keeping the Flyers off the board in 3 attempts. The Blackhawks were able to stay disciplined, put Philadelphia on their heels, and get their power play connecting, as seen most obviously in the beautiful goal by Byfuglien that saw the puck go through every Hawks on the ice.
Well, that's certainly not the game the Blackhawks were looking for in Game 4, losing 5-3 to send the series back to Chicago Sunday as a best of three, in a game that wasn't as close as it looked on the scoreboard. The Flyers held a 4-1 lead in the middle of the third before the Hawks finally were able to convert on a powerplay (during a 5-on-3), and then pick up a second goal to make things interesting before Jeff Carter iced the game with an empty netter.
However, the game was essentially lost in the first period. Despite outplaying the Flyers for long stretches in the first, including holding them 10 minutes without a shot, two brutal Niklas Hjalmarsson turnovers on each side of that span gave Philly a 2-0 lead. After Patrick Sharp picked up a goal with 1:28 left in the first to make it 2-1, the key sequence of the game followed, as an absolutely inexcusable defensive breakdown left Claude Giroux to tip the puck into an empty net with 37 seconds left. The goal restored Philly's two-goal lead heading into the first intermission, and the Hawks never had a strong response until too late in the third.
The Blackhawks losing Game 3 was a tough loss that gave the Flyers life in this series, but the Hawks also allowed it to happen by getting outshot 16-6 in the 3rd period and overtime, and taking costly penalties that lead to two power play tallies for Philadelphia. Chicago also tended to focus too much on getting the desired line matchups rather than playing the hand they were dealt, which created the odd-man rush for the overtime winner from Claude Giroux.
Of course, all that Flyers win did was set up an extremely pivotal Game 4, airing tonight on Versus at 7 p.m. While it's been noted that 24 of the previous 27 Stanley Cup winners won the fourth game of their series, the bigger issue is one of momentum. The Hawks have yet to lose consecutive postseason games, and a win tonight in Philly gives them a commanding 3-1 series lead and a date with destiny at home on Sunday. However, a 2nd straight subpar effort not only knots things at 2 apiece, but gives the Flyers all the confidence in knowing that they've outplayed the Blackhawks the majority of the series and are getting results, while it sets the Hawks into a bit of self-questioning.
As the Stanley Cup Finals shift to the City of Brotherly Love for tonight's Game 3 (7 p.m., shifting to cable's Versus channel, so find your remote or head out to the local watering hole), the Blackhawks find themselves in the drivers seat of a 2-0 series lead, despite Philadelphia's strong play in a tight 2-1 win in Game 2. The odds are decidedly in favor of the Hawks after that win, as of the 33 teams to win the first two games of a final, 31 of them have lifted the Cup. Of course, the last team to fail in this regard was the Detroit Red Wings last season, so Chicago has a clear case of how quickly things can change if they let up.
With the Wachovia Center rocking, the Hawks find themselves back in hostile environs, an area where they've thrived in winning seven straight on the road. But the Flyers are an equally impressive 7-1 at home this postseason, and having the last change may help clear up some of the matchup frustrations they felt at the United Center, as the Dave Bolland-Kris Versteeg-Tomas Kopecky line neutralized Philly's top line of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, and Simon Gagne.
A few quick thoughts on tonight's thrilling 6-5 Game 1 win for the Blackhawks before a short Memorial Day holiday and Game 2 Monday night.
First, and foremost, if all the games are this edge of your seat, anxiety-filled contests, I'm not sure I'll survive to the end of this series. Though neither goalie was strong (especially the Flyers Michael Leighton giving up 5 goals on 20 shots), the pace and back-and-forth scoring created an intense atmosphere worthy of a Cup final.
Also worthy of the Stanley Cup, the national anthem at the game tonight was deafening, probably the loudest it's been this year and possibly in the history of the UC. Jim Cornelision did a fantastic job, what little you could hear him.
If you had told me before the game there would be 11 goals and neither the Hawks nor the Flyers top lines would factor in any of them, I'd have taken that bet. Kane, Toews and Byfuglien were neutralized all night, as were Richards, Carter and Gagne. But the 2nd line of the Hawks, with Troy Brouwer's 2 goals and an assist, Marian Hossa's 2 assists and Patrick Sharp's goal, dominated all game long. Philly's Ville Leino, Scott Hartnell and Danny Briere (1 goal, 3 assists himself) lead the Flyers all game long as well.
Tomas Kopecky, welcome back. After being a healthy scratch, Kopecky scored the game winner in the 3rd and had a pretty assist on Kris Versteeg's goal in the 2nd. With Andrew Ladd out, Kopecky stepped in and played a fantastic game, and his tally was well-deserved and sent the United Center crowd into a frenzy.
The Hawks 4 penalties to none from Philadelphia was a tough obstacle to overcome, but holding the Flyers to 1-for-4 on the powerplay, while connecting on a shorthanded goal, is a nice way to neutralize a major disadvantage. Hard to believe there's been 2 games this postseason the Blackhawks have never drawn a penalty, but they're now 2-0 in those games. Despite that, they've got to make sure this doesn't happen again, no matter how things are being called.
Overall, Game 1 was a fantastic game to watch as fan, as both teams brought a lot of energy, a lot of shots, and a lot of goals, but were sloppy at times too. To avoid a repeat of this track meet, the Hawks are going to have to be better defensively and not allow so many second chances, and find a way to win more pucks. Through the first half of the game, though the bounces were going the Flyers' way, Philly was also getting the pucks they needed to before the Hawks came roaring back. While they weren't a disaster in their own end, it was the weakest they've looked since the Nashville series, and the Flyers are too good not to take advantage given another opportunity.
Still, the game showed heart, on both teams, but the Hawks had the extra edge to get a crucial Game 1 win.
As detalled briefly on Tuesday, the Flyers walked a fine line to both make the playoffs and to advance as far as they have, however, this is not a Cinderella story. At the beginning of the season, Philadelphia was one of the favorites in the Eastern Conference, and, though they struggled with injuries and consistency through most of the season, their playoff run suggests a team playing at its full potential and peaking at the right time.
Philly's a bit of a hybrid team; their offense has depth and speed, and they can turn it on when needed, as evidenced by their 54 goals, most in the playoffs. On the back end, the Flyers have some big, muscular shut-down D men, and provide smothering coverage in their own end, the 3 shutouts the team posted in beating the Montreal Canadiens a testament to that.
The question mark for the Flyers at the start of the season was in net, and after losing Ray Emery midseason, that question still lingers. Brian Boucher stepped in, and after he was injured in the 2nd round against Boston, journeyman Michael Leighton (a former Blackhawk) has picked up the torch and lead the Flyers to 7 wins in their last 8 games.
Leighton was picked up on waivers midseason and went 16-5-2 for Philly before being injured in March, so his play upon coming back isn't a total shock., Though he's played admirably in posting a goals against average of 1.45 this postseason, he hasn't been tested by an offense as dynamic as the Blackhawks.
Thanks to their 4-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens last night, the Philadelphia Flyers advanced to the Stanley Cup finals and the waiting Chicago Blackhawks. Philly entered the postseason as a 7-seed thanks to a shootout victory on the final day of the regular season. After dispatching the New Jersey Devils in the first round, they became only the 3rd NHL team to come back from a 3-0 series deficit to beat the Boston Bruins in 7 games, before eliminating Montreal in 5.
Philadelphia was considered a top team in the East before staggering out of the gate and to the bottom of the conference, before barely clawing their way back into the postseason. In the one meeting between the Hawks and Flyers March 13, Philly scored two goals in the final 2:04, including Chris Pronger's game winner with 2.1 seconds left, to shock the Blackhawks 3-2.
A more indepth preview of the Stanley Cup Finals and what Hawks fans can expect is coming later, but in the meantime, the schedule of games is as follows (all times Central):
Game 1 Saturday, May 29 at Chicago 7 p.m. NBC
Game 2 Monday, May 31 at Chicago 7 p.m. NBC
Game 3 Wednesday, June 2 at Philadelphia 7 p.m. VERSUS
Game 4 Friday, June 4 at Philadelphia 7 p.m. VERSUS
Game 5 Sunday, June 6 at Chicago 7 p.m. NBC
Game 6 Wednesday, June 9 at Philadelphia 7 p.m. NBC
San Jose's light was put out Sunday afternoon in a fashion that will have fans of the Sharks just as distressed as the rest of the country seems to be by the Lost finale. The Sharks staked a two goal lead before the Hawks came firing back, and it was the mighty Dustin Byfuglien yet again connecting for the game-winning goal that sent San Jose and gave the Hawks their first Stanley Cup Final trip in 18 years. Chicago will face the winner of the Philadelphia Flyers-Montreal Canadiens series (the Flyers are currently up 3 games to 1, with Game 5 tonight).
Few expected the Hawks road to be easy, and in fact, despite the sweep of the Sharks, this series was a battle whose victory was hard earned. Whether it was Antti Niemi's big saves, Dave Bolland's guts and mind games, Duncan Keith's willingness to put his body and smile on the line, Jonathon Toews' all-around MVP performance, or Byfuglien's constantly raising the bar of what a big goal means, the Hawks rose to the occassion and delivered. The Sharks were a strong team, and though the results may not show it, the effort and desire they put forth was evident on the ice up until the final horn, it's just that the Hawks and coach Joel Quenneville always were able to craft the perfect response.
After toughing out a serious upset threat in the first round against Nashville and exorcising the demons of the mental game within a game and cutthroat physical war with Vancouver, the Blackhawks are rolling at the right time.
Which puts the Hawks on the brink of capturing their first Stanley Cup since 1961. Even after last season's magical run to the conference finals, it's hard to imagine this team's meteoric rise in such a short amount of time. And yet, even with the success this season, the Blackhawks won't be satisfied until they're skating with Lord Stanley.
A few quick thoughts on last night's game while I try and wake up (those 9 p.m. starts are rough on a working man), as well as highlights from Game 2 after the jump.
With the 4-2 win, the Blackhawks have now won 7 straight road games, tying an NHL record. For whatever reason, this team plays its best away from home, as they tend to focus on staying simple. Just look at last night. Shots on net, men in front for rebounds/deflections, defensive positioning and clearing pucks in their own end, and disciplined play give them a chance to win.
Antti Niemi is quickly becoming the antidote in net, fending off frenzied attacks in both first periods before his teammates took control of play as the games wore on. Niemi's making big saves when contested, and the defense in front of him is doing a good job of clearing out pucks and limiting chances.
Despite the 2-0 hole, the Sharks aren't playing that poorly, though Chicago dominated large stretches of Game 2 as San Jose got frustrated, and Evegeni Nabakov struggled in net. But a few bounces the opposite way, especially in Game 1, and the series could easily be tied. Credit again to Niemi and the D, and the Hawks forwards for getting sticks on pucks and converting opportunities.
Jonathon Toews picked up a goal and an assist last night, extending his point streak to 11 games, and is leading the NHL postseason stats race with 23 total points. Toews has raised his game on all levels and is the backbone of this franchise, and proving he's worth every penny. This is what leaders do, and Toews' will to win gives this team life.
Also, when did Dave Bolland become such a nightmare to play against? Joe Thornton has been visibly frustrated by Bolland's constant hounding, just as he threw the Sedin twins off their game last series. Though Bolland proved to be a strong two-way center last season, after missing a large chunk of the regular season, he's quickly becoming invaluable.
Dustin Byfuglien nothced another goal in front of the net on a pretty tip-in. He's been a monster since the Vancouver series, with goals in 3 straight games along with that hat trick, while being a constant irritation in front of the net. If he could play with that edge and motivation throughout the season, he'd be a force, but it's great that he's doing so now.
This team has been much better once Brian Campbell returned from his broken collarbone. Though Byfuglien did a notable job filling in on D, having two quick-skating defenseman in Campbell and Duncan Keith really opens up the Hawks game. Speaking of, Keith has had two strong games as well after struggling early on.
The two teams return to Chicago to face off at what figures to be a roaring United Center Friday at 7 p.m., with Game 4 scheduled for Sunday at 2 p.m. If the Blackhawks can shake their home doldrums and play like they have on the road, San Jose will be facing a monumental uphill battle to get back in this series.
This is pretty great. New media-based wager between the Canucks Twitter profile and Blackhawks Twitter. Canucks will be sporting the 'Hawks logo all week, in addition, to paying up Mayor Daley's wager. Hizzoner scored some Pacific salmon along with other B.C. treats. This is all Chicago-based retribution for Team Canada winning the gold medal against Team USA in the hockey finals back in February. Meanwhile, Tailgate seamlessly used this post to show off Twitter's hot new "Blackbird Pie" code for embedding tweets directly into blog posts. "Swish!"
So it comes down to San Jose and Chicago, the top two teams in the West, in the Conference Finals with a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals on the line. While the two teams rolled through the regular season, they both had questions that needed to be answered come playoff time.
Many questions were being asked about Antti Niemi in net for the Blackhawks, and at this point, it's safe to say he's answered the call, outplaying Roberto Luongo last series. Meanwhile, after last season's storyline run to the WCF, the Hawks have shown that they can stand up to the pressure of being a favorite going on, though not without some hiccups along the way.
San Jose broke through their playoff struggles in a major fashion, upending the Red Wings in 5 games to advance to the conference finals for the first time since 2004. Joe Thornton shook off a bit of the playoff bust label with 8 points to lead the Sharks, including a dominating performance in Game 5. Thornton was a little more invisible in the first round series against Colorado, and which player shows up for this series will have a big effect on the Sharks' fortunes.
Both teams' styles are built around puck possession, passing and positioning, and the series figures to be a chess match with lots of back and forth play. Similarly, both offenses have some bona fide threats, so while the pace will be a constant, expect some great scoring chances throughtout as well.
Jonathon Toews and Thornton are the leaders of their respective teams, and the two figure to be battling throughout the series. Toews proved his shut-down abilities as a role player in the Olympics, and he'll have his hands full with Jumbo Joe, whose large size and quick hands make him a constant threat when he's on his game. Toews had a monster series offensively against Vancouver, but Coach Joel Quenneville will need him to be as much of a neutralizing factor here to disarm the Sharks top line.
Last night saw the Blackhawks do what they do best on the road - win, knocking out the Vancouver Canucks 5-1 and advancing to a Western Conference final matchup with the top-seeded San Jose Sharks.
Following Game 5's subpar effort, the Hawks came out firing, and had the greater scoring opportunities throughout the 1st period, but it wasn't til Troy Brouwer and Kris Versteeg scored 36 seconds apart in the first 3 minutes of the 2nd period that Chicago was able to take a lead and not look back.
But the true dagger came with 45 seconds left in the 2nd period, as Dave Bolland rushed up ice on a shorthanded breakaway and beat Robert Luongo for a 3-0 lead. The Canucks did manage to get on the board early in the 3rd off a Shane O'Brien slapshot, but Patrick Kane and Dustin Byfuglien converted on breakaways 35 seconds apart in the middle of the third period to close the door and seal the victory.
For all the little things the Blackhawks did well in Game 4 (convert on powerplays, crash the net, let Jonathon Toews dominate the game), those same things are what they seemed to forget upon returning to Chicago for Game 5 (inability to put two passes together, looking for the perfect setup). Naturally, after Toews hoisted the team on his shoulders with 5 points and a hat trick in the 7-4 win in Game 4, the Canucks grabbed an early lead and never looked back in Game 5 to make the series 3-2 and send the series back to Vancouver for tonight's Game 6 (8:30 p.m. on Vs. and WGN Radio 720).
Despite the Game 5 loss, the Hawks still can control the series. The team has already taken two games in Vancouver in convincing fashion, and has arguably been the better road team all series long (and in fact, all postseason as their 4-1 road record attests). As confident as Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo looked in Game 5, he was equally as rattled in Games 3 and 4, and the Vancouver crowd figures to be loud and on pins and needles with their team still facing elimination. If the Hawks can grab an early lead, that pressure figures to mount all the more for the home team, making the first goal a huge key.
Yet again, special teams figure to be a major factor. After getting the Canucks off their games and into the box in the two road games, it was the Hawks taking the senseless penalties in Game 5 that affected their ability to get rolling. While momentum game to game has been nonexistant, once the tone within each game has been set, it's been tough to turn the tide. And with Canucks defenseman Sami Salo a gametime decision after taking a shot to the groin in Game 5, the Canucks blue line could be even more vulnerable to battling the power play if the Hawks can draw the penalties.
The Hawks showed how to win in Vancouver by getting shots on net and crashing hard for rebounds, drawing penalties, and staying aware in their defensive zone. The gameplan was successful before, and it easily can be again if they keep it simple.
Win, and a conference final matchup with the San Jose Sharks looms. Lose, and it's winner take all at the United Center Thursday night. The Blackhawks bags are packed and ready to go, it's only a matter of which flight plan they want to follow.
Really, that's all that needs to be said. Dustin Byfuglien just owned the Vancouver Canucks, notching a hat trick and 6 hits in the Blackhawks 5-2 win last night. He got in front of the net, frustrated Roberto Luongo and the 'Nucks D-men, and was a physical force all over the ice. He got on the scoresheet and inside Vancouver's heads. Now, if only he had the determination to play that type of game all season long...though Vancouver in the postseason seems to bring out the best in him based on the past two years. After filling in ably on defense the past month, Buff's reward was a top line pairing with Jonathon Toews and Patrick Kane, and he took full advantage. Big tip and toss of the hat to Big Buff.
Antti Niemi also was stellar, making some incredible first-period saves to keep the Canucks off the scoreboard while outplaying Luongo, who left juicy rebound after juicy rebound for Buff and the Blackhawks to take advantage of.
Full video highlights of Game 3 after the jump. The two teams return to action tomorrow at 8:30 CST in Vancouver, with the Hawks looking to extend their 2-1 series lead. The game is exclusive to Versus, so fans missing the channel should head out to one of the official Blackhawk bars to catch all the action, which, if the last few games have proven anything, there should be plenty of.
A few thoughts on last night's exhilerating 4-2 Blackhawks win over Canucks, evening up the series 1-1 as the two teams head to Vancouver for tomorrow's Game 3.
Full video highlights are available after the jump, which is about all you need to know in terms of a recap. Vancouver came out and owned the Blackhawks for the first 5 minutes, setting a tone in jumping to a quick 2-goal lead, but the Hawks proved resilient, and as the game wore on the momentum was more and more in their corner, culminating in Kris Versteeg's game-winning goal with 90 seconds left. It was a great game, and a must-win for the Hawks, and they finally woke up and delivered.
Now, this...this will be playoff hockey at its best. The Hawks square off against the Vancouver Canucks in the best of 7 series beginning tomorrow at the United Center, a rematch of last season's Conference Semifinals, which saw Chicago advance in 6. The two teams feature some of the top offenses in the league, with the Canucks ranked second with 3.27 goals per game, and the Hawks third at 3.2, meaning points will be put on the board. And with no love lost between the two and higher expectations, expect this series to be even more physical and punishing than last year's knock-down, drag-out battles were.
