A Fitting End

After the game last night I had so much I wanted to talk about while trying to come down off my emotional roller coaster I feel we were all put through so I thought it would be best to take a day and just collect my thoughts and hit some of the key points. So here they are:

1. That game was more complicated than an unhealthy relationship crammed into 65 minutes.

When the game started, the Hawks seemed focused and on top of their game. They were making passes and taking shots on net and everything just seemed to be clicking. Then out of nowhere they started playing on their heels and went on the defense. They were doing the dump and chase without much of the chase and couldn’t seem to get the puck through the neutral ice to save their lives. Things picked up again, the Hawks got aggressive and they increased the pace. Then starting the third on a very short power play I thought they would hold momentum and finish the game strong but they gave up a quick goal to even things up. Then came the go ahead goal that was waved off by the official with less than two minutes to go. So regulation ended with a 1-1 tie, just like the Hawks have seen so many other times this season. Both sides were playing great at the start of OT, it really was going to come down to who slipped up first. After a lot of strong shots on goal from both sides, Seabrook carries the puck across the blue line and takes a shot that somehow finds a way over Howard’s glove. Game over.

2. The Shaw line did far more than any other line on the ice.

Since the start of the season, Shaw and Bickell seemed to have a strong chemistry on the ice that proved to be a confidence boost for both. Even when Coach Q would change up the lines, they both had a strong presence on their lines and continued to make things happen. Last night for the majority of the game Shaw seemed to be at the center of every scrum and every major opportunity on net. While Kane and Hossa have been primarily invisible this post season and Toews is just starting to step up, Bickell, Shaw and Saad have been making things happen. With more experience, especially postseason experience, I feel like they are going to continue to have a major impact for this team the rest of this season and hopefully in the future. The organization really needs to recognize what they have in those three and do what they can to lock them up long-term.

3. Everyone needs to stop focusing on the Hjalmarsson goal that didn’t count and start focusing on the Seabrook goal that kept the Hawks in the fight for the Cup!

Everyone knows that the Blackhawks were majorly robbed of a regulation win last night. Chicago knows it, Detroit knows it and Stephen Walkom knows it. Not only was there no coincidental penalty since Saad did nothing wrong, but the scrum had no effect on what was unfolding in the Red Wings’ zone. If there was going to be a penalty, it should have been a delayed penalty on Quincey. However, had that hit happened against the glass instead of at the Wings’ bench it would have been a clean hit. It just looked a lot worse because Saad was at a 90 degree angle over the board. Not to mention, had Hjalmarsson not hit that shot, everyone would have been screaming for that to be a penalty. Unfortunately that wasn’t a call that could be corrected. I was happy to see that the Hawks didn’t let their emotions take over at that time. They remained level headed and didn’t take any stupid penalties. They seemed confident going into the OT and made something happen and proved that they were the better team.

I really don’t think there could have been a better end to that rivalry. As frustrating as that waved off goal was, it lead to an emotional, stressful, exciting overtime victory. Two teams fought so hard for victory that 60 minutes wasn’t enough. Both teams are well coached and well matched. Ultimately the Blackhawks proved themselves to be the better team and I’m sure it’s a Game 7 Hawks and Wings fans alike will remember for a very long time.

So now it’s time to focus on LA. The Hawks only have a couple days to rest up and get to work on home ice again. Chicago and LA haven’t seen much of each other this season but both teams have really strong goalies. Crawford has been extremely strong between the pipes. He’s really seeing the puck and anticipating shots. Quick has been equally strong this postseason. Not to mention the Kings are defending Stanley Cup champions so they will be hungry for a repeat. It’ll be another great series to watch and hopefully the Blackhawks will come out on top.

…One more to go

The boys pulled it off again! The Blackhawks have come back from a 3-1 deficit and have forced a Game 7 against the Detroit Red Wings.

