By Rich Lindbloom
In the movie A Christmas Story the only thing that saves the town bully, Scut Farkus, from total annihilation, was Ralphie’s mom. The refs may have saved Backes on Saturday when Danny Carcillo finally had enough of the Blues attempt at intimidation. In a reversal of their game plan when they shut the Hawks out on Nov 8th, 3-0, the Blues regressed to malfeasance and thuggery as an ill advised strategy. Truly, you’d think they’d finally get it by now. It was a statement game for the Blues, a game where they once and for all hoped to dispel the aura of Blackhawk supremacy. Next time, maybe they should stick to playing hockey. To the Blues credit, they didn’t resort to the obligatory tomfoolery their fans have grown accustomed to at the end of the game. The term ‘sore losers’ has been equated with St Louis Blues hockey for quite some time now.
The Blues came into the game with a 8-2-2 record since Hitchcock squeezed himself behind the Blues bench. I started getting excited about this match up a week ago. If the truth be known, I wanted to win this game more than any other in the past week, maybe all season. The Blues fans, who were justifiably very excited to finally see David Peron skating again, were baying for blood from the puck drop at the opening faceoff. Although diehard Hawk fans may disagree with me, I was quite happy to see Perron back also. However, the normally sane Sean Gallagher, editor of the StLouisGameTime, wrote a scathing piece about fans appreciating the oppositions players and then tore into to our “Red Army” elite type players. (Yes, they are that good when they get up for a game.) Apparently, showing some appreciation for the opposition is a assign of pathetic weakness in the backwoods.
It’s no secret that the Blues fans are at best a hair above the Cheese Heads, although they are both clearly lingering at the bottom of the food chain. The loyalty to their team is somewhat staggering, given the results of the past few seasons. (I’m pretty sure excessive alcohol consumption plays into their allegiance.) It’s obvious when reading that aforementioned publication, that they hate the Blackhawks, envying our Stanley Cup and sophisticated, far superior talent. While they’ll never admit it, any Blues fan would trade Backes, Perron and Oshie in a heartbeat for Toews, Kane and Hossa. Secretly, they covet the pugilistic skills of John Scott, longing for the day when he’s acquired. Scott and Polak would be their dream defensive pairing. So where does this inbred antipathy for the Hawks emanate from? It probably could best be explained by considering a moment in a “locals” bar in the U. P., on a weekend skiing trip.
Now I don’t know if you’ve ever been in one, but local bars in Wisconsin are a world all of their own. There’s plenty of characters hanging around the joint to give it atmosphere. I happened to be sitting at the bar, next to what could best be described as a 250-pound human bowling ball. (Think Cam Janssen’s sister.) ‘She’ was about 5’ 7”, somewhat muscular and not all with it – again note the striking similarities to Blues fans. She clearly could have mopped the floor with me. At any rate, as I observed her down a few shots and take some swigs of her Lienenkugels, she started muttering to herself under her breath. (Think any Blues fans we’re muttering Saturday?!) “I don’t like that tall girl over there. I want to fight that tall girl.” Upon further questioning, that tall girl turned out to be my wife-not good. As I rapidly sobered up, I began to consider our best options on survival; reasoning with a bowling ball was not one of them. Somehow, we escaped unscathed but that moment left me pondering the inordinate hatred Blues fans and players have towards the Blackhawks.
The Blackhawks Magazine sold in the UC lobby had an excellent article last month on Dave Bolland. (This, in addition to a great Ann Landers type column called Ask a Tough Guy – bet not many of you knew John Scott has a degree in Mecahnical Engineering.) At one point the article on Bolland asks various people what they thought about his knack of getting under the skin of many of the league’s best players. Reverting to “Flyer Mode” momentarily, Danny Carcillo noted, “First off, you take a look at the guy and you want to punch him in the face right away just because of the way he looks.” Think back to Saturday’s game as the latest example. As Bolland began to lock horns with Backes, Davey’s blank, soul searching stare caused Backes to head butt him. Sadly, another golden opportunity for the refs to mete out justice went down the drain. Possessed with possibly only a rudimentary brain, Backes finally cracked. I’m sure if he tried to reason with Bolland, calmer heads would have prevailed. However, like the “lady” in the Wisconsin bar, Backes seems to have the mindset of, “I don’t like that Rat over there. I don’t like that Conn Smythe trophy winner. I want to fight them.”