Though both teams have many familiar faces from last year, the two major new additions will have an impact on this series. Vancouver's Mikael Samuelsson exploded for 11 points in the Canucks 6 first round games, including 7 goals. On the flip side, no goal was more clutch than the Hawks' Marian Hossa's gamewinner in Game 5, and Hossa's competitive nature has been a force all postseason.
***Update*** Following Mayor Daley's press conference today, The Trib's City Hall blog, Clout Street posted a whole rundown of the wager.
We here at Gapersblock love the Half Acre Beer. Those guys are the best, seriously. They have delicious weird beers (Ginger Twin, Invasion) and standard libations (lagers/pale ales, whatnot). So it should as no surprise that when Mayor Richard Daley wants to throw down with the Vancouver Canucks and the municipal governance of that Canadian city, that Daley goes to Half Acre for a wager.
Our city's Mayor, Mr. Richard Daley, has chosen Half Acre Beer Co to take part in a friendly wager with Vancouver, Canada on behalf of the Chicago Blackhawks. 1 case of 24/16oz of Daisy Cutter Pale Ale Cans & Gossamer Golden Ale Cans will go up for grabs as the Hawks face the Canucks in the Western Conference Semifinals.
Okay, 'Hawks, you're repping Chicago and now America against that Northern Menace. Do us proud and win some (hopefully) non-Molson for Daley to guzzle in his palatial manse. Of course, the last time an American leader challenged a Canadian leader in a hockey bet, it didn't work out. Well-played, America Jr.
Weird goal, right? We'll have plenty more Blackhawks coverage for you later today and for the rest of the week. Until then, congrats, 'Hawks fans & Patrick Kane. That's probably the weirdest/luckiest goal of your hockey playing career and it helped your team move on in the Stanley Cup Playoffs!
Following a wild first period that saw seven goals between the two teams, the Blackhawks hung on and collected an empty net goal from John Madden to seal the game 5-3 and win their first round series against the Nashville Predators 4-2. The Hawks advance to the secound round and the Vancouver Canucks, a rematch of last season's conference semifinals.
Though the full schedule hasn't been announced, the first game of the series will be this Friday at the United Center, time TBD. The regular season saw the teams split the series 2-2, with each team earning a home and road win.
Well, it's taken awhile to catch my breath after the exhilarating back and forth of Saturday afternoon's Game 5 at the United Center, which saw the Blackhawks lose a 3-1 lead, and appear to be heading for a critical loss after Marian Hossa drew a 5-minute boarding major with a minute left. Then, with goalie Antti Niemi pulled, Patrick Kane poked in a rebound with 13.6 seconds left to rise the UC crowd from the dead and force overtime. The Hawks managed to fend off the Predators and kill the remaining 3:57 of penalty time, and 10 seconds after jumping out of the box Hossa found a Brent Sopel shot on the doorstep and put it past Nashville net minder Pekka Rinne for the game-winner and the 3-2 series lead, and sending the crowd into a pandemonium I haven't heard louder this year.
The 5-4 comeback win is the biggest victory the Blackhawks have had this year, and as the series shifts to Nashville for tonight's Game 6 (8 p.m., Comcast SportsNet), a Hawks victory would close out the series and set up a rematch with last year's 2nd round opponent, the Vancouver Canucks.
Well, that's a little more like it. The Blackhawks finally looked like they had something to play for, and used the return of Brian Campbell to spark some offense and finally get through to Predators goalie Pekka Rinne for a 3-0 victory, sending the series back to Chicago tied 2-2.
Patrick Sharp finally broke through for 2 goals and Jonathon Toews picked up a goal and an assist as the Blackhawks big guns made a gamewide impact. Antti Niemi picked up his 2nd shutout in 4 starts, turning away 33 shots but was seemingly rarely tested.
Seeing Campbell back on the ice after his March injury was a welcome sight, and though he looked a little rusty in the limited minutes he played, he also helped open up the Hawks dynamics in a number of ways, and could be an even bigger factor once he gets his game legs back under him.
A key to the game was once again the powerplay. The Blackhawks got there first goal from Sharp 10 seconds into their first powerplay, and killed off a 5-on-3 later in the first to gain more momentum. Nashville went 0-for-5 with the man advantage, and in fact has yet to score a power play goal this series. Though the Hawks defense has been shaky at times, they've done an admirable job on the penalty kill.
With the win, the Hawks took back home ice, and will look to take the series lead in tomorrow's 2 p.m. matinee at the United Center. If the team can build on their Game 4 performance and cut down on the penalties, those prospects look a lot better than they did 24 hours ago.
While panic and desperation are not words to throw around lightly, the Blackhawks may be creeping up toward that precipice before tonight's Game 4 in Nasvhille. And with reports that defenseman Brian Campbell is a game-time decision tonight, they've either taken another step closer or started backing off the ledge.
Though the scene shifts to Nashville for tonight's Game 3 between the Blackhawks and Predators (8 p.m., Comcast SportsNet), the game on the ice should look very much the same.
Despite the different results on the scoreboard, Games 1 and 2 were incredibly similar. Chicago came out strong and pushed the momentum at the onset, then the games settled into tight, defensive affairs that ultimately hinged on turnovers and penalties and the play of the respective goalies. A bad bounce goal on Antti Niemi and an inability to clear the zone due to intense forecheck pressure by the Predators doomed the Hawks to the Game 1 loss. Meanwhile, in Game 2 Chicago made some key line changes (most notably pairing defensemen Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith back together), used their speed and upped their physicality to wear down the Preds and eventually crack goaltender Pekka Rinne for a pair of goals and the victory. Both goaltenders have made some big saves so far, and while Niemi calmed some nerves with his Game 2 shutout, Rinne has made some spectacular saves to keep Nashville hanging close and ready to capitalize.
Barring a meltdown from either netminder, Game 3 figures to be another tightrope walk. The teams have matched up fairly evenly and played throttling defense to limit quality scoring opportunities. One area that may be a huge factor is the powerplay. Though Chicago struggled for the latter half of the year with the man advantage, the Hawks used a string of penalties in Game 2 to push the momentum and get on the board with a Dave Bolland backhand goal; finishing the game 1-for-5. The Predators powerplay was near the NHL basement all year, and despite 5 opportunities themselves, couldn't put the puck past Antti Niemi. With quality shots at a premium, the team that is best able to use the man advantage will have the upper hand.
With puck-drop a little over 5 hours from now, the NHL playoffs will finally be back in Chicago! The first two nights have seen a spate of upsets, so the Blackhawks will be looking to tame the Predators and jump out to an early series lead.
If you're looking for a place to watch the game with some like-minded fans, options abound.
First, if you really want to get in on the action (and have the money to do so), Ticketmaster's box office is still surprisingly showing tickets available for tonight's game. There's also plenty of seats above face value listed on the Blackhawks Ticketexchange.
If Tax Day left your pockets lighter, but you still want to join up with other fans to cheer on the Hawks, head out to any of the official Blackhawks bars. Though you may want to call ahead to check, with the Cubs game wrapping up this afternoon and the Sox in Cleveland, most if not all of the tvs in these fine drinking emporiums should be tuned into the game.
And of course, don't forget your playoff beard, and raise money for the Blackhawks charities while doing so.
The Hawks and Predators haven't played each other since Dec. 27, but the two foes should find themselves on familiar ground pretty quickly once the puck drops Friday. Though the Blackhawks took the season series 4-2, all the games were tightly contested, and the playoffs should be more of the same.
Chicago's got the obvious advantage of depth and talent, but the Predators have the ingredients to make the series interesting.
Nashville is a team that can be deceptive. They gave up 4 more goals than they scored during the regular season, and their power play and penalty kill ranked 24th and 28th, respectively, yet they managed to score 100 points and earn their 5th playoff birth in 6 seasons, a testament to Barry Trotz's coaching ability and the team's system. The Predators play a trapping style of game, content to rely on their defense and take advantage of turnovers and mistakes to generate their offense. However, despite their consistency, they've yet to win a playoff series or win a road playoff game, a major factor given the Hawks 29-8-4 home record.
So, here we go. After a successful season, now the real fun begins for the Blackhawks, who face the Nashville Predators in the first round of the NHL playoffs, beginning on Friday. Puck drops at 7:30pm at the United Center.
First things first, due to confluence of reasons, it's been a few weeks since I posted. Quickly wrapping up the regular season:
After a dismal March, the Hawks started to refocus, reeling off 6 straight wins before losing 3-2 in overtime to Detroit yesterday to finish up the season.
Because of that loss, and San Jose's win the previous night, the Sharks claimed the top seed in the Western Conference, while Chicago had to settle for number 2.
Thanks to Detroit's win, and the L.A. Kings shootout victory on Sunday, both teams leapfrogged Nashville in the standings, leaving the Predators as the Hawks' first round opponent.
With Detroit's loss Easter Sunday just before the Hawks' 4-1 win over the Calgary Flames, the Blackhawks claimed their first division title in 17 years. They followed that up by setting franchise records in both wins (52) and points (112), breaking the previous totals of 49 and 107 (though it should be noted, both these totals were before the shootout was introduced, meaning teams could finish a game tied and earn a single point).
Now that that's all covered, it's time to look ahead.
The Hawks beat the Predators 4-2 in the season series, though thanks to some weird scheduling quirks, the two teams haven't seen each other since Dec. 27. There will be a bigger playoff preview later this week, but in the meantime, here's the first-round schedule (with Games 5-7 if necessary, naturally).
Game 1: April 16, 7:30 p.m., United Center (Vs.)
Game 2: Sunday, April 18, 7:30 p.m., United Center (Vs.)
Game 3: Tuesday, April 20, 8 p.m., Bridgestone Arena (Vs.)
Game 4: Thursday, April 22, 7:30 p.m., Bridgestone Arena (Vs.)
Game 5: Saturday, April 24, 2 p.m., United Center (NBC)
Game 6: Monday, April 26, TBD, Bridgestone Arena
Game 7: Wednesday, April 28, TBD, United Center
Though you wouldn't know it from their miserable play the last few games, the Chicago Blackhawks, are, in fact, heading back to the Stanley Cup playoffs this season.
The team announced ticket information for the first two rounds of games, with tickets going on sale tomorrow at 10 a.m. Central via Ticketmaster.com or by calling Ticketmaster at (800) 745-3000. There will be no box office sales due to limited inventory. By my estimation, there's only about 4,000 tickets available per game to the public.
Fans can purchase up to 8 total tickets during the sale, with no more than 4 for one game. Prices range from $30 to $425 dollars for conference quarterfinal games, and $30 to $450 for the semifinals, though the breakdown of specific pricing has yet to be released.
Meanwhile, the Blackhawks look to turn things around tonight as they battle the Blues in St. Louis at 7 p.m., before heading to Minnesota to take on the Wild tomorrow at the same time. Antti Niemi will get the start in net in front of yet more juggled lines, as coach Joel Quenneville continues to shake things up and attempt to awaken his slumping team.
The Blackhawks had one of their worst overall games of the year last night, losing to the Columbus Bluejackets 8-3. From the first goal the Jackets scored 32 second in with a shot along the goal line that banked in off goalie Cristobal Huet's legs, it wasn't the Hawks night.
Huet was chased after giving up 4 more goals by the middle of the 2nd period, and Antii Niemi gave up 1 more before Huet played out the string in the 3rd, where the Hawks managed two goals late to make the score slightly less embarrasing.
After a big win Tuesday night against Phoenix to take over 1st place in the Western Conference and alleviate some growing concerns, Chicago looked tired and flat in Columbus, teamwide.
However, thanks to Calgary's loss to the New York Islanders, the Blackhawks did manage to clinch a playoff spot despite the rout and San Jose reclaiming the top seed. So, you know, think positive.
On that note, a few other things crystalized in the rout:
While the loss, the Hawks third straight, hurts a little for a team that needs to shake the Olympic break malaise that's enveloped it lately, the injury to Brent Seabrook on a blatant run and cheap shot by former Blackhawk James Wisniewski, really stings. Add in the fact that Saku Koivu's game-winning goal came off a horrible non-call as Ducks forward Corey Perry cross-checked defenseman Brent Sopel in the back as he leapt for the puck, and St. Patrick's Day left Blackhawks fan's feeling green.
I'm not one to blame the officiating, but it's obvious that the two most controversial calls went the Ducks way. Sopel was clearly pushed from behind before he had the puck, making the no call that followed mystifying and the ensuing goal all the more enraging. Regarding the Seabrook hit, Wisniewski left his feet, lead with his elbow, and hit a player directly in the face who had not touched the puck, leaving no shortage of penalties to call, and could have easily been a 5-minute major. As it was, Wiz got 2 minutes for charging and a phantom holding call on the Hawks Duncan Keith in the ensuing fight between the pair left the Hawks without any powerplay time, which could have changed the tenor of what was then a 1-1 game.
This past weekend could be a game-changer for the Blackhawks, and not in a good way for the team's Stanley Cup aspirations. The Hawks lost two heartbreaking games in Philadelphia and at home to Washington, giving up third period leads in both. On top of that, the Hawks lost defenseman Brian Campbell for at least the rest of the regular season with a broken clavicle and ribs in a controversial play in Sunday's matinee. All in all, a tough weekend for a Blackhawks team that's already been struggling since the Olympic break.
First things first, in the biggest story to emerge from the St. Patrick's weekend haze, the push that nearly broke Campbell's back. After playing the puck alongside the net, Campbell was on the receiving end of a 2-handed shove from Capitals superstar Alexander Ovehckin, crashing awkwardly and violently into the end boards. Ovie received a 5 minute major and a game misconduct for the play (ending his day), and a 2-game suspension was handed down Monday from the NHL, all worthy penalties for what was a dangerous, stupid play. Ovechkin plays a frenetic, to the limit style of hockey, but sometimes doesn't know when to let up and not cross that line. Do I think he intended to injure Campbell? No, but the push was borderline late, from behind, and when Campbell's skate caught and he started to fall, was a clear case of a skater being in a vulnerable position. Yet Ovechkin fully extended his arms rather than try and pull back or slow Campbell up, and the result is a reckless, unsafe play and an injured player.
Below is video of the play in question, feel free to comment on your thoughts as well.
After the cut, what Campbell's injury means for the Hawks going forward, and why this weekend should leave a bitter taste in all Hawks fans' mouths.
Today is the NHL trading deadline (ending at 2 p.m. CST, and following last night's 5-3 loss to the Islanders, many are waiting to see if the Blackhawks will make any deals for goaltending, especially as both Antti Niemi and Cristobal Huet let in some softies in the defeat.
While neither goalie is a true top-tier netminder, they've combined to give the Hawks the third-best record in the league, though granted, the duo have been helped by a team that is limiting opponents to a league-low 24 shots a game. Chicago is built to control puck possession and limit chances, while having an overwhelming offensive presence, and so far, that strategy has worked well. Though games often get tighter and defense becomes a priority in the postseason, I'm not fully convinced this team can't succeed with the roster they have.
Chicago made one move last night, bringing in defenseman Nick Boynton from Anaheim for future considerations, and last week saw a minor league deal with the Blues for goalie Hannu Toivonen and defenseman Danny Richmond in exchange for Rockford goalie Joe Fallon. And of course, the Cam Barker for Kim Johnsson trade from before the Olympic break, which will probably be the biggest deal the team makes.
Check back for updates to this post as any potential moves are announced.
Thanks to Switzerland's 3-2 shootout victory over Belarus last night, the U.S. men's hockey team will face a familiar foe in its quarterfinal game, which airs on NBC at 2pm today. For those stuck at work like myself and in the mood for some procrastinating, the game will also be online at nbcolympics.com (though you may need to be a cable/satellite subscriber to watch).
The Americans defeated the Swiss 3-1 in their opening round-robin game of the tournament Feb. 16. The U.S. earned that victory despite struggling to find some consistency in their 1st game together. Now, coming down from the ecstasy of their 5-3 victory over Canada and securing the top seed, the Americans have to not look past the Swiss, who can still be dangerous with Anaheim Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller in net. Meanwhile, the U.S. has Ryan Miller between the pipes, who was nothing short of sensational, making 42 saves in the win over the Canadians.
Today begins the win-or-go-home portion of the Olympic hockey tournament, as eight teams will battle in play-in qualifiers to move into tomorrow's quarterfinals. The United States is the top seed in the tourney and will play the winner of the Belarus-Switzerland contest.
Speaking of the top seed, the U.S. earned it with a thrilling 5-3 victory over Canada Sunday night. The U.S. team notched the win in a manic back and forth game that saw the Canadians outshoot the Americans 45-23, but a supreme effort by goalie Ryan Miller, and some mistakes by his Canadian counterpart Martin Brodeur were the difference. The game was a rollercoaster of energy and intensity that matched the pregame hype, and the U.S. responded to the pressure by absorbing the opening salvo (they led 2-1 after the 1st despite being outshot 19-6) and scored timely goals before withstanding the final Canadian push.
On the local side, Blackhawks forward Jonathon Toews netted two assists, and blueliners Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook added one apiece, but it wasn't enough for the Canadians. Patrick Kane had one shot but was mostly ineffective, as the young U.S. team's biggest strength was its few veterans and overall grit and toughness.
After the jump, a preview of the elimination rounds...
All 6 Hawks players were in action last night at Canada Hockey Place in Vancouver, where all 3 national teams earned big wins with a bit of assistance from the Hawks.
The U.S. team routed Norway 6-1, and Patrick Kane notched his first Olympic goal in the 2nd period to extend the American lead to 3-0 at the time. The Canadian team won a 3-2 nailbiter over the Swiss in a shootout, and Hawks captain Jonathon Toews picked up an assist in the victory. Toews also was the second skater in the shootout for Team Canada, but his attempt was saved by Jonas Hiller. In the late nightcap, Hawks forward Marian Hossa scored the lone regulation goal for Slovakia, which then used the shootout to upset the Russian team 2-1. Hossa's shootout attempt was blocked, but in two games he's notched a goal and an assist and shown no ill effects from the concussion he suffered in the Blackhawks Feb. 13 game.
Men's Olympic hockey begins this afternoon, and the NHL is on hiatus until the conclusion of the tournament and the games. However, a half-dozen Blackhawks players are playing for their home countries, and 4 of them will be on the ice today.
First at 2 p.m. CST, Patrick Kane will join with the rest of the U.S. team to battle the Swiss, led by Anaheim Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller. Then at 6:30 p.m., Jonathon Toews, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook will play for the host Canadians as they take on Norway. Hawks forwards Marian Hossa and Tomas Kopecky will compete for the Slovakian national team tomorrow.