Tonight’s game was intense and energetic, there was a sense of urgency and purpose and some real confidence in their game! It helped that for what seemed like the first time all series long, the Hawks were getting a few lucky bounces and had some right place, right time kinds of passes and interceptions but what made the difference was what they did with the puck off those lucky bounces. Even more, they put the puck on net! There was still some dump and chase going on but the puck was being shot at Howard from the blue line a heck of a lot more tonight and that is what creates second chance opportunities.

Crawford was also solid in net for the Hawks. So many times I caught myself holding my breath and praying that he would make a clutch play to hold the lead and shot after shot he was there. Yes, he let a couple through but that first goal was just a lucky rebound for Eaves. He just happened to be in the perfect spot to put that puck over Crawford’s glove. Crawford stopped 35 of Detroit’s 38 shots on goal and ended the night with a .921 save percentage. ANYONE that wants to doubt Crawford’s talent between the pipes seriously needs to go back and re-watch tonight’s game.

To anyone who may have thought that Detroit is the better team, I want you to think about this….Detroit has played a consistent game all series long. Even when they were down 4-2 tonight they never changed their game. They were still aggressive, making good passes and getting shots on net. The difference was the way the Blackhawks stepped up to make plays. The reason the Hawks won tonight was not because Detroit played worse then they have been, it was because the Hawks played better. I mentioned how there seemed to be a spark in the second period of game 5 where they seemed to get back on track and started playing their game again. The Hawks were controlling the tempo and were communicating and anticipating on the ice and that carried over into tonight’s game. It also didn’t hurt to have Frolik score that amazing insurance goal on Howard’s glove side, which is almost impossible to do! There was chemistry in all four lines tonight and the defense really showed up to play as well. Keith and Seabrook actually looked like their old selves on the ice! Keith was bringing the puck up the ice through the neutral zone and occasionally taking a shot on goal. That is something the Hawks have definitely been missing since the 2010 season and hopefully they can find a way to re-energize that offensive contribution they used to get from the defensive lines, particularly the Keith-Seabrook combo.

So now the focus is on Game 7. It is going to be an incredible game. The last time these two teams will face off against each other. I guarantee it is going to be a full on battle. Tensions will be at their peak. However, all the pressure is on the Hawks. Detroit has made it farther in this postseason than they were ever expected to. The Blackhawks have been a favorite from early in the season to be competing in the finals for the Cup. They are going to have to come prepared Wednesday night because Detroit is going to bring everything they’ve got, they’ve got nothing to lose.

So as a fan, we talked about this, stay positive, support your team and believe. Trust that the Hawks will be focused, confident and hungry for a Game 7 victory and end this long-standing rivalry the way it should be, raising their sticks at center ice with the win.

One down….

The Blackhawks pulled off a big win last night against the Red Wings and are still alive in the series. The focus now shifts to Monday night. Last night the team showed up to play. The game started off a little bit shaky, passes weren’t quite connecting and they were still struggling to get the puck into the offensive zone without doing a dump and chase, but early in the second period it was like some sort of cosmic shift had occurred. Suddenly there was a familiar jolt to the game, there was speed, communication and trust! You know things are going well when passes are connecting and players don’t even have to move their stick to receive it. The guys were able to anticipate where their teammate was going to be and get the puck to that spot. Then when Toews finally scored on the power play and put the Hawks up 3-1, we began to see the team we have been missing since the start of this series.

Bryan Bickell started everything off in the first period on a second chance opportunity with a practically wide open net. Good things happen when you position yourself in front of the net, something the Blackhawks seem to be slowly improving upon. Shaw, again in front of the net, had a perfect redirect on the power play to put the Hawks back up by one in the second. After a big keep by Keith at the blue line, Toews added to the lead with another power play opportunity and he banks a shot right off of Howard’s helmet. That entire possession unfolded beautifully. It was Keith to Hossa with a strong pass to Toews who bounced the puck from his skate to his stick and hesitates only a second to bank his shot off Howard and into the net. I could have watched that replay 20 times and it never would have gotten old. It’s like he was aiming for Howard with a strong wrist shot as if to say, ‘I want you to remember this one.’ Then Shaw scores the dagger on a wrap around in the third to secure the Blackhawks another chance on Monday night.

