Stanley Cup Final vs. Tampa Bay: Game 6

  

Lucky undies, check. Same clothes I’ve worn each of the last two games, check. Beard combed and glorious, check. I’m ready to make the magic happen tonight. 

A much more convincing effort in Game 5 has everyone feeling confident that the Blackhawks have slowly started to figure out the Tampa Bay Lightning. There was a lot more room out there for the Hawks to maneuver than there had been the previous four games and they looked like they were in control for most of the game. That was certainly helped by a gift goal in the 1st period and an injury to one of Tampa’s top forwards, but it’s progress. 

But let’s not be presumptuous. Tampa Bay will likely put forth their best effort of the series tonight. Sure, the Blackhawks have home ice advantage, but this won’t be easy. 

On the other hand, you have to figure Patrick Kane gets loose for one or two goals tonight. It would be hard to believe that the Hawks will win it all without Kane scoring once. You have to think that Q will be able to get the matchups he wants with the last change on faceoffs. I’d expect to see Q going out of his way to keep Tampa’s Victor Hedman away from Kane tonight so Kane can get loose. Let a grinder like Andrew Shaw, or a demigod like Marian Hossa, battle it out with Hedman tonight and wear that viking down. 

It’s all right there for the taking. We just need for the Hawks to channel all of the extra energy that will be in the United Center tonight and hope they finally skate the Lightning out of the building. But don’t be overconfident. Tampa Bay has come back from 3-2 series deficits twice in these playoffs, so I don’t think they’re going to cooperate with the coronation of the Blackhawks tonight. So keep doing whatever you’ve been doing, even if it is Monday night. Don’t mess with the mojo. We need just one more win. LET’S GO HAWKS!!!

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Stanley Cup Final vs. Tampa Bay: Game 5

 It’s hard to believe that no matter what, I’ll be shaving in a few days. I’ve considered letting it grow through the rest of the summer since I’ve kinda grown attached to this full, lustrous man-mane. I like the look, but I don’t like the feel on those sweaty summer days. So only a few more days to go. 

Two days of rest had to be key for the Blackhawks. Yes, they won Game 4 and tied up this series. But they looked exhausted. Maybe it was the pressure put on by the Lightning at the end of the game, but the Hawks looked more relieved that they didn’t give up the tying goal more than anything else (that last shot was deflected and didn’t miss by much). They’ve said all the right things and even have the end in sight, so whatever they have left, it’s time to start using it. 

Another thing that came out of Game 4 was the frustration being felt on both sides. Tampa Bay felt like they’ve been playing as well as they could, controlling the pace at times, and coming up with some good scoring chances. Yet, the series is still tied. The Blackhawks seem to be admitting that they didn’t think the Lightning would be as good at checking and playing tight defense as they have been. The Hawks don’t feel like they have really put together a complete effort in this series. Hopefully, now that the Lightning have the Hawks’ full attention, we’ll start to see the Hawks figure out how defend against the speed and size (more the length of their reach, especially in the neutral zone) of the Lightning and get something going for some of the stars of the team who have been absent so far. 

I don’t expect Patricks Kane and Sharp to go this whole series without scoring. Q had the line blender set on “purée” to begin Game 4, which may have led to the low offensive output in the 1st period (stop trying to make Shaw at center a thing, please). By the end of the game, Q had Sharp with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa and Kane with Brandon Saad and Brad Richards. More of this please Q. Once he made these changes, Sharp looked dangerous and Saad potted the game winner. 

The option is also there for Q to double shift Kane with Antoine Vermette and Teuvo Teravainen. Anything Q has to do to not only get more offense, but get Teuvo some more ice time as well. He didn’t play much in Game 4, likely due to the line blending, so it would be nice to see one of the Hawks’ best offensive players out on the ice some more in a series where offensive chances have been at a premium. 

This is the part of this post where we all come up with something nice to say about Corey Crawford. I’ll wait until you’re done… Without Crow, this series is definitely not tied. He’s given up 2-3 goals that may have been softies, but he’s come through when they needed him during their victories in Games 1 and 4. The Blackhawks played great defense in those two games as well. If the Hawks can continue to play defense at that level and get the solid work from Crawford, things should start to tilt towards the Hawks’ favor. 

One of the bigger challenges I’ll face today (besides mowing a lawn after three straight days of rain) will be being mentally present around people. I’ve read just about all there is to read and watched just about all of the coverage available on this Stanley Cup Final. No one seems to have the answers on how it will turn out. So if you see me staring off into space today, I’m just trying to bargain with myself that the Blackhawks will come through. There’s no reason for me not to. 

