By Rich Lindbloom
“The winner of the game is the player who makes the next to last blunder.” – Savielly Tartakower
Chess, like hockey, is a game that is divided into three distinct time frames. In chess they are called the opening, the middle game and the endgame. The Blackhawks misfortunes in the third period this year resurfaced some disturbing memories from back in the mid 70’s when I attended Loyola University. Mike McPartlin, (who was quite a hockey player for Mt. Carmel and Loyola in his day), and I used play chess quite often during that span of time. Even though in my mind I always dominated in the first two segments, Mike always took over in the endgame – or at least waited to pounce like a cougar on my inevitable blunder. I’m not sure I ever defeated him, although until this day I remain unconvinced he was the better player. I just had to congratulate him on his immense luck more than I would have liked too.
I’ve always taken a Mikhail Tal’s approach to chess – “attack!” Defense is for the pusillanimous. My friend played more in the mode of Tigran Petrosian, (think New Jersey Devil clutch and grab hockey), methodical, boring, but lethal. Till this day I can still see that poop eating grin on Mike’s face when I just didn’t dump the puck deep and force him to make the next move. When I saw his trademark grin, I knew I was finished. For those of you who have played chess, it was one of those moments when immediately following an ill-fated move you think, “Oops, I didn’t see that.”
Unfortunately you can, with overwhelming clarity I might add, instantly see your dimwitted opponents next four or five moves that will result in your kings premature demise. Of course Mike would immediately go into his post game analysis saying I had him and if it wasn’t for the blunder in move #35 I would have easily one. It was his polite way of saying, “I kicked your ass again.”
Sounds a bit familiar to me when analyzing the Hawks misfortunes this year, eh. Our endgame requires us to enter the third period with overwhelming material advantage. (i.e. – a three goal lead is almost a necessity.) We’ve actually lost several games this year despite outshooting and outplaying the opposition for large segments of the game. Last Saturday’s game against the Pred’s was so typical of our misfortunes in hockey’s version of the endgame. If the score is tied, or it’s a one goal game heading into the third, I know I’m not the only one thinking “Crap, here we go again.”
This may shock some of you, but I’m going to go way out on the limb here, predicting better fortunes for us in the second half of the season. I remain unconvinced that this team does not know how to finish. I don’t care what the knowledgeable hockey analysts claim, Pekka Rinne stole one from us last Saturday. That could have easily been a 4-1 or 4-2 game. Prime scoring chances were as abundant as a politician’s promises. The games sandwiched around that Predator comeback were 5-0 (Isles), 4-0 (Av’s) and 6-3 (Preds). Shades of last year?
One of the things that really stands out in my mind between this and the last two season’s are those games where we just exploded against the opposition. We administered some bonafide thwackings to teams the last two years. I recall saying that I couldn’t remember the Hawks ever scoring so many goals. This year, it seems like we’re constantly relying on Bobby Jenks, or worse yet Carlos Marmol, to bail us out. It’s been a chronic disease most of the season.
However, that appears to be changing. One of the reasons for my tempered optimism is the shots on goal disparity. Over the last 45 days or so we’ve been limiting the impotent opposition to 24.32 shots or less, while probably averaging around 36.57 ourselves. That’s going to start paying dividends sooner or later. I realize that it’s the prime chances that count, (that home game last year and even a few weeks ago against Anaheim come to mind), but at the very least I think it’s an indication of who’s chomping down on the moon pie.
The # 36 car has been huge contributor to our attack recently. As Gerald Abrahams noted, “Good position doesn’t win games – good moves do.” Didn’t Bolland’s highlight reel goal remind you a bit of Michael Jackson’s moon walk? You can’t tell me the #36 car didn’t have a white glove under his hockey glove as he danced around one of the best defenders in the game, Ryan Suter (+19). Can you say “Pick up your jock strap?” Clearly, it was a “Thriller!”