As the NHL's Olympic trade freeze began at 2 p.m. today CST came word that the Blackhawks agreed to a deal to send defenseman Cam Barker to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for defenseman Kim Johnsson and defenseman prospect Nick Leddy, who is currently at the University of Minnesota. The deal frees up salary cap space for the Hawks, as Johnsson is an unrestricted free agent, while also helping to shore up an area of concern for the current campaign.
Johnsson is a 10-year vet who has 43 games of playoff experience, something a young Hawks team can find value in. While he doesn't put up lots of offensive numbers, he was leading the Wild in time on ice and was a +3 for a team that has been near the basement of the Western Conference all season long. With the Blackhawks recent struggles on their back end, Johnsson can provide a veteran tandem on the 3rd line and on the penalty kill with Brent Sopel
After an extended road trip (and extended posting vacation, sorry), the United Center will be packed tonight for the long-awaited return of the Blackhawks, who face off against the St. Louis Blues at 7:30 p.m. The Hawks return to Chicago in fine shape, having gone 5-3 on their season-long 8 game trip, with the only real poor effort a 5-1 loss in Vancouver to the hated Canucks, though a 4-2 loss in Carolina to end the trip left a bit of a sour taste
Vancouver was also the site of the two biggest storylines of the trip (the Canucks Ryan Kesler calling Andrew Ladd a coward after Ladd dropped him with a single punch and those infamous party-boy limo photos of Patrick Kane, Kris Versteeg and John Madden), but those both already feel like ancient history in the scheme of things. The Hawks just keep playing their game and getting wins to keep in the thick of the race for the Western Conference top spot. (As a further aside, the photo story was more comedy than controversy to me, but something that also probably happens a fair amount, just not with cameras present).
Tonight's game begins a reduced-February schedule, with 4 of 6 games at the United Center before an extended Olympic break. These games represent a chance for Chicago to gain some points before a hectic March schedule finds the team with 15 games in 30 days. Given that Chicago has 6 players heading back to Vancouver for the Winter Games, that glut of games could lead to some fatigue and dead legs, but a healthy position will allow coach Joel Quenneville to rest some regulars down the stretch.
However, the Hawks do have some reinforcements on the way, starting tonight with the return of center Dave Bolland. Bolland will hit the ice for the first time since Nov. 5 after recovering from surgery for a herniated disc. Bolland's 44 points and strong defense was a key for the Hawks a season ago, but was struggling to start the season due to his injury. While he'll be eased back slowly, a healthy Bolland allows the Hawks to shift Patrick Sharp back to his natural wing, and creates even more of a logjam in a crowded forward group. Also expected back after the break is forward Adam Burish from a torn ACL and has been practicing with the team.
So the Blackhawks had their first two-game losing streak since November last weekend, after rolling to 5 straight victories, giving up a 4-goal lead in Minnesota to lose 6-5 in a shootout, then running into a hot goalie and successful trap for a rare 3-1 home loss to Anaheim. Add in the fact that Marian Hossa was a late scratch in Sunday's Ducks game and Cam Barker has missed the last 4 contests, and for some fans, that first piece of sky is starting to fall on what's been a record-breaking season.
But are things truly that bad? Sure, giving up 4 goals in the last 14 minutes to the Wild can be a gut-check moment, as shown by Minnesota reeling off victories in their next two games over top teams. But while the Hawks lost to a struggling Anaheim the next night, they fired 43 shots on Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller, but few of high-quality, and only gave up a team-record 12. This evokes a similar trend of high shots/low goals in November before the team's torrid December stretch, but the Hawks were still finding ways to win many of those contests. Chicago ended a streak of 15 games in 26 days with the losses, going 11-3-1 during that time, a tough stretch of games due to the Olympic schedule. All teams struggle at times in the stretch of an 82-game season, but this bump is not cause for concern - yet.
As Chicagoans fan out across the city to ring in the new year tonight, the Blackhawks close out 2009 against the New Jersey Devils in what could be a look ahead to a bigger rematch in 2010. It's also the first time long-time Devil John Madden will face his former team after joining the Hawks as a free agent this summer.
The Devils enter the contest as the top team in the Eastern Conference, on the tail end of a back-to-back after shutting out last year's Stanley Cup winning Pittsburgh Penguins. While the two teams also meet during the last week of the season in April, tonight's game could also be a preview of a possible Cup final, as the Hawks sit two points away from the top seed in the West and have proven to be one of the league's elite squads. The matchup also pits two teams with different styles, but similar stats: New Jersy is a league best 13-3-1 on the road, while the Hawks are 17-4-1 at home, also tops in the NHL; they are 1st (Hawks at 2.08) and 2nd (2.10 for New Jersey) in goals against per game; and both in the top 10 in offense.
Following last night's disheartening 3-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks, the Blackhawks find themselves facing off against two of their biggest divisional rivals over the holidays, beginning with a game in Detroit tonight before a home-and-home series with the Nashville Predators on Saturday and Sunday. Chicago will also offer a present to fans Christmas night with the premiere of Blackhawks TV at 7:30 p.m. on Comcast Sportsnet, an all-access look at the organization and its players.
While some of the mainstreammedia is trying to build tonight's Blackhawks-Sabres game into the latest gossip due to Patrick Kane's return to his hometown scene of the crime, but it will also be a matchup with a talented team and the league's hottest goalie. In a lesser storyline to the one above, it's also the first time back in Buffalo for Brian Campbell, who spent eight seasons with the Sabres before being traded in Feb. 2008 and ultimately signing with the Hawks that summer
After firing 41 shots at the Rangers Henrik Lundqvist before a brekaway overtime goal by Dustin Byfuglien gave the Hawks a 2-1 win Wednesday, Chicago now finds themselves facing Buffalo's Ryan Miller, who leads the league in goals against average (1.82) and save percentage (.938). In a stretch where the Blackhawks offense has cooled considerably, scoring more than 2 goals only once in the past 6 games, solving Miller will be a tough test for the forwards (assuming he gets the start in the first of a back-to-back sequence for the Sabres).
The No Fun League strikes again. Chastized by fans and the press for their apparent lack of humor or desire to rid their league of all personality, the NFL struck again Monday when they shot down a planned series of commercials to cross promote the Bears and the Blackhawks.
The commercials, funded by the Blackhawks, were set to feature Bears players interacting with the young Hawks, a advertising venture desire to life the profile of the new breed hockey stars to an even higher level in the city. The series were to involve Bears Jay Cutler, Devin Hester, Greg Olsen, Robbie Gould and Lance Briggs to be paired, respectively, with Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Brian Campbell, Patrick Sharp and Brent Seabrook.
Well, all of that is for naught as the NFL but the brakes on the venture, citing a rule prohibits use of team marks and logos in connection with the promotion of other sports except by a three-quarters vote of the league's 32 clubs.
The ads, already shot, will now gather dust somewhere, becoming yet another sad note on a pretty sad Bears season.
After news broke a few weeks ago that agreements were imminent, the Chicago Blackhawks announced today the signings of restricted free agents Patrick Kane, Jonathon Toews and Duncan Keith to long-term extensions. The team held a 2 p.m. press conference with the 3 stars, and while details of the deals weren't disclosed, the Tribune is reporting identical 5-year, $31 million deals for Kane and Toews, and a staggering 13-year, $72 million deal for Keith. The costs breakdown to a $6.3 million cap hit for Kane and Toews, and $5.4 million for Keith.
It's long been known the Hawks planned to lock up the Big Three before they hit the market, but seeing Keith rewarded with the richest deal in team history was a surprise, though a deserved one for one of the league's best and most underrated defensemen (and certainly a better signing than Brian Campbell's $7 million cap hit). Kane and Toews may be the face of the resurgent Hawks, but Keith could easily be the team's MVP.
Now that the ink is drying, the Hawks can take a quick breather before beginning the much more arduous task of figuring out how to work these signings under next season's salary cap. Signing the Big Three was a necessity, but it's going to also result in some current Blackhawks being shown the door via trade or free agency next summer.
As Tuesday's game against the Columbus Blue Jackets dragged into a lengthy shootout, Hawks coach Joel Quenneville was starting to exhaust all his options. Finally, in the 11th round, Q sent out defenseman Brent Seabrook, and #7 was able to wrist a shot past Jackets goalie Chris Mason's glove for a 4-3 Hawks victory and Quenneville's 500th career coaching triumph.
While Q spent the majority of his time behind the bench in rival St. Louis, in his year-plus stint with the Hawks (he took over for Denis Savard 4 games into last season) he's made a huge impact on a talented team. The team's offensive talent has shined through with young stars like Patrick Kane and Jonathon Toews, but the former NHL defenseman has established a strong defensive system that has the Hawks off to a flying start after reaching the Western Conference Finals last season.
With a 3-0 run through Western Canada last weekend, the Blackhawks have extended their winning streak to 7 games, with 3 games left on their annual circus trip starting tonight in San Jose. In a highly awaited debut, star sniper Marian Hossa will be on the ice in the Indianhead sweater against the Sharks, following his summer signing and subsequent shoulder surgery.
Chicago has used some stellar defensive play to lead the league in fewest shots allowed, a big factor in their recent run, but Hossa's return will make an already strong offense (6th in the league with 3.04 goals a game) even more potent. With Hossa's in the mix, the Hawks are almost at full strength, with only center Dave Bolland and agitator Adam Burish out long-term. Hossa's return means winger Patrick Kane will shift to left wing, with Toews centering the pair in one of the deadliest lines the Blackhawks have had in years and a pairing many have been waiting to see.
While the Blackhawks-Maple Leafs Original 6 matchup tonight is one of tradition, hockey's also a sport that's full of superstition, as ESPN Chicago's Jesse Rogers found out in an entertaining query of the Hawks' gameday rituals in honor of this Friday the 13th tilt.
One thought: Brent Seabrook's superstitions have to be insanely complex to be called out by nearly half the respondents; I wish he'd detailed the full extent of them in his answer.
A familiar scene took place at the United Center last night as the Blackhawks and Colorado Avalanche battled. For the third time this season, the two evenly-matched teams went to a shootout to determine a winner. This time, it only took 3 shooters for the Hawks to skate away with a 3-2 victory as Jonathon Toews and Patrick Sharp connected in the skills test.
Colorado entered the game tied for the Western Conference lead, and showed why in grabbing an early lead and peppering Cristobal Huet, but the Hawks tied it at 1 with yet another in a long line of pretty goals by Patrick Kane in a physical first that saw center Colin Fraser in a couple of scraps.
Tonight's Blackhawks game against the L.A. Kings was the lone contest on the schedule, and the Hawks delivered to a national Vs. audience, earning a 4-1 victory to snap a two game skid.
A few thoughts after returning from the United Center, both on the game and the state of the Hawks in general:
Tonight saw the return of Hawks captain Jonathon Toews and winger Ben Eager from concussion symptoms. Toews looked a little rusty to start, but began to find his stride as the game wore on and found the back of the net on the power play in the third period. More importantly, following a spotty start, the Hawks settled into the game and Toews' presence was felt through all the lines. Eager, in limited minutes, showed a spark that the Hawks' fourth line has been missing.
First things first, the big topic out of last night's 3-2 Blackhawks loss to Vancouver was the devastating hit that knocked Hawks captain Jonathon Toews out of the game, and the subsequent momentum shift that saw the Canucks get a pair of goals and a victory in a game the Hawks already deserved to lose.
It's a brutal blow, but a clean hit where Toews got caught with his head down. As of this writing, no news on his condition, but he did miss practice today. If Toews were to miss any lenghty amount of time, the Hawks could be in real trouble down the middle, as Dave Bolland's back is making him a shadow of last year, and there's little center depth behind him. While John Madden's been off to a great start, his forte is in the defensive zone and can't be expected to shoulder a heavy offensive load at this stage. Here's hoping Toews is able to shake off the cobwebs quickly, or the Hawks will be worrying about a lot more than a fledgling goaltending controversy. (Note, Antti Niemi played well last night, making a number of huge saves in the first two periods, which will only inflame that battle)
Our Official Favorite Blackhawk Player of Tailgate (Ok, maybe just my favorite player), Adam Burish, isn't letting a little thing like an ACL tear in his right knee keep him out of action. Sure, he's sidelined for the next six months or so, but he was wiling to step out on thin ice the other night when he joined the cast of Second City for a benefit performance in Northbrook. While comedy is obviously not his forte, from reports he seemed to aquit himself well, portraying a caveman in one skit and even singing in another. We've reported on Burish's comedic talents before, so his foray into on-stage improv doesn't seem all that surprising.
They've got one of the hottest quarterbacks around in Jay Cutler and are sitting very nicely in the NFC North with a 3-1 record. But there's nothing that says the Bears can use a little of that Blackhawks mojo.
Aligning themselves with the young up-and-coming Hawks, the Bears have cut a series of commercials with the city's NHL franchise designed to boost the profile of both teams. In the sports, expected to air in a few weeks, five Bears players (Cutler, Devin Hester, Greg Olsen, Robbie Gouls and Lance Briggs are paired, respectively, with Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Brian Campbell, Patrick Sharp and Brent Seabrook (Ed. Note: Surprisingly, they somehow manged to leave off our favorite and most animated Hawk, Adam Burish though his being out of action for about six months may have something to do with it).
Actually, it was the Blackhawks who approached the Bears with the idea of the commercial collaboration to raise their profile, even though the Blackhawks are probably garnering more magazine covers and video game boxes than the Bears. At least for right now.
Before Monday's miracle comeback, the storyline entering tonight's game was going to be the return of netminder Nicolai Khabibulin to the United Center.
Now, with the news that Antti Niemi is getting the start over Cristobal Huet, the Hawks goaltending situation is an equally compelling narrative.
While coach Joel Quenneville made sure to mention that Huet and his $5.6 million salary is still the starter and will be in net for tomorrow's trip to Nashville, the next two games will be highly-eyed by Hawks fans.
A matchup of Khabibulin, who wasn't resigned over the summer despite being the Hawks' starter during the postseason, and Huet, who was ostensibly set to replace Khabi a year ago before the position evolved into a timeshare, would have become the marquee matchup tonight in a game where Huet needs to perform extremely well. Switching to Niemi is a way to deflate the expectations and focus on getting a win, while giving Huet a breather and a chance to regroup against a less talented Nashville team. However, it also demonstrates both how bad Baby Huey's been to start the year and questions the amount of confidence in him by team management already (though, in the interest of fairness, the Hawks as a whole looked abysmal in the 12 minutes Huet played Monday night).
If Niemi puts on a strong performance and Huet struggles again, calls for a switch will only resonate louder than they already are from the disgruntled fanbase. It may seem premature to some, but remember, this is the team that fired coach Denis Savard after only 4 games last season.
Granted, Khabibulin hasn't been stellar in Edmonton either, as his 3.13 goals against average and 89% save percentage attest, but he's also helped the Oilers jump out to a 3-1-1 start. Chicagoans are looking at another deep postseason run, and are starting to understand that Huet in net may be the biggest obstacle to that "one goal."
Whether Niemi's an answer or another question remains to be seen, but if Huet doesn't find a way to turn it around as the season wears on (repeat, it's only October, it's only October), the Hawks will be stuck with a multi-million dollar bench warmer.
After an absolutely brutal opening 10 minutes that saw Hawks goalie Cristobal Huet give up 3 goals in 53 seconds on only 5 shots, and backup Antti Niemi not fare much better in letting in 2 more, it'd be easy to write off last night's Blackhawks game as a lost cause.
But just when you think you've seen it all, here come the Hawks to match the largest comeback in NHL history with 5 goals of their own, before defenseman Brent Seabrook capped off the charge with the game-winner 26 seconds into overtime.
Check out full game highlights here but in the meantime...wow. After a first period that was absolutely maddening, the Madhouse on Madison lived up to its moniker Monday night.
Looking ahead to the most anticipated season for the Blackhawks in a long time (Yes, the Hawks are actually 2 games into the season after taking 3 of 4 points from Florida in Finland, but it's hard to consider that games that start at 11 a.m. count, especially when I'm driving through New England and can't watch them.), it's hard not to talk about the tumultuous offseason. But let's not, because at this point, it only matters what happens going forward. It may be easy to lay blame for a lackluster season on this summer, but 6 months and 82 games is a long time, and this Hawks team is just too talented to miss the playoffs entirely. What happens from that point on is anyone's guess, but only the most myopic would blame a postseason failure on events from a midsummer nightmare.
So that said, where can the Hawks end up this year after last season's magical conference final run? A deep run in the postseason is certainly a possibility, and for the first time in a long time, mention of the Stanley Cup isn't a cruel joke. However, the Hawks are still a very young team, and part of the magic last season was the chemistry and cohesiveness they displayed as the year went on. With only a few major roster swaps (Marian Hossa for Martin Havlat and Nicolai Khabibulin's departure), the core from last season is still intact, along with a few new key parts in John Madden and Tomas Kopecky. If coach Joel Quenneville and his Q-stache can continue to instill a team first focus on the Hawks, they stand to reap the rewards of a fruitful season.
Man, Europe has been pretty rough on Chicago in the past 24 hours. As you may have heard, the International Olympic Committee gave the big heave-ho to the city's bid for the 2016 Games, treating us like a steak at a vegan dinner. How bad did it look to the rest of the country that Chicago got bounced out in the first round of voting in Copenhagen? Even New York City is feeling sorry for us (although an editorial still managed to turn their sympathy into a tweak at Chi-Town resident President Obama's expense). Normally, after a loss like that we'd come back with a "wait'll next year", but unfortunately that doesn't apply.
And not long after that, our next best hope for a victory on European soil fell short as well as the Blackhawks dropped a 4-3 shootout to the Florida Panthers in Finland. Their 55 shots on goal were made null and void by a shootout goal by Florida's Ville Koistinen (a native of Finland, naturally). The two teams meet again today in Finland and you can watch the game on an outdoor screen at the Country Music Festival in Grant Park beginning at 10:30 a.m.
Look, maybe we should give this European thing a rest for a bit after this. Is "See American First" still a valid slogan?
Half a world away in Helsinki Finland, the Blackhawks start their 2009-10 campaign at 11 a.m. this morning against the Florida Panthers, with a return engagement the next morning - same time, same channel (Comcast SportsNet).
The team returns to the U.S. for a game at Detroit next Thursday, before a belated home opener Saturday, Oct. 10 against the Colorado Avalanche.
Following a too-short yet tumultuous offseason after last season's playoff success, the Hawks had only a four-game preseason before jetting to Europe for a pair of exhibition games against HC Davos and ZSC Lions Zurich earlier this week. While the team took 28 players to Europe, their final roster cuts down to 23 will have been made by the time the puck is dropped this morning. The most intruiging roster selection will come down to the backup goalie battle between Corey Crawford and Antti Niemi.
Already missing free agent signee Marian Hossa due to shoulder surgery, the Blackhawks also need to find a replacement for Adam Burish, whose torn ACL in his first exhibition game will have him missing 6 months of the season. Other players suffered the normal bumps and bruises of preseason practice, but are expected to be ready to go for the regular season.