So now it’s time to mentally and physically prepare for Monday. The Hawks have a rediscovered confidence they need to carry with them to Detroit. It’s not going to be an easy win. Chicago will have to battle in this one, hard. They have to continue connecting with passes and control the tempo of the game because if they allow Detroit to disrupt their flow too much, then it will be like watching a replay of games 3 and 4 all over again. However, if the Hawks relax, stay focused, and Crawford continues to shine the way he did last night, they will come out with a win and stay alive for one final contest versus one of their greatest rivals. Without looking too far into the future, could you just imagine what a game 7 would look like?

The Job of a Fan…

I am so tired of all the negativity surrounding the Blackhawks this postseason. I know they have not been playing well and I know there seems to be a lack of intensity and I know the gut reaction is to be angry and lash out about all the things the team could be doing better, but what good does that do? Chicago is repeatedly praised for the commitment and loyalty the city has to it’s professional teams and yet all I have read, seen and heard is how much of a disgrace the Hawks are, how much of a disappointment they are and how many people have written the team off after Game 3 of this series against the Red Wings.

There is no doubt this series has been a tough one to watch. Toews is struggling on face offs and getting shots on net, Hossa has practically been invisible, at times it is impossible to find the defense in position and Crawford has let one or two goals by that should have been easy saves. I am not going to make excuses for any of these things, they are all true. However, what good does it do for the fans to focus on the negatives? Let the coaching staff worry about what needs to change, who isn’t performing up to their standards or what line combinations may spark a new energy or chemistry. The job of a fan is to support their team no matter what.

You hear it in post game interviews, how grateful the team is to have the support of the fans. You even hear other players talk about how there is no other stadium in the league that has an atmosphere like the United Center does when the Hawks are playing. So where did that go?

Right now this team is playing as if they are already defeated. There is a lack of energy and urgency, there doesn’t seem to be a bit of joy in their game. This is a team that was acknowledged halfway through this shortened season as being the team that saved hockey! A team that worked so hard during the extended offseason to stay in shape and keep their chemistry. Unfortunately, right now, they have hit a dry spell. It just so happens to be extra unfortunate that it is in the postseason where it’s a win or go home battle. Yes, they have lost three games in a row. They have backed themselves into a corner and it is going to take aggressive, white-knuckle play to get out of it but if there is any team I believe could pull it off, it’s the Hawks. It is a team of strong veterans and eager rookies. The Hawks have a very strong captain and even stronger coach. The team has all the pieces, they just aren’t connecting perfectly right now but I trust in my team that they will work hard to regain that chemistry and find a way to win.

The Blackhawks have to play again on Saturday on home ice at the UC; that is what they need to focus on. Not the fact that they have to win three games to win the series, not that losing one game means the end of an incredible, record-setting season, just Saturday. One game against a strong, aggressive team. Everyone knows they have to win 3 straight but Detroit just did it! And if Detroit found a way, Chicago can find a way. So let the coaches and the players focus on fine-tuning the game and working out all the kinks. As a fan, focus on supporting your team. Focus on the fact that your team found a way to win 24 games to open the season. Focus on how amazing it would be to win the final series against the Red Wings and continue on through the post-season. Support your team, be positive, stop criticizing them because I can guarantee they are being much harder on themselves than you are. So show up, wear your t-shirts or sweaters and be proud, no matter what happens.

Wait…They’re changing Wrigleyville to Rickettsville?!

NO! They’re not! So to all the disgruntled Cubs fans I want you to take a break from making your picket signs and think about this for a second.

Are you a fan of the Chicago Cubs or of Wrigley Field? Yes, I know they go hand-in-hand but if you had to choose one or the other, which would you choose? Although I’m sure I don’t need to remind you, the Cubs have not won a World Series in over a century…a CENTURY! Clearly something needs to change.

