Western Conference Playoffs Round 1 vs. St. Louis: Game 7

Think about all of the emotions that this series has already made you feel. The “meh” after Game 1. The total confidence you felt after Game 2. The frustration you felt after Game 4. The weariness and nausea you felt from Game 5 (a game that I haven’t totally physically recovered from). The panic and then the elation you felt in Game 6. I hope you’re prepared to experience all of that tonight during Game 7. Playoff hockey truly is the only sports experience that makes you want to simultaneously puke and pee at the same time, so tonight should be a wild ride. 

So who is going to decide to be the hero tonight? Patrick Kane always seems to step up when the lights are the brightest. Brent Seabrook has a knack for scoring in the clutch. If I’m betting, it’s Jonathan Toews who comes up big, as he has been held scoreless so far this series and sounded awful determined to change that since before Game 6. 

It’s not that Toews has played badly. He was a beast in Games 5 and 6. He’s got  five assists and has looked more and more dominant as this series has gone on. So expect Toews to be the leader that he always has been and carry the Blackhawks to a big win tonight. 

Maybe the hero will be Corey Crawford. While Blues goalie Brian Elliott, in his first true playoff experience, stood on his head for the first five games of this series before slowly smoldering into a garbage fire, Crow has been his usual, steady self. There have been several occasions where you could say that the Hawks wouldn’t even be in the game without him, so hopefully the experience Crow has gained from all those huge games the past three seasons provides an advantage in net tonight for the Hawks. 

While the Blues are dealing with the ghosts of playoff failures past, the Blackhawks are gaining confidence. I felt like that would be the advantage for the Hawks before this series began, so we’ll see how the Blues respond to the challenge. 

It didn’t look good on the bench with the Blues top player Viktor Tarasenko visibly upset about his playing time during Game 6. I think this speaks to the advantage the Blackhawks have between their ears with Joel Quenneville able to adjust on the fly while Ken Hitchcock, or just about any other coach for that matter, is not as adept as Q at responding in-game with his matchups and getting his best players on the ice when the situation calls for it. 

Either way, tonight is going to be fun. This is what the Blackhawks saved themselves for throughout those February and March snoozefests. When it looks like they are playing half-assed in the regular season, it’s because they know they have games like these waiting for them in April and May. Just think, this could be just the first leg of an even more stressful journey for the Hawks and their fans. 

Put those same clothes back on, sit in the same chair, or whatever it is you’ve been doing to get that mojo working. The Blackhawks are going to need every bit of it tonight. LET’S GO HAWKS!!!

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Western Conference Playoffs Round 1 vs. St. Louis: Game 6

Still alive, baby! There were a few different times on Thursday night where I thought the Blackhawks might not make it, including a late penalty kill that cost them dearly for the third game in a row, but they survived and now might have the Blues right where they want them. I predicted this series would go seven games, and I feel pretty good about that prediction right now. 

For the Blackhawks to force a Game 7, they are going to need their captain to score once or twice tonight. No one knows this more than Jonathan Toews, who has yet to score in this series. He said so himself in an interview yesterday, so I’m expecting his most determined effort tonight. When Toews decides it’s his turn to carry the team, he usually comes through. 

Andrew Shaw also gets a chance to draw back into the lineup tonight after his meltdown in Game 4 which cost him a suspension for Game 5. No one can deny the grit and skill he brings to the lineup, and sometimes you have to get nasty in order to play that way. But your #IsupportShaw memes are dumb. There is no sports league in the world, professional or not, that allows players to flip the double birds at the referees and call them fags. Shaw’s lucky he only got one game. If you want to give your buddy a hard time and call him that when you’re among friends, I don’t have a problem with that. But use your brain, Shaw got what he deserved because that kind of behavior is unacceptable in a professional sports arena.

So it’s almost time to put the same clothes I wore on Thursday night back on. Undies too. Don’t judge me. If the Blackhawks can force a Game 7 by winning tonight, everyone will encourage me to do the same thing on Monday night. I recommend whatever you did on Thursday night, you keep doing it. We need that mojo. LET’S GO HAWKS!!! 

Western Conference Playoffs vs. St. Louis: Game 5

 Well, it hasn’t looked very good so far. The Blackhawks have simply been outplayed up to this point. The reasons why the Hawks currently find themselves down 3-1 in this series are many, but I didn’t come here to bury them. Instead, I’m holding out hope. 

We’ve seen the Blackhawks in this situation before. I talked last time about playing with the level of desperation necessary to compete in the playoffs and I still don’t think the Hawks have reached it yet. Have they gotten complacent? Are they not good enough this year to flip the switch? I don’t believe either of those things are true, so I hope that the Hawks will be able to turn the compete level up high enough to dig themselves out of this hole.