We’ve seen the Hawks overcome these kinds of challenges before. It’s time to reactivate that blind, drunken belief that they will do it again. No reason to hold back now. Let’s make the magic happen tonight. LET’S GO HAWKS!!!

Stanley Cup Final vs. Tampa Bay: Game 4

Today was definitely a pool day. The beard is always the last part that becomes completely dry. The sunlight bleached it a little too. Ahh, summertime.

Well, the ledge jumpers are back. When was the last time the Blackhawks overcame a 2-1 series deficit, anyway? Oh yeah, two weeks ago vs. Anaheim. But when have they done that during the Stanley Cup Final? Oh yeah, two years ago vs. Boston. This isnt uncharted territory for the Hawks. In Games 1-3 of every series, the Hawks are feeling things out, which is backed up by their 30-30 record in those games since Q took over. The Hawks have gone 40-14 in Games 4-7 in that same timespan, so if they stay true to that form, we should see a better effort from the home team and a tied series tonight.

According to reports, Kris Versteeg and Kimmo Timonen are drawing in for tonight’s game. I have no problem with Versteeg going in for Bryan Bickell. We’ve been stuck with cable Bryan Bickell, instead of DirecTV Bryan Bickell, for the entire playoffs. Versteeg is the more versatile player between the two, so Q gets more options for matchups. Timonen, on the other hand, is another calculated gamble by Q. If old man Kimmo is playing tonight, that must mean Trevor van Riemsdyk passed the test on Monday and will be seeing more minutes. I didn’t think Kyle Cumiskey played bad, but he didn’t see the ice that much anyway. Timonen hopefully will summon the very last bit of mojo he can, because he’s retiring in two weeks. Last chance, Kimmo.

Sometimes the bounces don’t go your way. Sometimes the other team makes a great play, like Victor Hedman’s 120 ft pass to Ryan Callahan to set up a snipe by Callahan from 35 ft out. Hedman made another great play off the rush to set up the go-ahead goal in the 3rd period of Game 3. Does somebody want to get in front of the giant Norseman skating straight up the middle with the puck? Hedman has been the best player of this series so far.

It’s not panic time yet. There’s still another level or two that the Blackhawks have yet to reach in this series. There’s still plenty of time for the Hawks to take control. That better start happening tonight though, or else we could see a lot more bandwagon jumpers over the next two days. Have some faith, and beers. LET’S GO HAWKS!!!

Stanley Cup Final vs. Tampa Bay: Game 3

 
These are the dog days of growing a beard for the playoffs. It would feel nice to get some sun on my face, or to not have a Brillo pad scratching at me in humid weather. But like Stannis Baratheon, we all have to make sacrifices. Whatever it takes to win, am I right?

Game 2 was a whole lot more like the series I expected from the start. End-to-end, back and forth, with both teams getting their chances to score. Unfortunately, Tampa Bay finished more of their chances than the Blackhawks did. I know I’m not the only one who had the idea of a sweep in the back of his mind going into Game 2, so this served as a heat check on everyone who thought the Hawks would roll through this series. 

Despite the loss, I thought the Blackhawks played well overall. Teuvo Teravainen has learned how to control his dragons at just the right time. Andrew Shaw and the rest of the 4th line have been great the first two games. But the Hawks made a few too many mistakes to get a 2nd win on the road. Tyler Johnson’s goal to make the score 3-2 was a bad one given up by Corey Crawford. Patrick Sharp really put his team in a bind with two consecutive penalties in the 3rd, the second of which led to the Lightning’s go-ahead score. I hope these two can make up for it tonight and help the Hawks take a series lead. 

According to the Twitter Machine, Bryan Bickell and rookie Trevor van Riemsdyk will be entering the lineup tonight. Hopefully Bicks has whatever ailment (vertigo!?) behind him and improves his trade value with some production for the rest of this series.

TvR is a more interesting story. He only played in 18 games for the Blackhawks after surprisingly making the team out of Training Camp. The rookie played pretty well before having his kneecap shattered blocking a slap shot. He returned to the ice in March in Rockford to rehab and hopefully get back to form for a playoff run, but then almost immediately broke his wrist. So despite the fact that TvR hasn’t played in any game action for most of this season, Q, in all his infinite wisdom, thinks he can’t be any worse than David Rundblad. 

Q’s really sticking his neck out with this decision. Don’t get me wrong, Rundblad is terrifying in the defensive zone. I don’t mean that in a good way. I mean that like I have to watch with my hands covering my eyes every time he sends a soft pass desperately up the boards and turtles before he gets hit. 