Check back this week for a full season preview of what may be the most anticipated Blackhawks season in at least 15 years.
I know, I know...summer didn't even really begin, and we're just a week into the Good Jay/Bad Jay Bears season after giving up on the Cubs and Sox...how can I even be talking about hockey? Indian summer!
But sure enough, a new season beckons, one with heightened expectations. After last season's storybook saga, including the Winter Classic at Wrigley Field, a constantly sold out UC, the improbable run to the Conference Finals, and the high-profie signing of Marian Hossa, Hawks' fans hopes rest on nothing less than a Stanley Cup.
Granted, there was also the controversy surrounding the firing of GM Dale Tallon and promotion of Stan Bowman, the botched restricted free agent offers, Hossa's contract investigation and subsequent shoulder sugery (and Marty Havlat's malicious tweets), and of course, Patrick Kane's 20-cent adventure.
Of course, that eventful off-season matters little if the team gets off to a strong start, beginning with their opening season games in Helsinki against the Florida Panthers.
For those wanting to get a sneak peek behind the curtain as the team prepares for the upcoming season, check out the Blackhawks second annual Training Camp festival tomorrow morning. Along with a 10k skate, 5k race, and 3-on-3 tournament, the fest gives an open look at a Hawks practice on the United Center ice, beginning at 10:30 a.m. Coach Joel Quenneville wil be mic'd up as he leads the Hawks through drills and scrimmages, and at only $5, it's a great chance to see the team up close without paying triple digits for those 100-level seats.
If that's not enough and an actual game sounds more up to speed, tickets remain for the Blackhawks first exhibition at 7:30 Saturday against the Washington Capitals.
The Hawks also begin their 2nd season of full TV coverage on WGN and Comcast SportsNet (that still sounds weird to say); a full broadcast schedule can be found here.
The Hawks will be on national TV 13 times, with 4 NBC Sunday games and 9 games on Versus, including the Helsinki opener Oct. 2 at 11 a.m.
The Cubs' Milton Bradley is not happy. So what else is new? Besides, he's now the Ricketts family's problem.
The White Sox have lost four in a row and five of their last six. The Bleacher Reporter ask if they're heading in the wrong direction. Hmmm...let me think about that one.
Don't let Jay Cutler's cool demeanor fool you. According to ESPN he's a little jittery about returning to Denver as a member of the Bears this Sunday. Elsewhere on the Bear beat, Matt Forte is looking for balance and Dusty Dvoracek is looking at a doctor this Friday.
As if running a triathlon (like the Chicago Triathlon this weekend) wasn't difficult, try throwing cold, rainy weather into the mix. Here at some tips for coping with that.
While the state debates video poker, the real thing is going on in a tournament in Arlington Heights tonight. Wanna play? Ante up here.
The Chicago Sky host a benefit this Friday to promote breast cancer awareness.
It looks like the ony stripes Patrick Kane will be seeing on his clothing will be the ones on his Blackhawks jersey. The 20-year-old winger for the Hawks will reportedly accept a plea agreement for his role in the alleged beating of a 62-year-old Buffalo cab driver on August 9. Kane, along with his 21-year-old cousin, were arrested and charged in the incident but may see it reduced to a misdomeaner charge and avoid jail time. So no Michael Vick or Thomas Kostopoulos jokes, please.
Kane is currently taking part in the Team USA Olympic orientation camp in Woodridge this week
Eight days after his run-in with a cabdriver in his hometown of Buffalo, N.Y., Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane issued an apology for putting himself in "the wrong place at the wrong time". In issuing a "mea culpa" to the Hawks, the cities of Chicago and Buffalo, Kane, 20, also stated that he couldn't discuss the specifics of the indicent, in which a 60ish Buffalo cabbie claimed that Kane and his cousin assaulted him after a dispute over 20 cents. Both Kane and his cousin were charged with second-degree robbery, a Class C felony, and fourth-degree criminal mischief and theft of services, both Class A misdemeanors.
The occasion of Kane's apology was the opening of the 2009 Men's Olympic Orientation Camp at Seven Brides Ice Arena in Woodridge, which, incidentially, is open to the public. Kane is attempting to make the team.
Single game tickets for the Blackhawks upcoming season go on sale Monday at 10 a.m., and while the Hawks announced to much fanfare last spring that season-ticket prices would be frozen for the upcoming season (for which I am very grateful!), fans looking to buy tickets Monday should bring some extra cash.
Prices for single-game seats have increased by roughly $10-20 a seat, depending on location within the United Center. The percentage increase is usually within the 15-30 percent range, with the one exception being the cheapest seats in the 300-level, which went up by 50-75 percent. The number of premium home games (with inflated prices) increased as well, going from 11 the previous season to 16 this year. Most premium tickets are for weekend games or those against Original 6 opponents.
See more analysis and a chart detailing the price increase after the cut (ignoring day of game seats since there likely won't be any tickets left for most games). Tickets go on sale 10 a.m. Monday, August 17th, via Ticketmaster, at the United Center box office, at the Blackhawks store on Michigan Avenue, or by calling 800-745-3000.
My first thought when hearing the news of Patrick Kane's arrest this morning?
Patrick Kane doesn't fight, he just high sticks people on the sly.
My second? Dispute over 20 cents, cab ride at 4 a.m. Probably doesn't take much to deduce that alcohol was probably a factor for the under-21 Hawks star.
While on the face of it, such facts add up to a case of a youngster still having moments of immaturity while living in the spotlight, similar to the gang-photo fracas with Derrick Rose a few months ago, a felony robbery charge is a much more serious matter. Do I think Kane (or Rose, for that matter) are truly bad people? No, not really, but both instances prove they can make bad decisions.
The Blackhawks have made Kane's baby-face and good-kid demeanor a major advertising sell, and this is the latest in a series of off-season controversies to erupt around the franchise. Though Kane still figures to be a major part of the organization both on and off the ice, the arrest does close a chapter of the Hawks fairytale resurgence.
How it will affect the Blackhawks and Kane's season may depend on the results of any possible trial, given Kane's not-guilty plea, but it's bound to provide fodder for fans in opposing cities throughout the year, even if charges are dropped. It's definitely one more distraction the team doesn't need as they look to start a new season with the momentum of last year's surprise playoff run.
More immediately, given Kane was expected back in Chicago next week for Team USA's training camp for the 2010 Olympics, the chance of seeing Kane in Vancouver may have dropped significantly.
Jeremy Roenick, whose name is synonymous with the Blackhawks in the early '90s (especially 1994), announced today that he is retiring from hockey.
Roenick was selected by the Blackhawks as the eighth overall pick of the 1988 draft and spent eight seasons in Chicago before being traded to the brand-new Phoenix Coyotes in 1996. He went on to play for the Philadelphia Flyers, LA Kings, the Coyotes again and finally the San Diego Sharks for the past two seasons. While his later seasons showed a player in decline, Chicago fans will always remember him for his scrappy play and outspoken personality.
Are the good times over (or at least stalled) for the Blackhawks before they even start? The Daily Herald is reporting that highly-touted new Hawk aquisition Marian Hossa, formerly of the Detroit Red Wings, might miss a good chunk of the season because of a shoulder or rotator cuff injury that may require surgery. While the Hawks have great young scorers that will more than make up for being with out Hossa, the injury does put them in a bind with regards to trades for additional talent. And Hossa's potential to score 40 goals, as he did last year, will sting a little as well.
The soldout Blackhawks convention kicks off today and once more the buzz surrounding the event gets even louder than the year before. Much of that buzz this time is centered around the recent firing/demotion/whatever of Dale Tallon, replaced by Stan Bowman. Add to that the recent acquisition of high scoring Marian Hossa and Tomas Kopecky, both from the much-despised Detroit Red Wings, and there's more than enough to keep fans chattering. And as they say on those late-night commercials, "But, wait, there's more!..." For instance, is a trade needed to keep the Hawks' young stars Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith in the fold, financially-speaking? And did the front-office shake-up really disrupt the "We Are Family" feel the team has been trying to build (and we think we know Martin Havlat's opinion)?
In a surprising move the Blackhawks have fired their General Manager Dale Tallon.This coming after the Blackhawks reached the Western Conference Finals. It was the first time they reached the Conference Finals since '92. The Hawks are expected to make a formal announcement Tuesday.
After making a splash in last year's market by signing Brian Campbell and Cristobal Huet to pricey (or, more accurately, overpriced) contracts, Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon pulled off another shocker today by adding top free agent forward Marian Hossa to the Hawks. The move was out of left field as the majority of fans were waiting to hear whether the team would resign Martin Havlat and Nicolai Khabibulin (Havlat is headed to the Minnesota Wild, Khabi has moved on to Edmonton); even more shocking was the contract itself: 12 years, $62.8 million dollars!
The Blackhawks also signed Hossa's Red Wing teammate and friend, center Tomas Kopecky, to a 2-year, $2.4 million deal, and inked center John Madden from the Devils for a 1-year, $2.75 contract. During his afternoon press conference for the Hossa deal, Tallon also mentioned having tendered offers to the five restricted free agents to which the team holds the rights. Though none of these deals have been finalized, the Hawks will have the right to match any offers made to these players.
What Hossa's signing and the other deals mean for the Hawks next season and beyond after the jump.
Entering this past season, one of the Blackhawks' main weaknesses was up the middle in the center position. While Dave Bolland grew into a solid two-way center during the year (and was rewarded with a five-year, $18 million contract extension that should be signed soon), that weakness is still a factor throughout the team's minor-league system.
It came as no surprise then that the Hawks took advantage of this weekend's NHL draft in Montreal to restock their organizational depth, with six of their eight picks being players with center experience. Another area of concern was defense, which made up the remaining two picks, including first-round pick (#28 overall) Dylan Olsen from Camrose in the Alberta Junior Hockey League. A full list of draftees can be found after the break.
The NHL's draft system is similar to baseball, in which a very rare few picks make the team, let alone make an impact in their first year -- stars like the Hawks' Patrick Kane or Sidney Crosby being the exception. The majority of the picks are teenagers who will be given time to grow and develop as players, either as players within a college program or working their way up through the minor-league ranks in hopes of making the NHL.
Olsen's a case in point. He's a large, tough defenseman who measures 6 feet 2, 210 pounds, but as an 18-year-old who's played in the lowest level of Canadian minor leagues, he would have a tough time adjusting while still developing into his body and his play. Olsen's slated to attend Minnesota-Duluth this year, but with his size and ability he's the kind of player the Hawks need to bolster their blue line in a few years if he continues to grow as expected.
Although the Blackhawks season ended in the Western Conference Finals May 27 in a 5-game series loss to the Detroit Red Wings (and a season-wrap up is still forthcoming, hopefully soon), the NHL season is a year-round experience. And with the Pittsburgh Penguins having best the Dead Wings in last Firday's Game 7 for the Stanley Cup, the offseason business now moves to center stage.
It's a crucial summer for the Hawks, who have a number of restricted and unrestricted free agents to deal with, including leading scorer Martin Havlat and goalie Nicolai Khabibulin, along with the NHL entry draft June 26 and the opening of free agency July 1. For a team that achieved far more than what many expected last season, there's pressure to continue that growth toward a Stanley Cup while still staying under the cap as their young core of players mature. I'll have a more in-depth analysis of what can be expected ahead of the July 1 deadline, but there's still one matter to tend to regarding last season: the handing out of the awards.
The NHL awards are taking place in Las Vegas this year, a curious choice given the only ice in Sin City is usually in mixed drinks, but the move is an effort to provide some glitz and glamour to the affair. A year after Patrick Kane won the Calder trophy as Rookie of the Year, the Blackhawks will have a candidate up for the award again, as Kris Versteeg is a finalist. Kane will be a presenter of the award, and Hawks greats Stan Mikita and Tony Esposito will also be presenters at the ceremony, along with broadcaster Eddie Olczyk
Versteeg will be competing against winger Bobby Ryan of the Anaheim Ducks and Columbus Bluejackets goaltender Steve Mason. Versteeg's 22 goals and 53 points were impressive and a boon to the Hawks developing multiple scoring lines, but a late season swoon most likely knocked Versteeg out of contention, as Ryan passed him for the rookie scoring title. Regardless, the award is probably Mason's to lose, as he backstopped the Bluejackets to their first ever playoff appearance and lead the league with 10 shutouts.
In addition to the ceremony, Versteeg will get additional face time at the NHL Charity Shootout poker tournament taking place tonight, which will be taped for later broadcast. Also participating is Olczyk and former Hawk Jeremy Roenick, as well as Capitals sniper Alexander Ovechkin, along with a mixture of former NHL players and poker professionals.
Wipe your tears, Hawks fans. According to USA Today, the young team's gotta wear shades ('80s music reference).
Not only are Derrick Rose's academic endeavors at Memphis under scrutiny, but it looks like the grade hanky-panky extends back to high school.
So does this SAT probe mean anything for the next batch of NBA hopefuls, many of whom will be here in Chicago for the annual pre-draft camp?
Answering the cries of many Cubs fans, GM Jim Hendry says the trading of Mark De Rosa isn't the problem. Meanwhile, The Bleacher Reports thinks moving Alfonso Soriano to second is one of the answers. And if the sale of the team to the Ricketts family doesn't go through, Sam Zell says "don't worry".
So who's the most important Bear on the team right now? If you think the answer is obvious, think again.
Even with deep dish pizza and Italian beef sandwiches all over the place, Chicago is pretty average when it comes to fitness. We're 25th out of 50.
The Blackhawks season ended tonight in a 2-1 OT loss to the Detroit Red Wings in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals. Though many people didn't expect the Hawks to even make the playoffs, let alone reach the conference finals, the young and inexperienced Hawks challenged the poised and grizzled vets of Detroit throughout the series (the disaster that was Game 4 being the lone exception), and got a valuable lesson in playoff hockey to take with them into the offseason.
While a detailed perspective on this unprecedented year for the Blackhawks will be necessary in the days to come, a few thoughts on tonight's final tilt.
First and foremost, after showing severe signs of rust in Game 4 replacing the injured Nicolai Khabibulin, goaltender Cristobal Huet was magnifique tonight. His 44 saves kept the Hawks in the game, especially in a first period that saw Detroit put 21 shots on net as they took the attack to Chicago. And his save on Johan Franzen in the closing seconds of the third was spectacular, as he kicked up a leg while lying on his stomach to deflect away a backhanded rebound. While Chicago played a strong game, they would not have had a chance to win without Huet's heroics, and neither Wing goal could remotely be blamed on him.
Following Game 4's disaster, Chicago had to refocus and come out with a strong, yet disciplined effort in Game 5. Although the Hawks did take 2 penalties in a first period that saw Detroit again starting to dominate and control possession, the effort was there. Even though the Wings notched 21-9 shot advantage in the first, the Blackhawks blocked 7 shots and dished out 17 of their 36 hits in the game, showing that while the team may have been on their heels, they were laying it all on the line. After the frenetic first, things became increasingly tight with both goalies making key saves, and it became clear the game was going to come down to the wire.
After Dan Clearly's tip-in goal midway through the 3rd gave Detroit a 1-0 lead, Patrick Kane emerged from his series long slumber with a beautiful backhander to tie the game at 1 with a little more than 7 minutes left. Kane had been frustrated by future Hall-of-Famer Nicklas Lidstrom all series long, but the Wing captain was out the past two games, and Kane took advantage, racing past Brett Lebda and lifed a tight shot over goalie Chris Osgood's shoulder. It was exactly the type of goal Kane's capable of when he gets room to operate, and it couldn't have come at a better time for Chicago.
The Hawks managed 31 shots on Osgood with leading scorer Martin Havlat missing the game following some hard hits in the previous two, and the team had a lot of quality scoring chances despite being shorthanded and coach Joel Quenneville shuffling the lines to get something going. Havlat and Khabibulin being out of action changed the complexity of the game and put the Hawks in a bind, though granted, Detroit was missing key players as well in Pavel Datsyuk, Lidstrom and Jonathon Ericcson. Still, the offensive chances were there and one lucky bounce past Osgood could have brought the series back to Chicago for Game 6.
Even though Chicago's hopes ended in 5 games, the series was tight throughout, Game 4 notwithstanding. 3 games went to overtime, and Game 1 was close until the Wings took advantage of key mistakes in the 3rd period. The difference throughout the series was Detroit's experience in the high-pressure playoff cooker. That's not to say that Chicago's youth was a major liability, but almost every Detroit goal was facilitated by controlling the puck and putting continued pressure on net. The series-clinching goal in overtime is a clear demonstration of what makes the Wings dangerous, as they pinned the Blackhawks in their own zone. As Chicago couldn't clear and Detroit kept getting shots off, a fortunate bounce and rebound lead to a wide-open net for Detrot's Darren Helm.
The Wings' poise and systemic working of the puck leads to opportunities a lot of other teams don't have the patience to get, and the depth of their four lines makes every combination tough to defend, and the series provided a clear snapshot of where the Hawks are as a team, and where they need to get to. As the saying goes, to be the best, you have to beat the best, and Detroit showed why they're the defending Stanley Cup Champions. The Blackhawks had a great year, and a good series, and now know where the measuring stick stands for next year.
Thanks to a thrilling overtime win Friday, the Blackhawks are still in the conference final series against the Red Wings heading into Sunday's game 4. After dropping the 1st two games in Detroit, including a heartbreaker in game 2, the Hawks jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first 22 minutes at the United Center, only to see the Wings tie the game up by the end of the 2nd period. After a sloppy, scoreless third, Patrick Sharp made short work of the Wings in OT with his 2nd of the night to give Chicago the crucial victory.
Being down 2-1 isn't nearly the impediment a 3-0 deficit would be, and a win Sunday evens up the series as it heads back to Detroit. More importantly, a game like Friday's can help build some confidence. Even though the Blackhawks gave up a three-goal lead, they regrouped and rebounded to earn a win, something that has been lacking in the first 2 games.
However, Game 4 provides unique challenges Chicago has yet to face, including the possibility of missing two of their top players in Martin Havlat and goaltender Nicolai Khabibulin. Khabi left after the 2nd period with what's been dubbed a "lower-body injury", though speculation is a troublesome groin that's hobbled him the past few years. Cristobal Huet came in and made six saves while looking strong, but after not playing since April 11, may have some rust when it comes to a full game.
As for Havlat, he was brutalized along the boards by the Red Wings Nicholas Kronwall in a heart-stopping, questionable hit. Havlat was unconscious before he hit the ice, and was then piled on top of as a scrum broke out around him, and left the game with a concussion. While he was able to skate off the ice and coach Joel Quenneville has said he's optimistic Havlat can play today, there's no telling how he'll be feeling come game time since symptoms can linger.
There's been a lot of debate regarding the legality of the hit (Kronwall was given a 5 minute major for interference and a game misconduct), but the video is below.