The Cubs need to bring in game changing players but to do that they need money. How do you get money? Advertisement deals. Fat, juicy advertisement deals, preferably those which can be displayed on a giant television screen, some might even call it a jumbo-tron!

So if fans want to spend another hundred years convincing themselves that next year will be the year, then Mr. Ricketts, don’t change a thing. Sell the team and take your money and educated plans to a city that understands what it is you are trying to do. However, if fans want a team that can compete on a regular basis and maybe even win a championship, then support these new renovations. The team is staying in Wrigleyville. You don’t have to travel to Rosemont or Naperville or Schaumburg or anywhere else! No one is ripping down the ivy or tearing down the scoreboard, so take a breath, crack open a beer and allow Tom Ricketts to do his job. Then maybe, just maybe in the next few years when you utter that friendly phrase “Maybe next year,” you can actually mean it.

Blackhawks Playoff Hockey Round 1 Game 1

I cannot believe how many people seem to be so down on Chicago after last night’s game! There is no doubt the Hawks came out shaky at the start of the game, and yes, Minnesota’s one and only goal is certainly one Crawford would like back, but from then on Corey Crawford was solid. He blocked shots, was alert and aware, and made some pretty incredible saves. Of course I would feel better if Emery were healthy to back up Crawford, but can we please have a little faith in a goaltender who is a major reason for the team’s success this season? I am more concerned about the lack of urgency and aggressiveness I saw with the offensive line than I am with the goaltending.

By now, everyone should understand that the Blackhawks are not wired to be a physical or aggressive team, they are made up of skill players. The Hawks will beat a team with jukes, stick/puck handling, speed and endurance, not by how hard they can hit. I didn’t see it much last night but I have seen it improve this season. Most importantly, I am starting to see a stronger presence in front of the net. So many goals can be scored off rebound opportunities or because of the obstructed view of the goalie. Viktor Stalberg has really made an effort to be a strong net presence as well as Andrew Shaw. That is a position that has to be fought for and those guys really do what they can. Now Stalberg is 6’3, 209 lbs so for him to physically hold that spot is tough, but he shouldn’t have trouble holding his own. Shaw on the other hand is 5’11, 165 lbs. For those of you who have heard me talk about how much I love Andrew Shaw, this is just one of the many reasons why! He’s not afraid to fight for position, he doesn’t back down from a challenge, and he is so scrappy! I really look forward to seeing how much Shaw is going to improve as he matures and adds on more weight these next few years.

But back to last night’s game, I don’t think the reason the Hawks didn’t dominate is not because they were cocky, I think it was nerves, excitement and the transition into playoff hockey. The Hawks are expected to succeed this postseason. After the record-breaking start to the season and winning the Presidents’ Trophy, there is a lot at stake. Many have said their season would mean nothing if they don’t win the Cup. I don’t really agree with that, but that’s a lot of pressure! Not to mention Josh Harding had an incredible game last night! For a guy who hasn’t played since February and didn’t even know he was going to play until about 20 minutes before puck drop, it sure didn’t take him very long to shake off the cobwebs!

So now game 1 is over, the nerves have been settled, the transition has been made, and the Hawks are up 1-0 in the series. So let’s all take a deep breath, hope for a speedy recovery for Ray Emery and Dave Bolland, and look forward to Friday. Have a little faith in a very strong coaching staff, a Captain who leads his team by example and a team who recovered from a lockout by having the best record in the NHL.

My last night as an intern at The Score

http://chicago.cbslocal.com/show/laurence-holmes/

Everyone please go check out a great conversation I had with Laurence Holmes on my last night interning at The Score!  I’m going to miss seeing everyone there twice a week, but I have learned so much and I can’t even begin to thank everyone enough!  Laurence, Herb, Joe and Brendan in particular, all put up with my constant questions, fixing my mistakes, and were kind enough to help me in any way I needed.  So thank you guys all so much!  It is certainly an experience I will always carry with me wherever I end up!