Home ice advantage will help a lot tonight, however. Q will be able to get his matchups. He’ll shelter TvR and hope he can get his legs under him fast. Q can also deploy his lines to get his top scoring threats loose against what has turned out to be a better than expected Lightning defense. 

I’m feeling Overtime. I just have that feeling. Either way, the Blackhawks have to put it all together tonight. If they play good defense and stay out of the penalty box, hopefully the Hawks’ top players start coming through and get a W. LET’S GO HAWKS!!!

Stanley Cup Final vs. Tampa Bay: Game 2

 I almost think I’m maintaining my beard too well. It’s almost too well groomed. It’s comfortable, but not at all intimidating.

Game 1 couldn’t have gone any better. An inexperienced Tampa squad sat back and tried to protect a one gaol lead against the Blackhawks for the entire 3rd period. That type of passive play led to the Hawks’ comeback and exposed a lot of weaknesses in the Lightning’s game. The Hawks now have a chance to get greedy and bring home a 2-0 series lead on Monday and have the Lightning doubting themselves. 

There have been lots of storylines over the past two days. My favorites: 

1. Finnish Cold: The Emergence of Teuvo Teravainen

2. Tampa Bay’s attempts to keep Blackhawks fans out of their building. What a bunch of jagweeds. I’ll let this story speak for itself. 

But my absolute favorite has been the debate over the Hall of Fame candidacy of Duncan Keith. Um, yes. Especially if he continues to play the way he did in Game 1 of this series and pretty much the entire playoffs. I don’t care if Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane score 10 goals apiece the rest of this series (although that would be awesome), Keith has been the Blackhawks’ best player in these playoffs. All he needs is three more wins to secure a Conn Smythe Trophy, to go along with his 3rd Stanley Cup and lots of other hardware he’s acculumlated over the last 10 years. The best part is at 31, he isn’t slowing down yet and can probably play at this level for a few more years. So yes, we’re watching Duncan Keith cement his Future Hall of Fame status. 

I’m not entirely convinced that the reason Tampa Bay lost Game 1 was because they sat back and let the Blackhawks come at them in the 3rd period. The Lightning only scored one goal, and that one was pretty lucky. If the Hawks can play defense like they did Wednesday night and keep limiting Tampa’s chances, then the Hawks might to start figure things out on offense and run away with this thing. 

That’s why I like Q’s attitude in treating Game 2 as a “must win.” Coming back home with a 2-0 series lead would be a huge advantage for the Blackhawks. Whatever you did on Wednesday, you should do it again tonight. Keep the mojo working. LET’S GO HAWKS!!!

Stanley Cup Final vs. Tampa Bay: Game 1

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I’ve wondered before if it was ok to get my haircut in between rounds while growing a playoff beard. I’ve been told it’s ok. Look at Patrick Kane’s sweet, three-lined mullet. That thing is fresh. Lookin’ good Kaner! So am I.

After a season that drove us crazy, featuring nights where the Blachawks were clearly coasting through the regular season, after losing Patrick Kane for two months, we get the reward of watching Stanley Cup hockey. This is going to be awesome. The pace of this series will be much faster than anything we’ve seen in recent years. The Tampa Lightining are a run-and-gun type of team. Their best chance to win this series will be to outscore the Blackhawks, so we’re in for a thrilling series.

Tampa Bay features two potent scoring lines that are as good as any in the NHL. Spearheaded by their captain, Steven Stamkos, this team is fast and can score quickly. Playing alongside former Detroit Scum Valteri (Count) Filppula, Stamkos has scored a million goals in the last 10 games (all stats approximate). The Lightning also have a second line, known as “the Triplets,” that have been scoring a ton during these playoffs. Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and Nikita Kucherov are all young, fast, and seem to have some psychic connection to be able to find each other with passes all over the ice.

If Q is going to match strength against strength, Stamkos is going to get real familiar with Jonathan Toews in this series. Marcus Kruger and the 4th line will likely be tasked with marking the Triplets. The Blackhawks should have the advantage as far as forward depth because Tampa hasn’t gotten much of anything from their bottom two lines. Throughout most of the playoffs, Tampa coach Jon Cooper has preferred to play a 7th defenseman rather than a 12th forward, so their depth in this department will be tested even further. The Blackhawks have the capability of getting goals from all four of their lines, so hopefully this will be the difference in the series.