Detroit was also without one of their top scorers in Pavel Datsyuk, and he's expected to be a game-time decision for Game 4 as well. Not having Datsyuk does lessen the Wings potency, but they have the depth to play through his absence more than the Hawks do if Havlat misses the game.
While Game 4 isn't nearly the must-win that Friday's game was, the tenor of the series would change dramatically if the Blackhawks earn a victory. The series would essentially be a best-of-3, and the Hawks would show they can handle the Wings, having outplayed them in most of Games 2 and 3. More importantly, after a long 7-game series against Anaheim, an older Detroit will have to dig even deeper to find fresh legs the longer the series goes.
For a long time I have claimed that I am the problem with the NHL. Growing up in Chicago, I was hockey obsessed. For nine months a year, I was on the ice five to six days a week, living and breathing the sport. Yet, I have spent most of my life not caring at all about the NHL. It is the sport that I have the most experience playing and the one I can best understand the strategies involved, but I let the professional game completely fall out of my life sometime during the 90's. Amid all the expansion teams and unrecognizable faces they brought, the clutch and grab defense that slowed down the game and inability for the Blackhawks to produce a competitive team, my interest in professional hockey simply waned away. When the Stanley Cup was canceled in 2005, it didn't even faze me. I figured if the NHL going down the tubes could not affect me, a guy raised by the sport, what chance did professional hockey ever have of coming back into prominence?
But suddenly hockey is back in Chicago and the reemergence of the sport sparked my interest. Maybe, I thought, the NHL is not dead after all. I followed passively during the regular season; just enough to keep tabs on the sport but not enough to care if I didn't like the outcome. But I had forgotten about one thing about professional hockey: the playoffs are one of the most exciting times in all of sports. The intensity, the rivalries, the incredible combination of brutal force and extreme finesse; they all peak together to produce a month of fabulous games. It was like a slap to the head, "Oh yeah, THIS is why I loved the sport!" Certainly having a home town team to follow made watching the playoffs easier at first, but once I was back I wondered why I had ever left. And I would like to use this opportunity to thank the city of Chicago, for being ahead of the curve on hockey and proving to me that this sport is not dead. No matter how this next series turns out for the Blackhawks, I am excited to see a classic, original six rivalry take place on such a high level. Of course, I am hoping that I will be able to see the Hawks make it to the finals but in some ways, I am just grateful the game has returned into my life and I have only the good sports fans of Chicago to thank.
Meanwhile, Chicago's other pro soccer team, the Red Stars have a budding star with the free-spirited midfielder Megan Rapinoe. Elsewhere, ESPN shows the Red Stars some by singing out goaltender Caroline Jonsson as one of the standouts in the Women's Professional Soccer League's inaugural season.
Vancouver is still trying to hold its collective heads up high after being bounced by the Blackhawks. But at least they don't welch on a bet.
If you had a brand-new boat (and really, in this economy, who doesn't?), the Chicago Park District has given you two new harbors.
Yahoo! Sports has the Bears finishing 11-5 this season. Hmmm...what changed?
As long as the Arena Football League is gathering mothballs, former Rush coach Mike Hohensee figures he's better earn a buck somewhere else.
Tired of movie dates, candlelit dinners and walks along the beach? Try antigravity yoga (among other alternative and physical date ideas).
New video game upstart retail outlet Play N Trade opens a new store in the Chicago area.
Seeking to assert their masculine superiority, the baseball-playing Schaumburg Flyers will take on the Chicago Bandits, the 2008 National Pro Fastpitch champions, in a fastpitch softball game. Why am I temped to bet the house on the Bandits?
The Blackhawks are moving on to the Western Conference finals for the first time since 1995, and fittingly, it's the two faces of the franchise that led them there. Patrick Kane notched a hat trick and Jonathon Toews finally bounced back from whatever's been ailing him with two goals to lead the Hawks past the Vancouver Canucks 7-5 at the United Center.
There's probably a lot more that can be said about the see-saw, back and forth battle tonight, which saw Chicago give up a 2-goal lead in the 2nd period, and come back from 2 1-goal deficits in the third, but for now...wow. The United Center was a roller coaster of a ride tonight, and I'm not sure I've ever heard the building louder or felt more anxious energy in the air. The final game of the series lived up to its billing, and the team has to be relieved they were able to close out the Canucks on home ice, avoiding another long trip to Vancouver for a possible Game 7. Not to mention, when you torch one of the league's best goalies for 7 goals and go 3-for-4 on the powerplay, you better hope you come out on top, or else things can turn quickly. But Chicago took advantage of opportunities when they needed to, and after a shaky 2nd period when they gave up their lead, they kept their composure when falling behind in the 3rd and kept up the pressure on Roberto Luongo.
While their opponent remains to be seen (Detroit is currently leading Anaheim in the other semifinal 3 games to 2), the Blackhawks will need to tighten up their defense if they hope to reach the Stanley Cup Finals. Giving up 5 goals at home is never a good thing, and throughout the series, they let Vancouver dictate the flow at the start of the game and found themselves in a hole. But clearly the team has learned how to keep their cool and regroup as the periods wear on, and their youthful inexperience could also be one of their biggest assets.
Rather than look at challenges of the future though, I'm much more happy to celebrate the success in the present, and the Hawks earned their victory tonight. Tomorrow I'll have half a voice and one less hat, but it will be well-deserved.
Tonight's Game 4 between the Blackhawks and the Vancouver Canucks had all the feel of an elimination game, and essentially it was. Lose, and Chicago would be down 3-1 and heading back to Vancouver in a deep hole. With the way the Cancuks dominated Game 3, nothing short of a win would help.
In the first 3 games, the Hawks got off to horribly slow starts and Vancouver capitalized with leads. Tonight saw the Blackhawks come out strong and controlled the opening period with an 8-4 shot advantage, including 5-1 in the first 8 minutes, but couldn't crack Canuck netminder Roberto Luongo. Midway through the 2nd, Vancouver struck on an odd man rush for a 1-0 lead, and as time ticked away into the third period, things looked grim for the Hawks. Chicago managed to continue to put pressure on, but couldn't find a quality scoring opportunity.
Until nice work by Andrew Ladd along the boards led to Martin Havlat alone in the slot, and his snap shot eluded Luongo to tie the game at one. Crowd and team were reawakened, and entering overtime, the momentum was solidly on the Hawks side.
And in just a little over 3 minutes, the United Center was shaking from the rafters, as Dave Bolland spun and threw a shot toward the net that Ladd tipped past Luongo for the game-winning goal. The crowd went from edge of the seat, tense anxiety to a euphoria, and with the series tied at 2-2, the Hawks are back in the chase.
The going won't be easy, and despite their stronger play today, there were still too few quality scoring opportunities to beat an All-Star goalie like Luongo. The Hawks will need to find a way to steal a game in Vancouver, and to play more consistently overall. While they showed the Canucks they can weather the trap and still emerge with a win, Chicago needs to find a way to play at a consistently higher level.
Still, after being ready to accept the end of the season (albeit one that exceeded all expectations), to be heading back to Vancouver squared away is welcome relief.
Following Saturday night's dominating 5-1 win in Chicago, the Blackhawks have a chance to close out their opening round series (currently leading 3-2) over the Flames tonight in Game 6 at 8:30 p.m.
To do so, Chicago will need to find a way to win in the Saddledome against an experienced playoff team with its back to the wall. The Hawks won both regular season battles north of the border, but the playoff pressure and added atmosphere can rattle a team as young as the Hawks, as seen in Game 3 and 4, when they couldn't recover from the Flames counterpunch after taking early leads.
If the team can come out as impressively as they did in Game 5, where they outshot the Flames 15-3 in the first period while jumping out to a 3-goal lead, there's a good chance the Hawks will advance to the conference semifinals for the first time since 1996. Saturday was close to as perfect a game as Chicago has had this season, with a lockdown defense and potent powerplay setting the tone for the offense to roll, and goalie Nicolai Khabibulin back to his old self in the few times tested.
One factor in the Hawks favor tonight is the injuries facing the Flames. Word out of the morning skate is stud defenseman Dion Phaneuf is out for Calgary tonight, joining other top D-man Robyn Regher, who has yet to play this series. Defenseman Cory Sarich and forwards Rene Bourque, Daymond Langkow and Craig Conroy are also banged up, though expected to play. Meanwhile, other than Matt Walker's broken finger, the Hawks are relatively healthy and raring to go, other than the assorted bumps and bruises that come with playoff hockey.
Win, and the Hawks advance to face either Vancouver or San Jose if the Sharks can pull off a comeback in their series against Anaheim. Lose, and it's winner take all Wednesday night at the United Center.
A few talking points in the hours before Game 3 of the Blackhawks quarterfinal series in Calgary tonight after two come-from-behind victories at the United Center behind raucous crowds. How does the team respond to the hostile atmosphere of the Saddledome?
One: Getting on the board early
Despite slow starts in the first two games, the Hawks were able to mount successful comebacks as they settled down. Whether it was nerves, the physical nature or just bad play, the team can ill afford to get down early now that the series shifts to Calgary.
Two: The Bulin Wall
Although the Blackhawks are up 2-0 in the series, there's little doubt the results would be vastly different without Nicolai Khabibulin in net. Khabi's made some spectacular saves at key moments, and though the Flames have taken early leads in both games, the damage would have been much worse without Khabibulin in net. Chicago signed Khabi after he backstopped the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Stanley Cup in 2004; after a tumultuous tenure in the Windy City, can he strike twice?
Three: Kane's postseason struggles
The first two games have not been kind to Patrick Kane. While he hasn't played horribly in his first playoff atmosphere, the small-statured winger has been targeted by the Flames and the recipient of many hard hits. The lack of open ice is a hindrance to Kane's game, as he doesn't have the body to grind the puck out of corners and has limited his effectiveness.
Word out of Calgary is Kane is going to miss tonight's game due to the flu, though it's possible he's feeling the effects of the extra attention paid him by Calgary.
Meanwhile, Kane's partner in crime, Jonathon Toews, has been nothing short of amazing in the first two games. While his two goals were the difference in Game 2, his work in the face-off circles and two-way play have lifted the Hawks in both games. The 20-year-old, who is the third-youngest captain in NHL history, has shown exemplary leadership skills and proven the Hawks brass right in giving him the 'C' at such a young age.
Four: Power-play prowess
Special-teams are usually the dealbreaker in the postseason. Succeed on the powerplay while having a proven penalty kill, and chances of victory go greatly up. However, that hasn't been the pattern in the first two games. Both teams power plays struggled at the end of the season (Chicago going 2-for-36 in their last 10 games, Calgary an even worse 0-for-46 in their past 11). While both teams managed to notch a power play goal in Game 2, the team that can continue to capitalize with the man advantage will have the fast track to the next round of the postseason.
Five: Small moves pay big dividends
Two unheralded moves GM Dale Tallon made the past two seasons are proving pretty popular these days. When Tallon shipped out fan favorites Tuomo Ruutu and James Wisniewski at the trade deadline for Andrew Ladd and Samuel Pahlsson, respectively, many fans were in an uproar. But the two players with Cup experience have proven their worth this postseason. Ladd's screen of Calgary goalie Mikka Kipprusoff was key to Martin Havlat's OT game winner, and Pahlsson's play has helped shutdown Flames star Jarome Iginla in Game 1. Though Iginla had two points in Game 2, the matchup of the two in the next two games will be a key to the Hawks advancing in the playoffs for the first time in 13 years.
The Blackhawks knew they were going to the postseason for the first time in seven years after clinching April 3. Now they have an opponent in the Calgary Flames and home-ice after wrapping up the last weekend of the season with a home-and-home sweep of the defending Cup champion Detroit Red Wings.
Thursday marks the return of playoff hockey to the United Center, and the Hawks should be happy to be facing the Flames, having swept the season series from the Flames in convincing fashion, including outscoring them 11-3 at home. Calgary has also been beset by injuries, even playing three players short to finish the season. While many of the Flames are expected back once the puck drops Thursday, most will still be nursing their wounds and the team will have had little time to get their rhythm back.
Meanwhile, the Blackhawks enter the postseason playing superbly. After struggling through March and finishing under .500 for the month, the Hawks are getting hot when it matters, going 6-0-1 in their final seven games. Even more important, goalie Nicolai Khabibulin has been playing some of his best hockey in net. A hot goalie can push teams deep in the postseason, a fact Khabibulin is well versed in, having lead the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Cup in 2004 over the Flames. Khabi has been Calgary's worst enemy, posting a career 22-5-2 record over the team. Although forward Patrick Sharp sat the last five games, he's slated to play and the Hawks will have their full lineup ready to go. Chicago has a well-rounded team that can put points on the board from all four lines, and the defense has the ability to control the game with their speed and breakout abilities.
However, while on paper things tend to favor the Blackhawks, the Flames do have an advantage in experience. For many of the Hawks, who are the league's youngest team, the playoffs are foreign territory, as the games become tighter and more physical. Calgary has made the postseason five years running, including a run to the Cup finals in 2004, though they've not advanced past the first round since. Still, the Flames, led by Miikka Kiprusoff and Jarome Iginla, one of the league's strongest forwards, are battle-tested in all a seven-game series entails. Although the Blackhawks struggled at times against more aggressive opponents this season, if they are able to control the puck and play their style of game, the results could be an easy series victory.
One thing for certain is the Hawks will have a full house behind them in full-throated fervor, after leading the league in attendance at 22,247 per game. The UC has been sold out every game this season, and come Thursday, the Madhouse on Madison will be reborn.
Full schedule for the quarterfinal series is after the jump.
Although Blackhawks fans have been focusing on playoff expectations for months thanks to the team's strong start, the official invitation was inked Friday as the Hawks beat Nashville 3-1 to clinch their first postseason trip in 7 years. The Hawks followed up that celebration with a 1-0 OT win in Columbus yesterday in a tight, playoff-intense atmosphere, giving the team a taste of what's to come in April.
While the playoffs are assured, the Hawks find themselves in a tight race for home-ice advantage in the first round. With 4 games left, Chicago is 3 points ahead of Vancouver for the 4th playoff seed, and also has a game in hand. Vancouver is also in a battle with Calgary for the Northwest division lead, which could have major implications for the Blackhawks first-round opponent. After last week's 4-0 drubbing by the Canucks (which left me too forlorn to mention in this space), Chicago would do well to avoid Vancouver in the first round in favor of the Flames, whose season series the Hawks swept.
After a March swoon of 6-7-2, the Hawks first sub-.500 month this season, the two victories to start April are a step toward solidifying the team in preperation for the playoff run, and the rest of the schedule should provide a strong warmup. Tomorrow the Blackhawks head to Nasvhille, where the Predators are desperately fighting for the final playoff spot, and Wednesday the team returns to the UC to battle Columbus, who currently sit sixth but are looking to clinch their first-ever playoff spot, the sooner the better. And with a weekend home-and-home against Detroit, the Hawks will get a chance to battle the defending Stanley Cup champs before beginning their own quest next week.
Yesterday afternoon the Blackhawks announced that single-game postseason tickets go onsale March 31, then last night showed there's reason to believe the team could make a deep playoff run, beating the West-leading San Jose Sharks 6-5.
Tickets for the first two postseason rounds will be available beginning at 10 a.m. at all the usual places (box office, Blackhawks store, Ticketmaster outlets, online or by phone), and customers are limited to 8 total tickets with no more than 4 for one game.
After losing 4 of their last 5 games, the Blackhawks find themselves desperately in need of a win as they begin a 2-game, 2-night road trip tonight in New Jersey. If the sight of the Vancouver Canucks inching to within 2 points of their 4th seed isn't enough motivation, the Hawks can look across the ice to their opponent in the net and see the history in the making, as Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur needs a single victory to become the NHL's all-time winningest goalie.
Facing the Atlantic-leading Devils in Jersey is a tough enough task, but Brodeur's return from a 4-month long break after elbow surgery has made an already good team great, with the goalie going 7-1-0 with a 1.94 goals against average to reach the doorstep of the record he currently shares with Patrick Roy. While Chicago needs to get back into the win column to hold onto home-ice advantage (and for that matter, the playoffs), there figures to be an extra buzz in the Prudential Center tonight thanks to Broduer's quest, exactly the type of distraction the league's youngest team doesn't need as they endure one of their worst stretches of the season.
Catching up on a the past week's worth of Blackhawk news, including last Wednesday's trade deadline.
First, on the ice, last Tuesday Chicago shot down the Anaheim Ducks comeback attempt in a 3-2 win in the last pre-deadline contest. The Hawks made one trade (details below), then lost a pair of weekend games 5-3 in Boston, and an embarassing 5-1 defeat to the worst-in-the-West Colorado Avalanche. In fact, I'd be hard pressed to find a worse game I've seen them play all season, and the fans at the United Center greeted the half-hearted effort with full-throated boos. Last night saw the team get back to basics, get shots on net, and eke out a 3-2 shootout win over the Carolina Hurricanes, a much needed win as Vancouver had closed to within 5 points of the 4th playoff seed.
The Hawks continue their four-game homestand Friday against the Columbus Bluejackets, who are in the thick of the playoff chase, and welcome the woeful New York Islanders Sunday afternoon.
The bigger news around the team has been off the ice, with players in the sick bay and moving out of town. Top scorer Patrick Sharp and goalie Nicolai Khabibulin missed the past month, and while Khabi came off IR yesterday, Sharp has only started skating. Also, forward Martin Havlat missed his first game of the season with a lower-body injury suffered blocking a shot. Given Havlat's unhealthy history, the worst was feared, but the injuries been termed a bruise and a day-to-day thing by Coach Joel Quenneville.
One player who won't be back soon is popular defenseman James Wisniewski, who was traded to the Ducks for center Samuel Pahlsson. Also included in the deal was Hawks minor-leaguer Petri Kontiola, with prospect Logan Stephenson and a conditional draft-pick coming back to Chicago.
In theory, it's a good trade: the team trades from a position of strength in their defense to fulfill a need of a center strong in faceoofs. However, how the trade works out both short and long term will depend on a few key facts.
While Pahlsson is a defensive center who's strong in faceoffs, he's been out since January with mono and was struggling before that. How good of shape is he going to be in when he gets back? Pahlsson was a huge part of the Ducks Stanley Cup run in 2007, but there's no guarantee the Blackhawks will get that player. On top of that, Pahlsson is an unrestricted free-agent and may only be a short-term rental. The trade improves the Hawks, but they will still need a strong run to get through the Western Conference.
Also, while the team had defensive depth, Wisniewski was one of the only gritty, physical blueliners. Given the Hawks' struggles against aggressive teams, making the defense more soft is a problem that showed through in the losses last weekend. Wiz was also a restricted free agent, and while the team probably wouldn''t be able to afford him, they would have received a draft pick if another team signed Wisniewski.
Pahlsson has started skating, so how he fits into the Hawks will be seen soon enough, and with a month left in the regular season, a full roster will be needed to secure the 4th seed and home ice for the first round of the playoffs.