The Huet haters reared their ugly head last Sunday when the embattled, but quite capable, Marty Turco gave Corey Crawford a well deserved day off. I’ll have to be honest and admit when we tied the score at three I jokingly whispered, “Q should put Crawford in now.” I think the biggest concern is Turco’s style compared to Crawford’s. Fitfully intermittent would be an apt description of the #30 car’s inimitable style. Corey seems to play positionally better and is definitely smoother. Plus he’s taller, although at 6’2” it seemed he only came up to the chest of the sequoia’s in the net from Sweden, Rinne and Lindback. I’m thinking those two got to have a pretty big 5-hole. Right before Brouwer pulled the trigger on his second goal I heard him yell, “Tall don’t scare me.” As they say in British Columbia – “Timber!” or as Brou-dawg put it, “I’m a lumberjack and I’m ok…”
In my opinion, were pretty strong at the King position as we head into the endgame. One thing I really appreciate in Corey Crawford is his attitude while we work out the “issues” on the Penalty Kill. It’s a well known fact that the goalie has to be your best penalty killer. (At this point a Hail Mary, an Our Father or the Aaronic Blessing may be our best hope.) When Corey was asked about our Swiss Cheese PK he said, “If I would have made a couple of key stops, it would have helped.” As it is written, “God gives grace to the humble and the law to the proud.”
En Passant, (in passing), Philidor once noted, “Pawns are the soul of chess.” We continue to get significant contributions from our 3rd and 4th lines – the pawns of Blackhawk hockey. Largely unheralded, you can’t win the games without them. They are the masters of sacrifice as we advance into enemy territory. Pisani, Bickell, Skille, Stalberg and Dowell have all contributed to the teams 9-4-1 record in the last 14 games. Those are some fast cats. In Brian McFarlane’s book, Best of the Original Six he noted, “In 1925 Lester Patrick’s Victoria Cougars stunned the Montreal Canadiens and won the Stanley Cup largely because he tried something new: using two forward lines. Until then, most players were 60 minutes/game.” As in chess, you can’t win with just queens, rooks and bishops.
When you enter into the endgame period of chess, the pawns increase greatly in power. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m starting to get a good feeling about the four lines we’re rolling with. We could be very dangerous if someone teaches Jack Skille how to hit the broad side of a barn! Although just for the hell of it, and to prove my point, maybe Coach Q should roll with two lines and defensive pairings against the Wings on Saturday. At least for the first two periods. At this juncture, just make sure Bolland is on one of them. I believe it was Alekhine that said “I would give a finger for a pawn.”
Someone once said the problem with the endgame in chess is one bad move nullifies forty good ones. That seems to be a huge part of the Hawks struggles this year. As Emanuel Lasker said, “The hardest thing to win is a won game.” For those of us lucky enough to be in attendance for Sunday’s 6-3 victory, admit it; when you left you had a poop eating grin on your face. Predator affairs can be quite tedious to say the least – Sunday’s game was like a Fourth of July fireworks show. It was one of the best games I’ve been to this year.
So how do we sustain and improve upon Sunday’s electrifying endgame? As the season begins to take on a greater sense of urgency, do we play cautiously, waiting to pounce on the opposition’s mistakes? Or, do we take a Lasker approach “Without error there can be no brilliancy.” (Personally I like Alekhine’s response to 1.e4, that being Nf6 – basically let’s throw all caution to the wind.) Perhaps RoseLee had the answer she dug up from one of our correspondences; one game at a time, one period at a time, one shift at a time and one bone jarring hit at a time. Another option is to see if Mike McPartlin still has wheels – he was a force from the Dark Side when it came to the endgame. Although I’m pretty sure it was just because “he made the next to the last blunder!”
By the way – one last comment on the Chelios Heritage night debacle. My friends used to play on a team called Jr. Brick. They actually celebrated one of their many championships at a restaurant/bar owned by the Chelios’s. It never took too long for the table to resemble a “sea of green bottles.” At the time, Chris Chelios was a sophomore at Mt. Carmel and would play with them on occasion. My friend Tom gave one of the best descriptions I’ve ever heard of this future Hall of Famer, “He was a tough little sucker back then.”
Adding the element of being a “tough little sucker” would also greatly improve the Hawk’s endgame. As the French proverb states, “you can not play chess if you are kind hearted.”
Your move Hawks, the clock is ticking.
By Rich Lindbloom