Here’s hoping the Madhouse on Madison restores a little sanity to the Chicago Blackhawks before it’s too late.
Down 2-0 in the first round to the St. Louis Blues, this game on home ice is instrumental in the difference between continuing hockey and, well, I don’t want to think about it.
The Blackhawks haven’t been playing Blackhawks hockey. They’ve been trying to play Blues hockey; and, frankly they are terrible at it and look terrible doing it.
I don’t know where this came from. I’m not sure if all the criticism for not defending Jonathan Toews when Brooks Orpik did, well, what Brooks Orpik does March 30, leaving Toews injured and out for the remainder of the regular season, is the place to lay the blame.
No one attacked Orpik. Not even the league, much to my chagrin. But, for the Blackhawks, not going after Orpik was the smart thing to do. They needed to go play hockey and get back at him where it really mattered–on the scoreboard. They tried, anyway, in the 4-1 loss.
However, up until Toews’ return for Game 1, reporters were asking about the team’s response (well, the lack of response) to Orpik’s hit. Despite official statements that the team wanted good hockey to be the perfect revenge, actions haven’t spoken louder than words.
Now, here they are in the playoffs. The Blackhawks and Blues have an ugly history. The Blues are a very physical team. Hits favored them 26-18 Saturday, 42-27 in Game 1, 40-23 April 6, 36-20 March 19, 30-12 Dec. 28, and 22-20 Oct. 9. The Hawks edged them by two hits one game this season, with 26-24 on Oct. 17.
So, this series has been ugly. David Backes may rescue puppies, but on the ice his reputation is far from pristine; as seen here, here, here, here, etc. His history with the Hawks is no better. So, frankly, it isn’t surprising that a Chicago player would seize an opportunity for a hard hit.
That said, no, I don’t think Backes deserved a concussion. No, I didn’t want him injured. I also don’t believe Brent Seabrook had an intent to injure him when he saw the puck headed toward Backes and went in for a hit. Unfortunately, Duncan Keith got the puck, Backes turned, and Seabrook got Backes’ head. I don’t believe Seabrook’s hit was any worse than Orpik’s above, so, yes, I’m very frustrated at the league’s disparity in handing out punishment and suspensions–Seabrook received a three game suspension and a penalty/game misconduct that cost the Hawks Game 2. I’m equally frustrated Seabrook didn’t just go for the puck, which is a higher priority.
(As a further sidenote, I find the commentary on leaked “chirping” ridiculous because very little said on the ice is appropriate for our dinner tables or living rooms. That’s why we don’t get to hear it live on TV.)
Maybe the Hawks felt the need to act tough. Maybe it’s some machismo thing I can’t process because, well, I think that goals scored is a far more important stat than hits, I hate injuries, and, I already love hockey so the bashing of players’ skulls isn’t really a selling point to me.
It’s a sport. It isn’t some vigilante justice league. The Blackhawks tend to get pushed around a bit on the ice, historically, but the way they’ve chosen to deal with it recently is a disservice to them, their fans, and the fine sport itself.
The Hawks were far outhit by other physical teams in the 2010 and 2013 playoffs — the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins. They didn’t try to up their physical game then. They played their own game harder. That’s what they need to do now.
It’s no surprise the Blackhawks make terrible mistakes when they try to play aggressive hockey. That’s not their style. They look awkward and silly, sort of like Brendan Smith challenging Zdeno Chara to a duel.
If they truly want to make it further in the playoffs, expect the Blackhawks to take more shots tonight–using their sticks and the puck toward the net, rather than their bodies at their opponents. They need to be smart. They can’t take stupid penalties. They penalty kills are exhausting and the Hawks need their energy high all the way to the finish.
They need to strike early and often; again, I mean on the scoreboard. Closing has been a problem this season and now into the off-season. If they are able to get and maintain a lead, they’ll be able to take pressure off of Corey Crawford who, despite an uncanny ability to perform gymnastics to stop shots and rebounds, has let late game game-tying (and overtime game-winning) goals slide by fairly easily in Games 1 and 2.
The Blackhawks also need to be attentive. They need to keep their heads up because there’s no doubt St. Louis is seeing red right now and will capitalize on any chance to bite back.
Sheldon Brookbank will be stepping in for Seabrook. Brookbank had two goals, five assists, and was a plus-two in 48 games this season. He last played April 12.
Patrik Berglund is back in the lineup for the Blues. Backes skated today but is not expected to play tonight.
People to watch (in red) tonight:
- Duncan Keith. It’s no secret the Blackhawks defense has been hot this series. Duncs has one goal already. Seabrook has had a goal and an assist each of the two games. With Seabs out, we’ll see how bright his D-partner shines.
- Brandon Saad. The Saadfather has one goal and nine assists in his 27 career playoff appearances.
- Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Captain Serious (2 assists) and Kaner (1 goal) had some rust to shake off returning to the playoffs from injuries. With extra scrutiny lately, the duo has everything to prove.
- Marian Hossa. Hoss has had all the right moves. He just needs to hit the net.
People to watch (in blue/white) tonight:
- Kevin Shattenkirk. He has four points (one goal, three assists) in the playoffs already
- Barret Jackman. With one goal and one assist in the playoffs, and a penchant for physical play, he’ll be working to continue a streak.
- Ryan Miller. Miller has made 70 saves this series.
Since 2009, the Blackhawks have a 27-11 home-ice record in the playoffs. They’ve come back from playoff deficits before — down 0-3 to Vancouver in 2011, and 3-1 to Detroit last year. They have the talent to beat the Blues, which they’ve shown through the majority of both playoff games and in the regular season (2-1-2 record).
The Blackhawks face the Blues at 7:30 P.M. CT Monday and 7 P.M. CT Wednesday at the United Center, where, on the bright side, fans don’t taunt with goalie name chanting.
Meanwhile, at my house, a whole new set of clean Blackhawks shirts are ready for wardrobe changes according to the pace of the game and hot dogs (last year’s playoffs’ “lucky meal”) are back on the menu. You know, because it’s the Cup.