Speaking of Bears quarterbacks, a Sporting News blog says that Rex Grossman's eminent departure is bad news for Chicago. And while he is visiting Cincinnati, Dallas seems more than eager to welcome him there.
Sure Blackhawks defenseman James Wisniewski was as fan favorite, but Daily Herald sports blogger Tim Sassone says give his replacement, Sami Pahlsson, a chance.
After what felt like a never-ending road trip (the Blackhawks went 8-4 in playing 12 of their last 15 away from the United Center), the Hawks began a stretch of 7 of their next 8 games on home ice last Friday against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
While the Penguins emerged with a tough 5-4 overtime victory despite being without star Sidney Crosby, what many were talking about was Hawks captain Jonathon Toews' first career hat-trick, made more unique by the promotional give-away that night of a Blackhawks construction helmet.
(Video comes with equally amusing slo-mo of the Ice Crew picking up said helmets).
The helmet toss was the second of the night, following a premature celebration in the 2nd period when Toews had a goal overturned by video review. Given the amount of helmets on the ice after that toss, it's surprising so many were left for the actual trick.
The Hawks rebounded Sunday and broke a 3-game losing streak by defeating the Los Angeles Kings 4-2, giving Finnish goaltender Antti Niemi the win in his first career NHL start. Toews continued his dominance with a goal in the first minute of the game, giving him 9 tallies in his last 8 contests. Winger Martin Havlat stayed hot as well, registering 2 assists to run his point streak to 8 games.
The Hawks look to solidify their hold on the 4th playoff seed in the densely packed Western Conference tonight against the Anaheim Ducks whose 68 points is currently good for the 8th and final spot. With only 4 points seperating the sixth and twelfth spots, every game is crucial for teams in the thick of the playoff hunt. Although Chicago's 79 points has them 7 ahead of fifth-seed Vancouver with a game in hand, the Blackhawks are aiming to grab home ice for the first round of the playoffs in what would be the team's first postseason appearance in 8 years.
Things are looking up for the Blackhawks at the mid-point of their season-long 8 game road trip. Following last night's 5-2 victory over the Calgary Flames, the Hawks are assured of at least a .500 record on the extended jaunt, going 4-1 so far. And with the team facing the slumping Vancouver Canucks tomorrow and cellar-dwelling Atlanta Thrashers and St. Louis Blues next week, the Hawks could be poised to post an impressive record in a month that finds them on the road for all but 3 games.
Seeing the Hawks succeed in Western Canada is a welcome sight for fans. After struggling on these trips often the past few years, the win over the Flames, combined with Tuesday's 3-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers, has the Hawks a perfect 11-0 against Canadian teams heading into Vancouver tomorrow. Chicago swept the season series against the Northwest-division leading Calgary for the first time since 1992-93.
If the team beats the Canucks tomorrow, a return engagement with Vancouver and trip to Montreal in late March will be the only obstacles to a perfect record against their neighbors to the Great White North.
Also worth noting, and I'm entirely remiss of mentioning it last week in the midst of Super Bowl hype, is the Blackhawks 4-2 win in San Jose. The Sharks are leading the Western Conference with 78 points in 49 games, and are poised to go deep in the playoffs, but the Hawks controlled the game and outplayed San Jose for one of their biggest wins of the year. It's a huge confidence builder for the league's youngest team, who had struggled in beating the league's top teams, winless in 6 tries against San Jose and Detroit. In fact, the Hawks hadn't beaten the Sharks in their last 12 games, dating back to October 2005. Especially ego boosting for the Hawks is taking down San Jose in the Shark Tank, where they had only lost once in regulation all season. Finally getting past the Sharks and building on that momentum the rest of the road trip could give the Hawks a strong surge into a favorable March schedule, where 11 of their 15 games are at home, including a final game against San Jose March 25.
With only 7 points seperating the Hawks from the Central-leading Red Wings, with a game in hand, a prolonged winning streak and increasing confidence could push the Hawks into a race down to the wire, especially with a home and home series against Detroit closing out the season. The Hawks have proven they can win fairly consistently this season, now they need to prove they can battle and beat the elite teams come playoff time.
Tomorrow sees the unofficial start to the 2nd half of the Blackhawks season (the actual halfway point was the Jan. 16 game against the Rangers), as the team begins a season-high 8 game, 3-week road trip through the Western U.S. and Canada, as well as Atlanta and St. Louis before returning home for a Valentine's Day battle with the Dallas Stars.
While the grueling stretch will be a test for one of the league's youngest teams, after losing their last 2 home games before the All-Star break, it could also provide a chance to refocus and build a stronger team identity for the upcoming playoff run.
In fact, with only 2 of their next 14 games at the United Center and an 11-8-3 road record (compared to 14-4-5 at home), the next month could very well determine not only the team's postseason seed, but whether they make the playoffs at all. Though the Hawks currently sit at fourth in the conference with 58 points, only 7 points seperates them from the 8th spot. An extended losing streak could put the team in the thick of the race come March.
Cutting through the feel-good story of the hockey's resurgence in Chicago and the hype of the Winter Classic, here's a chance to take a look at exactly what went right and wrong for the Hawks in the first half of the season.
Blackhawk wunderkinds Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, along with fellow Hawk Brian Campbell did the team proud in this weekend's NHL All-Star Game in Montreal, with each scoring a point in a defense-thin contest. Kane had a goal and an assist, while Toews scored and Campbell had an assist as the East bet the West 12-11. If the team has their way, the trio could be performing the same All-Star performance on their home ice. The Hawks have put in their bid to host the contest in 2012 and with the way their stock is rising (particularly after the rave reviews of their game at Wrigley Field on January 1), they stand a good chance of winning the bidding. Meanwhile, here's some video of Kane competing in the NHL Skills Competition, Breakway Challenge portion.
The Illinois Lottery recently began a promotion wherein one fan is selected for the "Million Dollar Minute." If the Hawks score at exactly the 10:00 mark of the 2nd period, the fan wins a million dollars, otherwise, the selected section of the arena gets a free scratch off ticket.
The odds seemed pretty good for the Illinois lottery, though I'm no math major to figure out the exact chance of this happening.
But lo and behold, in I think only the third time the promotion was trotted out, Martin Havlat took the puck in the slot and rifled a wrist shot past Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom at the 10:00 minute mark. It was the lone bright spot in a game where the Hawks found themselves stifled by Minnesota's defensive system and unable to get many scoring chances.
The Blackhawks have been in a bit of an offensive slump lately, as this was the fifth time in the last 7 games they were held to two goals or less, and their record is a rather pedestrian 5-4-1 since the Winter Classic. With an upcoming 8-game road trip starting next week, tomorrow's game against the Blues is an opportune time for the offense to heat back up before heading into this weekend's All Star break.
For the fan, who will be introduced before the start of the game tomorrow at the United Center, his luck already appears to be white hot.
Now that I've recovered both from the Winter Classic and the extended holiday break schedule (sadly, my camera, which I intended to use to document both the New Year's Day game and my skate at Wrigley Jan. 4, did not survive unscathed due to the cold and a broken lens), it's time to get back to the nitty-gritty of Blackhawks news.
First, the games themselves, in case anyone reading missed. Following double Detroit losses at Joe Louis and the winter wonderland of Wrigley Field, the Hawks rebounded with a strong 5-2 win over the Northwest leading Calgary Flames Sunday, then pummelled Phoenix 6-0 in the desert. Leading scorer Patrick Kane sat out both games with a high ankle sprain suffered against Detroit, but returned last night in Colorado, where the Hawks 44 shots weren't enough to tickle the twine, losing 2-1 to the Avalanche.
Kane did receive good news this week, being named as a starter to the Jan. 25 All-Star game along with center Jonathon Toews and defenseman Brian Campbell. Starters were voted on by fans, and Kane was the top vote-getter in the Western Conference with 917,551 tallies. All-Star reserves were named Wednesday, and while Duncan Keith and Patrick Sharp are also deserving of a trip to Montreal, they were left off the rosters. With 3 Blackhawk players named starters, along with 3 members of the Anahim Ducks, there just wasn't enough extra spots due to league rules that all teams have at least one representative.
Other news announced New Year's Day (was there any in the Winter Classic coverage) was the possibility of the Blackhawks opening the 2009-10 season in Prague, possibly against the Florida Panthers. The New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning began this season with a pair of games in the Czech Republic this year, while the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators started the season in Sweden, and the NHL is hoping to make the European forays an annual event to help make the league a global entity.
Finally, the Hawks may be moving their practice facility into the city in a new building to be built a half-mile west of the United Center, at Madison and Western. The team currently makes a nearly 20-mile trek to the Edge Ice Arena in Bensenville on days when the United Center is unavailable, and a more local, new facility would allow for first-class amenities and make for an easier commute for the players, who mostly live in the city. One casualty of the proposed move may be the little-known but increasingly-attended open practice policy. In a season in which the Blackhawks have had a resurgence on the ice, attendance at the team's Edge practices has become increasingly congested with fans wanting an up close look and a chance to meet players. While no other Chicago sports team allows for practices to be open to the public that I know of, it's possible the distraction and hassle may bring the fan-friendly policy to an end.
The two teams flew into Chicago last night after a 4-0 win for the Wings at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, ending the Blackhawks record 9-game winning streak. After a strong first 10 minutes, Detroit dominated the Hawks and took advantage of some ill-tempered penalties to earn the victory and set up the grudge match tomorrow.
As the hype builds toward the New Year's Day outdoor game at Wrigley Field, the Blackhawks take their franchise-record nine game winning streak to Detroit for another key battle with the Red Wings. The recent run has pushed the Hawks to within 4 points of first-place Detroit, and a win tonight can give the Classic the added storyline of a battle for the division lead.
Chicago has played Detroit tough this year, but was on the losing end of both games via a shootout, including the team's last loss Dec. 6 before the record streak began. The two Original 6 franchises have a storied history, with tonight's game being the 700th meeting between the two clubs, the most of any two teams. With the surging Hawks hot on the Wings heels, the next two games will have an added level of excitement.
Meanwhile, back at Wrigley, final preparations are being made for Thursday's Winter Classic. Despite the schizophrenic weather the Chicago area has seen the past week, the ice has been painted and will be ready for the two teams' practice tomorrow. The ivy (albiet fake) is hanging on the outfield walls, and the boards themselves have a brick pattern around it to add to the ambience. The NHL has also created a Spectator Plaza at Clark and Waveland, which will include live entertainment and interactive attractions. Screens will also be set up to allow fans to watch the team's practices New Year's Eve, and presumably, the game itself.
Not everything is rosy in Wrigleyville, however. While the allure of Wrigley Field is a large factor in why the game was awarded to Chicago, is the NHL is taking it a step too far with the news that "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" will be sung during the game? I'm all for making it a unique experience, and featuring the Friendly Confines and its traditions is a large part of what makes the game so exciting, but would any other sport deign to sing a song about another sport at its marquee event?
There's a point of taking the spectacle too far at the expense of the game itself, and a 7th-inning stretch rendition of a baseball song in the middle of the 3rd period is sending too much of a mixed message when the game between two top teams should be plenty thrilling on its own.
That said, I'm still getting excited to walk through the concourse and take in the view of the scoreboard, the rooftops, and a hockey rink mid-field New Year's Day. And the weather is shaping up to be nearly perfect.
Roadtrips to Western Canada have been notoriously unkind to the Blackhawks in recent years, but following a 9-2 shellacking of the Edmonton Oilers Tuesday, the Hawks are looking to reverse their fortunes in back-to-back games against Calgary and Vancouver tonight and tomorrow.
The win over the Oilers gave the Hawks a five-game win streak, their longest since the 2001-2002 season, which was also the last time a Blackhawks team made the playoffs. The team was working on all cylinders, going 4-for-5 on the powerplay and shutting down the Edmonton offense early on. Troy Brouwer lead the Hawks with two goals and defenseman James Wisniewski picked up three assists in his first game of the season following knee surgery. Chicago has had a few dominating performances at home this year, but started the season struggling away from the United Center. The victory pushed their road record over .500 to 6-5-3, a mark the team is looking to build upon.
Tonight the Flames will be looking for revenge from a 6-1 loss at the United Center Nov. 9, but the Hawks have played well in Calgary, having won their last three games there. The Hawks also defeated Vancouver 4-2 Oct. 19 as well, and the Canucks are shorthanded with star goalie Roberto Luongo injured. With the team surging on their recent streak, a pair of victories this weekend would give the Hawks even more momentum heading into the Christmas break, before finishing the year with a home date against the Flyers and trips to Minnesota and Detroit.
With the nine-goal deluge Tuesday, the Hawks are now the top-scoring team in the league with 3.66 per game. Not to be outdone, the defense and goaltending tandem of Nicolai Khabibulin and Cristobal Huet is giving up only 2.55 goals a game, good for seventh in the league. Chicago's special teams also rank in the top 10, a sharp contrast to year's past, particularly the power play unit. What all these stats mean is despite being the league's youngest team, the Blackhawks are coming together and playing great hockey in all corners of the rink, putting them in a tie as the third-best team in the Western Conference. If the team can reel off more games like Tuesdays and more winning streaks, not only would the playoffs be a given, but a deep run is possible.
The Sporting News' reaction to the Wrigley Field hockey spectacular: meh.
Meanwhile, the Hawks' Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are first and sixth, respectively, among forwards in NHL All-Star Western Conference balloting. Brian "Soup" Campbell is third in balloting for defensemen.
The Chicago Blackhawks have been off to an impressive 15-6-7 start this season, including last night's 3-1 victory over the Columbus Bluejackets, which extended their current point streak to 6 games and their home record to 10-1-4. Thanks to the resurgent effort, the Hawks have started to regain cachet within the hockey world and in the Windy City.
But their actions off the ice, in a story that has taken weeks to filter into the media, has the team getting deserved recognition from the national sports and mainstream world. While most atheletes who make the mainstream news do so for greed, ego, and criminal altercations, the Hawks are in the news for having big hearts.
In the midst of a 6-game road trip, Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon learned his father had passed away in northern Ontario. The team was playing in Toronto Nov. 22, but Tallon skipped the game to help prepare for the next day's funeral in Gravenhurst, a small town 2 hours north of the city. The Blackhawks charter flight was scheduled to leave after the game, giving the team a few days off in Chicago before continuing on to the West Coast for a game Nov. 26 in San Jose.
Following the team's 5-4 victory over the Maple Leafs, the entire team decided to skip the charter flight and stay in Toronto, then rent two buses to transport the entire organization north to attend the funeral the next day, sacrificing their own time off with their families to be with Tallon's at his time of need.
The Hawks caught a charter flight back Sunday night, but not before stopping at a local McDonald's on the bus ride back, where it turns out one of the Happy Meal promotions were hockey trading cards that included Hawks stars Jonathon Toews and Patrick Kane, who took time to sign some of the cards for the shocked patrons.
The story is only breaking now becuase despite the heartwarming nature of the team's unity, no one within the organization deemed it newsworthy or all that unique, since it was without a doubt the right thing to do. It wasn't until Deadspin picked up a tip that the news began to filter out, and has now seen the story mentioned in the likes of Sports Illustrated, the Sporting News, and even a top ranking as the "World's Best Persons" on Countdown with Keith Olbermann.
Hockey players are often regarded as some of the more humble, down-to-earth athletes, and this story only confirms that no matter how the team fares on the ice the rest of the season, their loyalty and committment to the organization have made them champs in the real world.
As Chicagoans are engrossed in the corruption of their Governor, a group of Senators will be trying to steal a victory at the United Center tonight against the Blackhawks. After struggling to start the season, Ottawa is riding a 4-1-1 streak in their last 6 games under the play of goalie Alex Auld. However, slated to start in net tonight is Martin Gerber, who has missed the last 12 games with an injury, and will be facing a tough environment in the revitalized UC.
The Hawks have built an impressive home record of 8-1-4, with the help of 13 consecutive sellout crowds backing them, and are looking to build upon that stat before closing the month with 6 of their last 8 games on the road. In their previous game against the Phoenix Coyotes Sunday, the Blackhawks lit the lamp for 7 goals in the first 28 minutes of the game, in the process causing the goal horn to malfunction. Winger Andrew Ladd lead the Hawks with 4 points, while Ben Eager chipped in 2 goals in the dominant win. The outburst was the most goals the team has scored this year, as they took out their frustration from a tough 5-4 shootout loss in Detroit the night before, the team's 7th loss in an OT/shootout situation. Chicago gave up a 4-2 lead in the third period for their 2nd consecutive loss to the defending champs, despite Jonathon Toews' highlight reel goal.
While Gerber will be returning in net for Ottawa, the Blackhawks will also have a familiar goalie back in Nicolai Khabibulin, only on the bench. Habby has missed the past 5 games due to injury, and while dressing tonight, is expected to see his return to action Friday in Colorado. Another change is the callup of forward Pascal Pelletier from Rockford, who will replace rookie of the year candidate Kris Versteeg for the night. Versteeg was suspended one game following an altercation in the waning moments of the 7-1 victory over Phoenix after picking up an instigator penalty. Versteeg has been one of the Hawks biggest surprises so far this season, earning top-line minutes and leading all rookies in scoring, and Chicago will need to adjust quickly to counter a Senators team that is starting to come together.
In other injury news, forward Adam Burish was placed on IR after missing 6 games with a broken toe, and defenseman James Wisniewski is expected to start his season Friday after rehabbing from off-season knee surgery. Wiz's return will help shore up the blueliners and may make defenseman Brent Sopel expendable once Aaron Johnson is healthy. Sopel's possible departure could be the first move in an effort to free up money for a 2nd line center, including free agent and longtime Maple Leaf Mats Sundin, who is known to have spoken with GM Dale Tallon regarding his availability.
With less than a month til the Winter Classic at Wrigley, NBC has started to build the hype with this ad featuring the Blackhawks Jonathon Toews and Patrick Kane, along with a familiar voice.
Have to say, kudos. A great a/v mixture that merges the tradition of Wrigley with the historic event Jan 1., featuring two of the NHL's most storied franchises. The spot definitely gets me a little more excited for the game.
On the ice, the Hawks return home to the United Center after a 6-game circus trip. While starting the trip 3-0, the offense disappeared and the team went 0-2-1 in the final trio of contests. After losing a tight OT game to powerhouse San Jose (and losing goalie Nicolai Khabibulin to injury in the process), the team battled the Anaheim Ducks in a nail-biting 1-0 loss, before a disheartening 5-2 loss to the L.A. Kings ended the trip on a sour note.
The Ducks are back in town for a rematch tonight, where before the game the Blackhawks will honor right-winger Steve Larmer as part of the team's "Heritage Night" series this season. Larmer was a fixture for the Hawks throughout the '80s and early '90s, scoring 923 points in 891 career games in Chicago. Upon his first full year with the Hawks in 1982 he played in 884 consecutive games wearing the Indianhead sweater, an NHL record for most consecutive games with a single franchise.