It all starts with winning this game. Beating the Blues on their home ice might be enough to put the seed of doubt in their minds. It would also bring this series back to Chicago for a Game 6 with the Hawks confident that they can force a Game 7.

So it’s time to get weird. Put on your lucky undies, grab yourself whatever cocktail you think will inspire the mojo, and have some faith that the Blackhawks will at least be able stay alive. They’ve done it before, so there is no reason to think they can’t do it again. LET’S GO HAWKS!!!

Western Conference Playoffs Round 1 vs. St. Louis: Game 4

  This series couldn’t be played much closer than it has so far. A couple calls have gone the Blackhawks way, a few bounces have gone the Blues way, and St. Louis is up 2-1 after three games. In case you’re wondering, the Blackhawks came back from this exact scenario in each of their last two series during last year’s playoffs, so it isn’t time to get worried yet. 

The top two lines for the Blackhawks, including Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and other guys that the Hawks are relying on have yet to score in this series. You can look at the fact that the Hawks have only scored three even strength goals so far a few different ways. Of course, the Blues are doing a great job of keeping the Hawks from getting open looks from in front of the net and Blues goalie Brian Elliott is playing great. You could choose to believe that will continue, but I happen to believe that as this series goes longer and longer, the Hawks will start to figure out ways to get the puck to high-danger areas more often and will start putting away some more of their chances. 

Joel Quenneville has a couple lineup changes that he hopes will work, subbing Andrew Desjardins back in after sitting Game 3 for Dale Weise, and giving David Rundblad (gulp) his first crack at this year’s playoffs, subbing in for Viktor Svedberg. Rundblad has been a lightning rod for fan criticism, and rightly so, for his play since he’s been in Chicago. Hopefully he can provide a little more offense and a boost to the power play rather than the poor net coverage and turnovers he’s been prone to for the last few seasons. 

If none of that works, Quenneville has yet to really let the line blender start humming yet. If the Blackhawks get off to a slow start, expect Q to change up his lines, perhaps going to his nuclear options which include pairing Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith together on defense or putting Kane and Toews together to give a jolt to their 5-on-5 offense. 

No need to panic yet. A win tonight pushes this series an extra game. We should know by now that the longer a series goes on, the longer the Blackhawks can stay alive, the tougher they become to beat. The Hawks have yet to really play with desperation while the Blues are treating this like their Stanley Cup. The margin has been razor thin, but hopefully the Hawks do what it takes to tie this series before it goes back to St. Louis on Thursday. Positive vibrations, people. LET’S GO HAWKS!!!

Western Conference Playoffs Round 1 vs. St Louis: Game 3

  If you were in the same condition as I was waking up yesterday morning, you were thinking to yourself the following: 

1. Why does my head hurt so much?

2. How did the Blackhawks pull that one off last night?

3. Why did Ken Hitchcock challenge a challenge?

While the answers to these questions range in simplicity, it was easy to predict the immediate impact Duncan Keith would have returning to the Blackhawks lineup. Not only did Keith save the Hawks’ collective bacon three or four times in the first two periods, he scored the Hawks’ first goal of the series to tie the game and skated 31 minutes during Game 2. 

Corey Crawford has been excellent so far. The Blackhawks have done a good job of limiting the number of high-danger chances for the Blues, but there have been at least three or four saves that Crawford has made that you could say that Scott Darling would not have. As the Hawks start to figure out how to get some more pucks past Blues goalie Brian Elliott, let’s hope Crow keeps up his strong play. 

 Coming back home with the series tied, Joel Quenneville should be able to get the matchups he wants. Hopefully he can find a way to get Teuvo Teravainen and his third line going, because they’ve been largely invisible so far. There has been a question as to whether or not Teuvo is ready for the task of playing center in the playoffs and if he’d be better off at the wing. Either way, the Blackhawks could use some scoring from their bottom-six forwards, so Teuvo is going to have to step up if he wants to stay in the lineup. 

A Game 2 win was a relief for Blackhawks fans. There’s no reason to think that the Hawks can’t figure out a way to get through this series. A dominant win at home would provide a huge mental edge for the Hawks as the Blues have been known to fold as the pressure gets tighter. The Hawks have yet to even look fazed to this point, so they should be able to get into their opponents heads and get a W today.

Western Conference Playoffs Round 1 vs. St. Louis: Game 2

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While it would have been nice to take Game 1 of the series on Wednesday, the Blackhawks showed that they are ready for playoff hockey. A return to the ice for arguably their most important playoff performer and maybe a little better puck luck should get things back on track for the Hawks and get this series tied heading back to Chicago. 