On defense, there isn’t a whole lot for Tampa fans to brag about. That being said, Victor Hedman is a stud. He is also a mountain of a man at 6’6″ and 230 lbs. But we’ve seen this movie before. The Blackhawks (well, Dustin Byfuglien) beat up Chris Pronger in 2010 until he wore out. The Hawks buzzed around the Tower of Zdeno Chara in 2013 until he wore out. I expect the same thing to happen to Victor Hedman. Anton Stralman is his defense partner to make an effective top pair. Beyond that, they don’t have anyone who the Hawks shouldn’t be able to puck possess to death over a 7 game series.

I’m not worried about the Blackhawks depth on defense, even though their top four have been logging heavy minutes. Tampa Bay isn’t anywhere near the physical team that Anaheim was, and I can’t imagine that they would try the same tactics Anaheim failed to execute. The Hawks’ top four should be fine and hopefully, with less pressure on the D, maybe they’ll get a little more out of their bottom pair as well.

A point of emphasis in this series, as is the case the longer you go on in the playoffs, will be on special teams play. The Lightning are killers on the power play. The best defense against a good power play, STAY OUT OF THE PENALTY BOX. The good thing is, the Blackhawks have typically been a well-disciplined team and don’t commit a lot of penalties, especially compared to Tampa Bay. So killing penalties when the Hawks do commit them is one of the most important factors in this series.

Tampa Bay’s goalie, Ben Bishop, is also a huge dude. Seems like Tampa has like four guys that are over 6’6″, so they aren’t lacking for size. Bishop is 6’7″, so he covers a lot of the net without having to move. But as with every huge goalie, that’s how you beat him. Get him moving side to side and there will be a lot of holes to shoot through. Bishop has been the most bipolar goalie in the playoffs, giving up 5 one game, then pitching a shutout the next. He was a Vezina trophy finalist last season and was injured before the playoffs began, so this year has been the first playoff action of his career. The formula for the Blackhawks to score on him will be the same as all of the others so far in these playoffs: get traffic in front of him and get pucks to the net.

My keys to winning the Stanley Cup are as follows:

1. Stay out of the penalty box.

2. Shut down Tampa’s top two lines.

3. Play smart on defense.

If the Blackhawks can limit the scoring of the Lightning by their top two lines and power play, it will be hard for them to score. Tampa Bay isn’t a great 5-on-5 team, which is the area the Hawks are the best at. It’s going to take a disciplined effort to slow Tampa down, but the Hawks have the talent on defense, and at forward, to get the job done. I think the Blackhawks can take this series in 5, but the puck bounces weird all the time and who wouldn’t want to see the Hawks finally raise the Cup on their home ice? So I, like most everyone else, have the Hawks in 6. LET’S GO HAWKS!!!

Western Conference Finals vs. Anaheim: Game 7

 I don’t know how many days it took to reach this point last year, but I think this beard is fuller than last year’s. I have no way of quantifying this other than just recollection and what other people tell me. But that has to be good, right? 

The Blackhawks are right back where they were last year. Game 7 of the Conference Finals. One win away from the Stanley Cup Final. Except this time they are on the road. Except this team is better than last year’s team. 

Game 6 was a perfect example of the way the Blackhawks are capable of playing when they put it all together for 60 minutes. We’ve been waiting for them to play like that consistently all year. I hope now that the Hawks have found that level of play, they’ll be able to bring it tonight because they’re going to need it. 

There’s so much at stake tonight. First is a chance at redemption. Last year’s conference finals were kind of a de facto championship round. The Blackhawks likely would have beaten the New York Rangers for the Stanley Cup last year, just as the LA Kings did. If one bounce, one deflection, one tiny thing goes differently in overtime of Game 7 vs. LA, the Hawks would have had that chance. So here they are. A year later and a better team, to try once more. 

I’ve been putting off talking about what the Blackhawks are going to look like next year because it’s always better to worry about what’s happening right now, as far as rooting for your favorite team is concerned. But those guys in that locker room know the score. While I think the overall effect it will have on the Hawks is overblown, Capocolypse II: Electric Boogaloo is coming. Some guys who have been around for awhile will be leaving either via trades or free agency so the Blackhawks can stay under the salary cap. 

So there’s another means of motivation for the Blackhawks. This is the last chance for this team, at least with some of the current core members, to win a championship together. I think the desperation will be there tonight. All that being said, it’s no guarantee that they will win. 

That’s all I’ve got to say. I hope that I can keep my beard and will be writing again next week. Grab a drink and whatever else you need to keep calm. Someone needs to, because I’ve been pacing back and forth in my living room for an hour already today. LET’S GO HAWKS!!!