The streak was broken in 1993 when Larmer missed the start of the season after a trade request, which saw him sent to the N.Y. Rangers, where he won a Stanley Cup in 1994 before retiring during the 94-95 lockout.
Larmer epitomized a lot of what the Hawks were to me growing up in the 1980s, pairing with Al Secord and Denis Savard in a talented line that mixed scoring prowess and grit, and is one of the best right-wingers to ever play in Chicago. Tonight's Heritage Night is a well deserved accolade, and it wouldn't surprise me to see Larmer's #28 raised to the rafters at some point in the future.
Our favorite tell-it-like-it-is Blackhawk (OK, maybe just MY favorite) Adam Burish gets a little more media play, this time from WGN Morning News, where he lives up to his role as the team's "agitator" (formerly known in the NHL as "enforcer"). P.S.: Check out the mouse he's sporting under his left eye.
Happy Birthday, Patrick Kane. True, you're fourth in the league in points (22) and ninth in assists (14), but the reality of your 20th birthday isn't lost on you. "The 20th is not really a good birthday,"you told the Sun-Times. "You're not a teenager anymore and you can't get into a bar." Even so, we're guessing you're going to enjoy a cool one at some point this day. If one of the kids leading the Blackhawks resurgence can't have a brewski on his birthday, who can?
With the annual circus trip commencing tonight, the Hawks find themselves away from the sold-out atmosphere of the United Center and on the road for the first real test of the season. After playing 11 of their first 16 games at home, where the franchise is leading the NHL in attendance, a 6-game trip to points west and north will be a challenge for the Blackhawks, who have compiled a 1-3-1 record on the road so far this season.
While the team had yet to lose in regulation at home until a 6-5 defeat at the hands of the NHL-leading San Jose Sharks Sunday, the Blackhawks begin the trip in Phoenix tonight stuck in neutral. Despite some particularly tense, nail-biting contests, the Hawks closed the homestand having gone 0-1-2 and are looking to get back to their winning ways. Following Phoenix, the Blackhawks celebrate Patrick Kane's 20th birthday tomorrow before battling Dallas Thursday, then heading to Toronto to take on the Maple Leafs Saturday.
Next week sees a return engagement with the Sharks in San Jose Wednesday, then a Thanksgiving celebration in sunny Los Angeles before back-to-back games against the Anaheim Ducks and L.A. Kings. The Blackhawks 7-4-5 record is their best start since 2002, but the trip represents a number of challenges. It will be the first extended trip under new coach Joel Quenneville, and will get the team into hostile arenas and crowds after establishing a comfort zone with the record-setting attendance at the UC. Given the team's 5 overtime/shootout losses as well, it's critical the Hawks find a way to capture some points in tight games to stay in the midst of the Western Conference race.
In what's already shaping up as an electric night at the United Center as the Blackhawks welcome an equally-resurgent Original 6 franchise in the Boston Bruins to town, an added layer of excitement will permeate the Madhouse on Madison tonight.
The reason? A number-retirement ceremony, long overdue for many Hawks fans, for former defensemen Pierre Pilote and Keith Magnuson, who both wore #3 during their Chicago tenure.
Pilote and Magnuson defined the prototypical Blackhawks defensemen of their respective eras, providing leadership, physical grit, and hard-nosed hockey along the blue line. Both served as captains and are associated with the golden years of Hawks hockey, and it's a fitting tribute that both will receive the honor of being the sixth jersey retired by the organization tonight.
After 12 games and countless chances, a bounce finally went the right way for Blackhawks captain Jonathon Toews, who netted his first goal of the season last night in the Hawks 6-1 win over the Calgary Flames. Toews got the puck in the slot in the opening minutes of the third period and fired a wrist shot that Flames goalie Mikka Kiprusoff got a piece of, but trickled through his legs and across the goal line. The goal gave the Hawks a 4-1 lead and opened the gates to two more quick goals for Chicago. Toews has been consistently one of the best players on the ice, but the red-lamp drought had to be a bit of a distraction for the 20-year-old.
With Toews and Patrick Kane leading the way, the Hawks have won their last 4 games, and their 7-3-3 record is their best start since 2001-02, the last season the team made the postseason. The last two games has seen the team clicking on all cylinders, posting identical 6-goal games with help from all four lines, while the defense has been lockdown in limiting quality shots on goalies Nicolai Khabibulin and Cristobal Huet.
More impressive has been the Hawks special-teams play, which in past seasons has been their downfall. A resurgent, responsive powerplay unit has seen the Hawks move from the basement to fourth in the league, connecting 22% of the time with the man advantage.
The penalty kill has allowed only 6 goals in 64 opportunities, a 90.6% clip good for 2nd in the league, including just 1 goal in the last 27 times shorthanded. Not only have they kept the puck out of the net on the penalty kill, but the Hawks held the Avalanche and Flames to only 14 total shots in 12 powerplay chances.
Despite a 5-day layoff, the Blackhawks shook off the rust and played a dominant game Sunday night at the United Center, where the team has posted a 6-0-2 record. With 3 more home games this week, beginning Wednesday against Boston, the Hawks are looking to keep momentum and morale moving forward before the annual circus trip begins next week.
As announced Monday, signups for the random drawing and the chance to purchase Winter Classic tickets begins today at 11 a.m. at the Blackhawk's website. Signup is limited to one entry per person.
Registration ends Nov. 28, and the lucky winners will have the chance to purchase tickets at an as-yet unannounced date, though I'd expect it to be a few days after the drawing is held.
Lost in the excitement of Halloween weekend and the election, the Hawks reeled off 3 wins last weekend to push their record to 6-3-3, their best start in 7 years. With a 5-day layoff before the next game Sunday against Calgary, Coach Joel Quenneville will continue tweaking the team's style at practice, though things have certainly been clicking on all cylinders lately. Look for a more indepth post soon examining just what has turned around so quickly for the Hawks lately.
With the weather in Chicago feeling downright wintry already, it seems only apropriate that ticket information regarding the Winter Classic is beginning to drop like the temperature.
Blackhawks season ticketholders received ticket pricing and onsale information yesterday for the New Year's Day game, while the general public onsale date and time expected to be released by next Monday. There are 3 levels of ticket pricing: $75, $225 and $325, with the upper deck sections commanding top price due to better visibility of the rink. A number of box seats with limited view will also be given to youth hockey clubs in Illinois.
The past week has seen more of the same from the Blackhawks, even with the hiring of new coach Joel Quenneville. A win, a shootout defeat, and a loss has left the team with an even keel 3-3-3 record. Coach Q took over from Denis Savard after the Hawks struggled to a 1-2-1 start, and while the Hawks earned points in 4 of his first 5 games, some of the same problems have remained once the fervor from the coaching change wore off.
Last Wednesday, against Edmonton, the Blackhawks were nearly flawless in earning a 3-0 victory. The team controlled the tempo and puck possession with an aggressive fore check, while the defense locked down the Oilers and goalie Nicolai Khabibulin picked up the shutout. Particularly impressive was the Hawks' penalty kill, which gave up a single shot in nearly 10 minutes of ice time. Wednesday was the Hawks at their best, clicking on all cylinders.
Most athlete-written blogs are pretty mundane stuff. While I fully acknowledge that the vast majority of the guys writing them are not masters of the written word (most likely opting for something generic like "business" as a college major rather than English or journalism), they still manage to lack the attention-grabbing insight that you'd think a blog written by a professional athlete would automatically contain. No stories about that wild night at the strip club (a shocker, I know...Packman Jones could have a new posting every day), or which teammates are a-holes or what it feels like to trash a sports car (C'mon, Lance Briggs, give us some insight).
No, most of them deal with ho-hum subjects like practice ("The coach made us work really hard today." Great), the (legal) things they do in the offseason ("I attended an autograph signing session and, boy, is my wrist tired!") and the occasional commentary or fellow players, although for the most part it skews toward praise ("He's really tough to hit. Man, I sure hate facing him!"). Curently, you can find Curt Shilling taking about iPhones, Donovan McNabb talking about how great (!) Philadelphia is as a sports town, Jeff Samardzija giddy because he scored tickets to Saturday nights UFC fight at the Allstate Arena and Greg Oden chatting about video games and the summer charity event he sponsors.
After grabbing headlines last Thursday with the prompt firing of coach Denis Savard, the Blackhawks moved on and returned to the ice this weekend for a pair of games, the first in the Joel Quenneville era. In Q's first game behind the bench last Saturday in St. Louis, the team came out strong and carried a 3-1 lead into the third period before a late rally by the Blues forced a shootout and an eventual 4-3 loss. Patrick Kane lead the Hawks with two goals and an assist, and goalie Nicolai Khabibulin played decently in the loss. Returning to the United Center the next night, the Blackhawks gave up a goal in the middle of the first before rallying for two quick scores and a 2-1 lead against the Vancouver Canucks. This time, they were able to keep the pressure on and emerged with a 4-2 final, giving netminder Cristobal Huet and Quenneville their first W's with the Hawks.
Now that the dust has settled, what kinds of changes can fans expect to see under Quenneville?
For the short term, probably not very much, given the team has only had two practices with Quenneville so far. Implementing a wholesale system change will take more than a few days, and given the Hawks offense was generally strong last season, it may be more fine-tuning than anything else.
One thing bound to change is with a new coach comes a fresh slate, for better of worse. Players know that lackluster performances under Quenneville could lead to a trip to the doghouse or Rockford, as in the case of Jack Skille, who was sent down today to be replaced by Troy Brouwer. Brouwer will be on the second line with Patrick Sharp and Martin Havlat in tomorrow's game against Edmonton, while Dustin Byfuglien will shift to the third line. Skille has been aggressive on the forecheck and one of the hungriest players on the team, but had notched only 1 goal and was -2 in 6 games, while Brouwer was currently leading the IceHogs in points and plays a physical, gritty game that suits Quenneville's philosophy.
Other roster moves remain to be seen, but as the team settles in, the differences between Savard and Quenneville will become more apparent in the upcoming weeks.
Besides tomorrow's game against the Oilers, the Hawks also welcome the rival Red Wings to the United Center for their first meeting Saturday. The Blackhawks went 5-3 against Detroit last season, but the Red Wings still skated away with the Stanley Cup. With this season's heightened expectations and Detroit's dominance of the Central division (they've won it all but 3 of the past 15 seasons), Saturday's matchup will be a key early test for Chicago.
Despite notching their first win last night 4-1 against Phoenix, the Blackhawks announced this morning they were firing head coach and Hall-of-fame player Denis Savard just 4 games into the season. Savard has been replaced with Joel Quenneville, a veteran coach who most recently was head of the Avalanche and has had considerable experience behind the bench, posting a 438-283-118 record over 11 years.
While the Blackhawks have been inconsistent to start the year, last night was their strongest performance on the ice yet, though Savard acknowledged after the game there was still room for improvement despite the victory.
Quenneville has posted a solid resume throughout his career and has led his teams to the playoffs in nine of his 11 years, and GM Dale Tallon acknowledged as much in his statement this morning.
"This was an extremely hard day for this organization and for me personally," Blackhawks General Manager Dale Tallon said. "Denis is forever a part of our organization. We made a tough decision that we strongly feel is the right one as we continue to evaluate our team and create a championship caliber organization that can sustain success. Joel brings us a wealth of experience and a winning track record that will have an immediate and lasting impact."
Although Quenneville's a solid coach with proven success, four games into the season with a young team struggling to find its identity isn't the time to be making drastic changes, and Savard is bearing the brunt of the poor decisions made by Tallon this offseason. Due to Tallon's salary cap mismanagement, any head coach the team installs is going to be handcuffed by two high-priced, mercurial goalies, weak depth at center and a final roster that was settled via money rather than talent. Savard was working with the parts Tallon gave him, and while the early results were less than spectacular, 4 games isn't enough time to definitively say Savard wasn't the right man to lead the Hawks to the playoffs.
Savard had no head-coaching experience before being hired in Nov. 2006, and despite the lack of a fully established system and his penchant for overmanaging his lines, lead the team to within 3 points of a playoff berth last season. It's entirely possible he wasn't the right coach to take the Hawks to the next level, but the early season struggles were not entirely his fault.
Whether Savard was the right choice or not, it's clear today's firing had little to do with his on-ice results. Make no mistake, Savard is getting the shaft for Tallon's blunders, and if the team doesn't right the ship quickly, Tallon will be following Savvy out the United Center doors.
It doesn't help that the economy is currently in or headed directly for the proverbial crapper, but the price of tickets to sporting events show no sign of coming down to meet the slightly thinner pockets of the buying public, according to an article on "Medill Reports".
Currently, the average ticket to a Cubs' game rose to $42.49 in 2008, according to the report, a 42 percent increase from 2004. And that two-parents-two-kids-at-the-game measuring stick they're always using in the yearly reports on how much a day at the ballgame will cost (officially known as the Fan Cost Index)? This season it was $251.96 for a Cubs game. And it doesn't appear likely to come down even with the "occurances" of this past season.
The Bears were the most expensive ticket in town at an average price of $88.33. The White Sox were a better baseball bargain with an average ticket price of $30.28 and an FCI of $214.61. The Blackhawks were the city's best professional sports value at $34.88, although that could change next year if the team makes the progress everyone expects.
Prior to tonight's game against the Nashville Predators, the Blackhawks will host a red carpet event outside the United Center from 5 to 5:30pm, where players will be brought to the game in limos and introduced to the crowd as they enter the arena.
After losing their first two games by identical 4-2 scores against the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals Friday and Saturday, perhaps the team should forgo the glitz and glamour and focus on the grit and getting the puck in the net after going 0-8 on the powerplay so far?
As for the more important facet of tonight occurring on the ice, game time for the Blackhawks' home opener is at 7:30pm. While the game is expected to draw a sellout by puck drop, there are currently still tickets available. The Hawks are looking to avoid their first 0-3 in 11 years while trying to shore up a so-far non-existent front line offense and a defense that has been making too many costly mistakes in their own zone. With heightened expectations both within the organization and from a revitalized fanbase, the Hawks need to take advantage of an opening month schedule that finds them at home for six of their next eight games.
It's the age-old question, mostly asked by peripheral or not-at-all hockey fans: What's up with all the fighting? Blackhawks hard-hitting forward Adam Burish takes the opportunity of the team's much anticipated season opener to try to explain it in his new Sun-Times blog. Granted, a lot of his explanation might be brushed off by some as "macho bull...", but hey, he's playing the game and we're not so...
And to see what he's talking about, he's a clip of him in action.
As the Blackhawks prepare to open one of their most highly-anticipated seasons in history Friday against the Rangers, the team set their final roster this afternoon.
The cuts saw one player surprisingly still on the active roster, and one highly-regarded player beginning his year in the AHL. With no takers wanting to pay goalie Nicolai Khabibulin's $6.75 million salary, the Hawks kept Habby on the roster a week after putting him on waivers, instead sending Finnish rookie Antti Niemi down to Rockford.
With Khabibulin still on the roster, the Hawks found themselves hitting the ceiling on the $56.7 million salary cap, and 2004 first-round pick Cam Barker was a casualty, finding himself on the way to Rockford as well. The team also sent defenseman Aaron Johnson to the Icehogs and released forward Kevyn Adams to reach the 23-player roster limit.
Prospects making the team include forwards Jack Skille, Kris Versteeg, Dave Bolland and the surprising Colin Fraser, along with defensemen Niklas Hjalmarsson and Jordan Hendry.
While the forwards earned their spots with strong showings in the preseason, the moves behind the blueline are questionable if talent won out over financial issues.
When the Blackhawks scratched goaltender Nicolai Khabibulin from Sunday's start, many minds wondered if there was something brewing.
It turns out there was, as Khabibulin was put on waivers yesterday morning by the Blackhawks and cleared the wire this morning. Although the team had said all summer they were comfortable with two top-tier goalies all summer, the writing was on the wall for Khabibulin when the Hawks signed Cristobal Huet to a 4-year deal over the offseason. The only questions remaining were "when" and "where".
At this point, we're still waiting for an answer on the "where." By clearing waivers, the Hawks are free from the $6.75 million owed Khabibulin this season, putting them well under cap space to pursue a 2nd line center or move some prospects up to the parent club. However, it's highly unlikely Khabi and his salary will ever play a minute in Rockford for the AHL IceHogs.
While no teams were interested in picking up the full amount owed to Khabibulin via waiver, there's still a possibility a deal can be struck. GM Dale Tallon will be working the phones to strike a deal, though will have to take back some salary in any potential trade partner.
In a worst case scenario, if the Hawks recall Khabibulin, he would have to pass through re-entry waivers where any team can nab him for half the salary, with the Blackhawks on the hook for the rest and getting nothing in return.
There are certainly teams that need goaltending help, with the two most prominent being the L.A. Kings and Ottawa Senators, and I'd expect a transaction at some point soon with the season starting Oct. 10. One thing is certain; Khabibulin has worn the Indianhead sweater for the last time, barring a drastic turn of events.
After attending last week's fan festival scrimmages and the first preseason Blackhawks game Tuesday, I was planning on posting some of my initial impressions on the Hawks and the young players trying to make the roster. Unfortunately, real life interceded and after missing last night's preseason game and the organization's initial roster cuts that post seems a little outdated.
So instead, let's just cover some of the news filtering out of training camp.
With today's media day and tomorrow's fan festival marking the beginning of training camp, a summer of awakening excitement and soaring expectations shifts to results on the ice.
One detail that remained to be resolved this week was the Hawks salary cap situation, as free agent signings Brian Campbell and Cristobal Huet had pushed the team past the $56.7 million ceiling. GM Dale Tallon ended up trading center Robert Lang to Montreal for a 2010 second-round draft pick. Moving Lang's $4 million salary leaves the Hawks with $1.5 million in cap room, though the final number will be lower as the Hawks fill out their final roster.
The departing Lang leaves the Hawks with a large hole in the 2nd line center spot, which the team is counting on one of their young prospects like Dave Bolland or Petri Kontiola to step into. If neither player lays claim to the position in camp or gets injured, the Hawks may be forced to look outside for help, making the Lang deal a calculated risk. However, long-term the trade was necessary since Lang was in the final year of his contract and on the tail end of his career, despite his 54 points last year.
Another area all eyes will be focused on is between the pipes. Both Huet and the returning Nikolai Khabibulin are capable of being a decent number 1 goalie, but with $12 million tied up in the duo, the Hawks are paying a premium for their tandem of tenders. Tallon has stated his plans are to keep both and play the hot hand night to night, but with Khabibulin in the final year of his $6.75 million contract, many expected him to be the solution to the cap problem. While the team is committed to the pair at the onset of training camp, the potential distraction may result in Khabibulin's eventual departure, especially if Huet forces the issue with stronger play.