For one reason or another, it’s rather apparent that David Backes has a strong disdain for Toews. He goes out of his way to try to intimidate and hit him every chance he gets. When Toews went to the defense of Kaner, who was trying to be goaded into a fight with one of the other Blues rum dummies, Backes came flying in and ripped the captain’s helmet off. Danny Carcillo came flying in like an angry hornet, in defense of Toews! It may have been the defining moment of the game. Toews is not known for his fighting abilities and Carcillo basically said “I’m the one you’re looking for Backes.” That seemed to really throw a monkey wrench in the Blues captain’s gooneristic ways. “Dang, I wanted to kick Toews’s butt, not some Italian wanna be Rocky,” thought Backes. The Blues were never the same the rest of the game – it was clearly another Ralphie triumphing over Scut moment.
Carcillo had an extremely strong game. How he gets a penalty for his discussion with Backes, when Polak can skate up to Stalberg two seconds after the whistle is blown and punch him in the face, is a mystery. At least the ref gave Polak a serious talking to, letting him know the next time he punched someone in the face, he may have to consider calling a penalty. It almost seemed like at times we were playing two adversaries. Sobotka’s obvious trip of Brunette, led to the Blues second goal. That’s when the Hawks downshifted into Hossa-mode. Like most teams, the Blues didn’t really have an answer for that.
Hossa’a first tally was set up by a cerebral play by perennial Norris Trophy candidate, Duncan Keith. He stepped up on the PK and intercepted a pass, quickly sending Hossa on his merry way. Ya know, any goal is a good goal, but there’s nothing like a player just flat out ripping a shot by a goalie, mano y mano. It feels so much like victory. Things rapidly began to disintegrate for the Blues from this point on. Based on nothing more than the eye test, the Hawk forwards seemed to have little problem outmaneuvering the big, but not so fleet footed Blue’s d-men. Led by ‘nozzle extraordinaire Barret Jackman and his sidekick Roman Polak, the Blues did seem to excel in post whistle skirmishes that had little effect on the outcome. Really though, they should probably conserve and focus their energy on stopping the fleet footed Hawk forwards who ran rampant in their zone all night. If not for Elliot, this could have been a lot uglier.
On the Hawk blue line, it appears Niklas Hlajmarrson has a pulse. I thought, without doubt, he should have been one of the stars of the game. The Swedish puck magnet, currently a +5, recorded his third assist this season on Toews goal. Aside from that rare offensive contribution, Niklas was exceptional in his own zone. It was such a welcome sight to see “Good Niklas” out on the ice against the Blues. In fact, he just may have momentarily quieted the growing list of his detractors. After his performance Saturday I think a few of even his most outspoken critics would agree that we might want to keep him around for a few more games. Monty and O’D continued to play substantial minutes, helping to take the burden off of Keith and Seabs. While O’D appeared to play a bit sluggish on Saturday, he’s played some pretty solid hockey over the last week. His assist to Brunette in the Islander game was a play you’d expect out of Kaner, not some 40 yr old, lumbering defenseman. Then again, maybe it was just a misfired shot on net! After so many calls this week for a acquiring a shutdown d-man, I may be giving our blue line way too much credit. Still, I don’t think our third d-pairing has been the disaster it is often made out to be.
Of course, your defense always looks better when the man between the pipes steps to the forefront. In a bit of a surprising move, Coach Q went with Ray Emery against the Blues. He played as solid as the space between most of the Blues players ears, in clearly his best performance of the year. Coupled with Corey’s tremendous third period and shootout heroics on Friday night, momentarily at least, the Hawk fan’s goalie critics have been silenced. I say momentarily because at a seconds notice they are prepared to rear their ugly head. Remember when Jeremy Roenick said we couldn’t win the Stanley Cup with Niemi and Huet?
Some quick offensive observations: I thought the Frolik/Bolland/Smith line brought a lot of energy to the ice. Frolik was robbed by Elliot a couple of times. He deserved the empty netter at game’s end – even though the game had been over for quite some time already. Stalberg/Mayers/Brunette is looking like a pretty decent fourth line. If I were to give an award out to the most improved player on the Hawks, it would go to Viktor Stalberg. The guy has been flying around the ice and not avoiding contact. He skates like the roadrunner. Mayers is the type of player that is just a perfect piece to the puzzle when were playing a team like the bellicose Blues. Despite being at a serious size disadvantage, I loved the way he went after Reaves in the first period.
Well now that we put the Blues in their place, (do you realize we have to play those nozzles four more times this year?), it’s time to give Phoenix a little payback. If the Hawks bring the “intensity” and energy to the rink that they did against the Blues, Mike Smith may end up getting pulled for the second time in two games. Hopefully we’ll play another game that gets Pat Foley as excited as he was on Saturday. One of the best games he’s called in awhile. I loved how he kept referring to the old times when describing the antipathy so prevalent in both teams. Now that’s hockey!
I thought last week before we started our current winning streak that were about do for one of those 8-2-2 stretches ourselves. Hawk fans, wouldn’t that be a nice present to find under the tree. And trust me, don’t fall for the old double dog dare trick.