Corey Crawford played well enough to win and some of the defensive issues we’ve seen over the past month or so were not apparent on Wednesday night. The Blackhawks had plenty of chances to score, but didn’t cash in on several odd-man rushes or power plays. Sometimes a goalie can win a game in the playoffs, and it appears Elliott was able to do just that and the Blues won on a fluky deflection off Trevor van Riemsdyk that trickled past Crawford. Oh well, that’s why they play up to seven games.

Joel Quenneville often says that the Blackhawks offense starts from the back end, with the defense making quick breakout passes from their defensive zone, leading to rushes and possession the other way. It didn’t seem like the Hawks had much trouble with that in Game 1, and they should be even better with the return of Duncan Keith, last season’s Conn Smythe Trophy winner awarded to the MVP of the playoffs. Keith is coming back from a six-game suspension for smacking a guy in the face with his stick and should be well-rested and raring to go. Keith usually looks like a jackrabbit out there while logging big minutes for the Hawks during the playoffs and I expect he’ll make a difference tonight.

In his press conferences since Game 1, Blues coach, and doppelganger of former WWE character Paul Bearer, Ken Hitchcock called for his team to be more physical with the Blackhawks. The Blues were credited with 41 hits on Wednesday night, but Hitchcock says he wants the Blues to increase that number to 70 for tonight’s Game 2. Hearing an opposing coach say things like this gives me joy for two reasons. First, the idea of 70 hits in a game is ridiculous. That would also mean that the Hawks have the puck almost the entire game while the Blues are wearing themselves out chasing them around. Second, as everyone should have finally learned from the Anaheim series last year, that approach doesn’t work against the Hawks. So if Hitchcock wants to be a boob and encourage his team to concentrate on physicality rather than puck possession, it is the Blues who will find themselves in a sarcophagus of pain tonight, OOOOHHH YYYEEEESSS!!!!

Western Conference Playoffs Round 1 vs. St. Louis: Game 1

 Welcome back! It doesn’t feel like it’s been that long since the Blackhawks won their third Stanley Cup in six years last June. Just think, they were thisclose to winning three championships in a row and now defending for a fourth. Alas, the Blackhawks have a chance to do something that hasn’t been done since 1998 and repeat as champions, a feat that would cement their status as the team of the decade. 

So much has happened since last June. First, there was the shitstorm that surrounded Patrick Kane last summer. I’m not gonna get into it here and, honestly, I wish that we could all just shut up about it. Then, the Blackhawks got off to a decent enough start to the season, overcoming a stint on injured reserve by last season’s playoff MVP Duncan Keith, until a 12-gamer to start 2016 put them in first place in the conference by mid-January.

The Blackhawks seemed to run out of gas at that point, sputtering on fumes before the all-star break. After coming out of the break looking refreshed, Marian Hossa suffered a knee injury and the Hawks went into hibernation mode. They tend to do this every season as they assimilate new players from the trade deadline into the lineup and get ready for the playoffs.

April came and it looked like the Blackhawks woke up as the playoffs got closer. They seem to turn the GAF-meter back up around the same time every year. That momentum slowed with a suspension for Keith and injuries to several regulars in the lineup, but once Keith comes back in Game 2 of this series the Hawks should be firing on all cylinders. 

That brings us to this opening round series against the hated St. Louis Blues. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the entire city of St. Louis can eat my shorts. Ryan Reaves eats garbage and their captain David Backes plays with an intent to injure. They also employ serial nose-picker Steve Ott, and their coach Ted Hitchcock looks like Paul Bearer from the old WWF. 

Despite having plenty to hate about them, the Blues also have plenty of talent. Vladimir Tarasenko is a threat to score every time he is on the ice. Robby Fabbri and Jaden Schwartz provide more scoring punch while St. Louis maintains solid depth at center, defense, and in goal. Kevin Shattenkirk and Jay Bouwmeester are solid veteran d-men who should be able to stand the heat of playoff hockey. 

Where the Blackhawks hopefully have an advantage on the ice in this series is in net. Corey Crawford is a two-time champ while Blues goalie Brian Elliott is getting his first crack at playoff hockey. I said hopefully because Crawford has only played one game in the past month due to a supposed head injury and could show some rust while Elliott had a hot run through the second half of the season.

The Blackhawks should also have an advantage between their ears with coach Joel Quenneville playing the matchup game against Hitchcock, who is coaching for his job. The Hawks are battle tested and have every reason to believe they can win another championship while the Blues are trying to make it out of the first round following three consecutive first round exits. 

St. Louis might be vulnerable to a meltdown if things don’t go their way through the first two games of this series, but don’t expect the Blackhawks to go for the knockout early. They tend to play conservative through the first four games of a series while trying to figure their opponent out, and with Keith missing Game 1, I predict the Hawks in 7.