Other areas under scrutiny will be which prospects emerge to fill out the rest of the forward lines, and the third defensive pairing. Following the weekend's festival, the team opens their preseason Tuesday at the United Center against the Columbus Bluejackets, where some of these questions will begin to be answered.
No, we didn't expect the Bears to beat the Colts last Sunday night either. But if they're going to build on that, there are three things they must do to beat the Carolina Panthers this Sunday.
Even if they don't win the game, the Bears are still scoring touchdowns at the bank.
Arguing over who gets the last drumstick is one thing. But a Cubs-White Sox World Series could drive one family nuts.
REALLY old school White Sox fans will mourn the death of former manager Don Gutteridge.
Current White Sox star Carlos Quentin hopes to be healthy by the playoffs. Question is: will he be playing or watching?
Patrick Kane and Jonathan Towes, the Blackhawks' Teen Titans (OK, they're not really teens but it's not far off) get some more (inter)national publicity.
From Kansas City to Chicago on a bike: Are gas prices THAT high?
The marathon gold-medalist from this year's Olympics, Constantina Tomescu-Dita of Romania has joined the field (pdf) of runners for the 2008 Chicago marathon. Hopefully, we'll have better weather this year.
The Sky take on the New York Liberty in their next-to-last game of their WNBA regular season.
Chicago teams finished third, fourth and fifth in the 2008 North American Gay Amateur Athletic Association Gay Softball World Series.
You're in Lisle. You're riding your bike. You have a hankering to see a play. What are you going to do?
Despite the Bears impressive season-opening victory and the Cubs and Sox continued pennant races, the calendar turning to September means one thing for a small, but growing subsection of the city. It's time to begin thinking about hockey.
With the opening preseason game against Columbus two weeks away, the Hawks are preparing to open training camp for a season rife with unfettered expectations. In an ongoing effort to reestablish the Hawks as a major player in Chicago sports, the team announced plans for the first ever Training Camp Festival Saturday, Sept. 20.
Activities will include a 3-on-3 street hockey tourney, live music and games, and the "Mad Dash to Madison" 5k run/walk/skate, but the main event is admission to the United Center for a Blackhawks open practice. A little known secret is all Hawks practices at the Edge in Bensenville are always open to the public, but UC practices are strictly off-limits. Tickets are only $5 (though the 5k and street tourney registration is separate) and are available online and at the United Center box office.
Also, the unprecedented full-season TV schedule was released. The Blackhawks return to WGN, their home in the '60s and '70s, starts Oct. 11 with a road game against Washington, one of 20 the station will broadcast. All other games will be on Comcast Sports and CSN+, along with 4 national tv games (3 on Versus, the Winter Classic on NBC). The full schedule is available after the jump.
The Blackhawks have reached a deal with Nigerian-born right winger Akim Aliu, signing him to a three-year contract.
The well-traveled Aliu (born in Nigeria, raised in Ukraine, moved with his parents to Toronto in the '90s) was the Hawks' third pick in the '07 draft. Read about the deal here and see a bit of Aliu in action here.
It may not make it to the side of a milk carton, but the Chicago Fire fan club Section 8 is missing their banner.
Some people might have an opinion about who they are, but a new book of photos entitled "We Are Cubs Fans" seeks to define the loyalists visually. The obligatory Ronnie Woo Woo photo is included.
Speaking of the Cubs, Sports Illustrated joins the rest of the country in being amazed that they AND the White Sox are both in first place and may make the playoffs in the same season for the first time since 1906.
And speaking of the Sox, Fox Sports calls the acquisition of Carlos Quinten the steal of the century. OK, they call it the steal of the season. It just LOOKS like the steal of the century.
Tickets for the National Pro Fastpitch softball championships go on sale this Saturday at Judson Sports Complex in Elgin, home of the Chicago Bandits. The Bandits are one of the four teams who will be participating.
Now that the Blackhawks are enjoying a resurgence in popularity, new fans might want to read about one of the team's legends featured in a story from the Sports Illustrated vaults.
In an offseason full of major moves for the Blackhawks, the most biggest of all was the annoucement yesterday that Scotty Bowman will join the team as a Special Advisor of Hockey Operations.
Bowman is the closest thing to a living hockey icon off the ice, having coached his teams to a record nine Stanley Cup victories. Bowman is the only coach to take 3 different teams (the Canadians, Penguins, and Red Wings) to Finals victories, and his 1,244 regular season and 223 playoff victories are NHL records. Bowman was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991 as a builder, and retired from coaching after winning the Cup in 2002 with the Red Wings. Since that time he's worked as a special consultant in Detroit, and has spurned offers from other teams.
So what brings him to Chicago? Family. His son Stan has been in the Hawks organization for eight years, and is currently the team's assistant general manager. Scotty said the chance to work with his son and an organization that is making huge strides prompted the move to the Windy City.
When I went to Detroit as the coach 15 years ago, the team was really on the upswing. Looking at what's here for me and for the Hawks, it's a challenge again. I would say the biggest reason is to work with my son. It doesn't happen often in sports, but it is happening here. It's certainly an exciting day for myself and for the family."
The Blackhawks organization was long-defined by former owner William Wirtz and his right-hand man Bob Pulford, a Hall-of-Famer himself. However, Pulford's involvement in the day-to-day operations of the team is believed to have been a major factor in the team's struggles. When Wirtz passed away and his son Rocky took over, one of his first moves was to move Pulford to a position in the company outside of the Hawks. While Bowman will play a peripheral role as a consultant, he is considered one of the best evaluators and ambassadors of the game, and his mere presence will make the Hawks a stronger organization and provide GM Dale Tallon an invaluable resource to return the Hawks to contenders.
In other Hawk-related news, at the first-ever fan convention July 18-20, the team announced plans to retire the #3 worn by Hall-of-Famer Pierre Pilotte and the late Keith Magnunson. Along with that nod to the past, the team solidified their future by naming 20-year old Jonathon Toews the captain. Toews is the third-youngest player to ever wear the C, and earned the honor after becoming the de facto team leader during his rookie year.
Cook County Commissioner Mike Quinn got a lot of Detroit Red Wings fans ticked off when he managed to skewer the team in his resolution celebrating the outdoor game against the Blackhawks at Wrigley Field...
...But here’s guessing he’ll have an easier time getting tickets to the game than you do.
A half-game lead (as of Thursday afternoon)? Are the Cubs done for? One writer seems to think so (though he admits he’s a Sox fan but insists that has nothing to do with it… right.)...
...But never fear Cubs fans, there are enough pro-Cubby blogs to ease the pain. In fact, there’s a whole army.
Despite the weather's attemps to smother Chicago in oppressive humidity lately, the Blackhawks have been in the news this week.
First, the long-rumored Winter Classic outdoor game at Wrigley Field was finally, officially, announced Wednesday. The Blackhawks and the Stanley Cup champion Red Wings will face off at noon on New Year's Day.
The next day, the remaining 81 games on the Hawks schedule were revealed. The team kicks off the season in Madison Square Garden October 10 against the Rangers and in Washington the next night before the United Center home opener October 13 against Nashville.
Other notable home games on the schedule include the following:
San Jose - November 16.
New Hawks defenseman Brian Campbell's former team (for half a season) and Jeremy Roenick bring the Sharks to Chicago.
Philadelphia - December 26.
The return of the resurgent Flyers for the first time in three seasons.
New York Rangers - January 16.
An Original Six matchup with the Blueshirts.
Pittsburgh - February 27.
Superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin lead the Penguins into town.
Detroit - April 12.
After traveling to Detroit April 11, the teams battle in the second half of a home-and-home to finish the regular season.
Sun-Times writer Carol Slezak has an in-depth profile of team chairman Rocky Wirtz that is a great piece for anyone who wants to learn more abuot the team's dramatic turnaround in the past year. Change you really can believe in!
If you see a multitude of sweater-wearers downtown this weekend, they are not crazy, despite the hot and humid forecast. They're most likely making their way to the Hilton for the first Blackhawks convention, which opens this evening and runs through Sunday. Team president John McDonough lifted a page from his tenure with the Cubs to create the offseason festivities for fans to unite and meet past and present players. Passes sold out in two weeks last spring, and for fans from across the country, the big weekend has finally arrived. So while it's not the best sweater weather, it's for a good reason.
The Chicago Bandits have a chance to move into first place in the NPF when they continued their four-game series against the league-leading Philadelphia Force tonight. The Bandits beat the Force 3-1 in the series opener on Wednesday.
The 2008 Aberdeen Street Dodgeball Ninjas will host their summer tournament this Saturday at Sheridan Park. If nothing else, it should provide some interesting photos.
The Chicago Cycling Club hosts a "Baseball Nostalgia Tour", which includes stops at 10 present and former ballparks and lunch at the Billy Goat Tavern.
And speaking of baseball, an all-Cubs channel? I thought we already had that...and referred to it as the local news (said the White Sox fan with the inferiority complex).
It's official (sort of). The much-speculated Blackhawks game at Wrigley Field (which we wrote about earlier) appears to be a go, according to various sources. The game against the Detroit Red Wings reportedly will be held on New Year's Day, though the official announcement is slated for next week. Let's see... New Year's Day, outdoor hockey in Chicago, hangovers. Should be an interesting time.
The first day of free agency signing has been a dismal one for the Blackhawks in years past, as marquee players would pass up Chicago for stronger teams, leaving the Hawks to overpay for less talented alternatives (paging Adrian Aucoin).
However, yesterday's signing day made a strong statement that the Blackhawks are back, as the team inked two-time All-Star defenseman Brian Campbell, who was the top blueliner available. The Hawks also inked goalie Cristobal Huet, one of the top netminders on the market.
The 29-year-old Campbell is a quick-skating D-man who fills one of the Hawks' biggest needs, a quarterback for the powerplay. Huet is an upgrade over former backup goalie Patrick Lalime and lead Washington to a playoff berth last season while posting a 32-14-6 record and a 2.32 goals-against-average.
"We had to make statement with the buzz we have created in Chicago,” Tallon said. “Our franchise decided that we would try and make an impact today to try and continue that momentum. When you do that, you will overpay.”
Campbell signed an eight-year deal that will pay him $7 million annually, a huge investment for the Hawks, and Huet's four-year deal nets him $5.6 million per season. The signings put the Hawks roughly $3 million over the salary cap, so the Hawks expect a few cost cutting deals, like the trade that sent Rene Bourque to Calgary in exchange for a draft pick. Although Tallon has stated he thinks the tandem of Huet and Nicolai Khabibulin is one of the best in the league, with both earning starter's money, Habby may be trade material to get under the cap as well.
While the cost of the signings is high, Campbell and Huet will pay immediate dividends as the Hawks look to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2001. The Hawks young defensive corp just earned a franchise veteran to mentor them, and Campbell's power-play skills will upgrade a special teams unit that finished 24th a year ago. Huet has posted some strong numbers since coming to the league in 2002, and his signing gives the Hawks some long-term insurance in net, as Khabibulin is in the final year of his contract.
A Major League Baseball story on the Cubs' days as a WEST Side ballclub includes some interesting bits of information, including the time in 1908 when a woman gave birth in the bleachers. Contrast that with today when...nah, too easy.
Belmont Harbor will be the launching site of a major international boating event when 84 boats from around the world compete in the 2008 Etchells World Championships. The weeklong event kicks off this Friday.
Another bout has been added to the boxing card at the Aragon Ballroom this Friday, which we told you about yesterday.
After a surprising and promising 2008 season for the Blackhawks, this weekend's NHL draft will be as important for the Hawks as the NBA draft will be for the Bulls. A hockey prospects resource site gives the lowdown.
He may not be in the Hall of Fame, but South Carolina residents are not forgetting their native son, White Sox legend Shoeless Joe Jackson and are building a museum in his honor. The organizers are hoping that the tribute helps the HOF committee forget about Jackson's role (or non-role) in the whole Black Sox scandal.
Making the long-rumored official, the Chicago Blackhawks welcomed back Pat Foley into the broadcast booth yesterday.
Foley was the voice of the Hawks for more than 25 years, before being let go two season ago after clashing with management. Foley spent the last two seasons calling AHL Chicago Wolves games, and while rumors swirled of his return, the annoucement couldn't be made official until the Wolves wrapped up their championship season last week.
Foley's rehiring continues the moves new owner Rocky Wirtz has made to restore the traditions of a once-proud franchise and rebuild the fanbase. Fans have always appreciated Foley's genuine enthusiasm and "call it like you see it" approach to the game, even if that meant being overly critical of the team on the ice, and his departure left many fans as angry as when star players were shown the door.
However, all that is forgotten, and Foley is rightfully back where he belongs. It'll be great to hear Pat's voice, especially with all 82 games on broadcast TV.
Blackhawks star rookie Patrick Kane won the Calder Trophy as the NHL's rookie of the year last night, edging out teammate Jonathon Toews and Washington Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom. Kane lead both the Hawks and all rookies in scoring with 72 points (21 goals, 51 assists), dispelling the worry that the 5'10", 163-pound teenager wouldn't be able to withstand the rigors of an NHL season. Kane is the first Chicago player to win the award since netminder Ed Belfour in 1990-91.
Kane and Toews were also named to the NHL's All-Rookie Team for their stellar first campaigns. The duo helped revitalize the moribund Blackhawk franchise, pushing them to the brink of a playoff berth and providing an excitement that has long been missing in the United Center.
While Kane is more than deserving of Rookie of the Year honors due to his playmaking ability and point totals, Toews was in many ways the heart and soul of the franchise. He led all rookies in goals with 24 despite missing more than a month with a knee injury, which coincided with a 10-game losing streak by the Blackhawks.
The terrific twosome will be back on the ice for their sophomore seasons next fall, hoping to lift the Hawks back into the Stanley Cup playoffs and continue their already rapid development. With both Kane and Toews in the Indianhead sweater, the future of the Blackhawks looks bright.
Varioussources are reporting that the NHL has reached an agreement to have the Blackhawks welcome the Detroit Red Wings next season in the next installment of the Winter Classic. While there is no official announcement yet, it’s expected the game will be held at the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field, not surprising given Hawks' team president John McDonough’s ties to the Cubs. Plus, how great will the landmark ballpark and adjoining rooftops look on national TV, provided the winter cooperates?
It's a logical choice for the NHL, featuring two Original Six markets who are also fierce rivals. With the Blackhawks' recent revitalization, a national audience in a historic setting will further enhance the team's recognition. And the Wings may come in as the defending Stanley Cup champions, as they currently are up 2-1 in the Finals.
In a strange coincidence, or coordinated marketing ploy timed with the possible announcement of the game, Hawks legends Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and Tony Esposito will be at Wrigley tomorrow to sing the 7th inning stretch.
The Blackhawks’ dream of hosting the next NHL outdoor game took a step closer to reality when they Commissioner Gary Bettman said recently that the proposed game for Yankee Stadium (in its last season before being torn down) may not happen.
Thanks to “a variety of issues” surrounding the Yankee Stadium selection (including winterization issues like pipes that normally go unused after baseball season being asked to support fans in the dead of winter), the Hawks moved up the ladder of potential hosts. It’s a list that includes Penn State’s Beaver Stadium (for a potential game between Pennsylvania teams the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers), as well as Soldier Field.
As one of the “Original Six” teams, the Blackhawks have that bit of history on their side in the decision-making process. Hawks’ officials are pushing hard for the game to be played either at Soldier Field or even Wrigley Field. A decision is expected to be reached by the first week of June.
In the May installment of of righting the wrongs of years past comes news the Blackhawks have parted ways with TV play-by-play man Dan Kelly, with many people expecting that famed broadcaster Pat Foley will return to the Hawks fold next season.
Foley called Blackhawks games on TV and radio for more than 25 years before the team withdrew a new contract offer in 2006, ending his longstanding tenure over unspecified "personal" reasons. Foley was a fan favorite both for his excitable and passionate play-by-play and his unabashedly honest assessment of the team's strengths and weaknesses, which is the factor many believe led to his ultimate dismissal.
Foley moved to Allstate Arena to call games for the Chicago Wolves, but with his contract up at the end of the year, Hawks President John McDonough appears primed to welcome back the "Voice of the Blackhawks" in the latest attempt to rebuild the bridge to the team's storied history.
Dan Kelly was behind the mike for two uneven seasons, with many fans unhappy with his style and the frequent tangent discussions with partner Eddie Olczyk that often resulted in missed calls. A change was becoming necessary in any event, but the return of Pat Foley will make many a Hawks fan's day.
With Nashville's victory over St. Louis last night, the Blackhawks playoff hopes were officially dashed. The Hawks welcome the Predators for their home finale tonight in what would have been a monumental battle for the final seed, winner take all, if the Blues held on for the win last night.
Despite the team missing the postseason for the fifth straight year, the season has been astounding to see, both on and off the ice. With two games left, the Hawks (currently 39-33-8) are guaranteed to finish with a winning record for just the second time in the past 10 years, and their current 86 points is already a marked improvement over last season's 71. Patrick Kane is leading all rookies in scoring with 69 points, and his closest competition for the Calder Trophy (given to the rookie of the year) is his teammate Jonathon Toews. The duo has led the resurgence on the ice, with a number of promising youngsters posting career years this season.
More importantly, with the team playing meaningful games this late in the season, the United Center has been rocking with the return of a long-dormant fanbase.The team's 11 sellouts are more than the last five years combined, and tonight's home finale will be standing-room only and the 12th capacity crowd at the UC this season. Overall, the Hawks are averaging nearly 4,000 more fans a game this season, as fans starved for a winner have flocked to the United Center. The buzz is back on Madison and looks to only keep building next season as GM Dale Tallon enters a critical offseason for the franchise. This year's success was a surprise to many, but the expectations will be raised for the Blackhawks next year.
I'll post a more in-depth wrap up of the highs and lows of this historical season later on, but for now, I appreciate having the Hawks back to being relevant.
In a historic announcement this afternoon, the Blackhawks made official plans to broadcast their entire 82-game schedule, as well as playoff games, including all home games from the United Center.
And no, despite the date, this is not an April Fool's joke. Believe it, people. The Blackhawks are on TV, every game!
Combining with the team's current agreement with Comcast Sportsnet, the Hawks announced a three-year deal with WGN Television that will see the station broadcast up to 20 games per year in HD, with Comcast televising the remaining contests.
The agreement reestablishes a link between 'GN and the franchise from the '60s and '70s, when the station was the home of the Blackhawks. In fact, WGN broadcast the clinching game of the Hawks' last Stanley Cup, way back in 1961.
It's Christmas on April Fool's day for Blackhawks fans.
In other news, this year's squad is still harboring playoff aspirations, sitting four points out of the final spot with three games remaining, including tomorrow's home game against the rival Red Wings. A loss tomorrow will end the team's hopes; in fact, it can't afford to lose any of its games. But meaningful hockey in April is a rare sight, and a successful finish will help the young team carry over into next year's TV-laden season.