By Rich Lindbloom
Jaroslav Halak gave it the old college try Tuesday night, no doubt about that. He made 43 saves, valiantly trying to withstand the fury, unrelenting attack and irresistible force unleashed by a Blackhawk team that appears to be taking matters into their own hands. If the Blues are the number one team in hockey, (deservedly so I might add), I’m a little more optimistic about our playoff chances. Actually, I’ve had the Hawks penciled in all the way to the Cup Finals for some time now.
The 65 minute beat down over a lethargic, uninspired, out worked and undermanned Blues squad does wonders to bolster my confidence. Think about it – the team noted by several St. Louis Game Time posters as being too thin, just defeated Lunquist, narrowly lost to Quick in a shootout and made Halak stand on his head for most of the game Tuesday night. Does that sound like a team that’s hanging on by a thread?
I was fortunate enough to be in attendance for the game against the Blues, certainly one of the most bombastic affairs I’ve attended all year. I noticed a middle aged black couple who appeared to be taking in their first Blackhawk game in our section. I kept an eye on them throughout the contest, wondering if they were enjoying themselves and understanding what was transpiring on frozen pond. Did they realize they were watching perhaps our most loathsome adversary? Did they think, “I wonder if they fight this much at every game?” Did she become a bit unnerved by a 58 year old grey haired, aching back, hearing impaired, raving lunatic in a Keith jersey hollering, “Hit em, kill em. Break his neck,” when David Backes tried to take out the ten pin in our net?(I’m still not sure why I punched my own hand five times while hollering; it was as if I were the one administering the beating Public Enemy #1, the Blues nozzle extraordinaire David Backes. St. Louis Blues games just tend to do that to you.)
Her husband seemed to smile a lot more, soaking in the Roman Coliseum type atmosphere. I really wanted to talk to them but they were a few seats to far over. I could have at least explained to them what off sides and icing were, and assure them that no lions would be let out on the ice. I would have also let them in on the only four phrases you need to know in the 300 level to sound like you know what you’re talking about; “Hit Someone,” “Skate,” “Shoot,” and the all-encompassing “Kill the Ref!” What I really wondered though, is if they enjoyed themselves. As far as hockey goes, this was the crème de la crème. It simply does not get any better. I’m not sure if his wife will be back, but I’m pretty sure I could picture her husband in a Mayers jersey before long. If that game won’t turn you into a fan, hockey is just not your cup of tea.
Now this is just me thinking again, so take it for what it’s worth. After getting “Kanered” I could just picture Backes sipping on some Celestial Seasoning’s Wellness Tea back at the hotel, while recovering from Kaner’s crushing blow. (The psychological damage was probably far worse than the physical damage, even if Backes was very slow to get up.) There is no word from Shanahammer’s office yet on a possible suspension. Reportedly, Patrick hollered out, “This is for Toews,” as he sent the 6’3” 225# bellicose Blues captain sprawling into the middle of next week. There was little doubt in anyone’s mind that the Hawks had passed the “Punk Test,” as we exited the United Center in a jovial mood.
As we traipsed to our car I noticed a family from St Louis, (handsomely decked out in Blues garb), and struck up a conversation with them. It was almost as if they were relieved that I wasn’t going to mug them or mock them. Believe me, there was a lot of opportunity to claim complete superiority over the Blues that night. I’m always impressed by people who will travel hundreds of miles to see their team play in another city. The dad’s observation on Patrick Kane pretty much said it all; “Man is Kane fast.” I think he was a bit afraid his two charming daughters were thinking about trading their Oshie jersey’s for a #88! Who in their right mind could blame them?
Kane was simply “Black Magic” with the puck all night long. “A little juke, a little fake, low hard glove side,” pretty much described the game of keep away Kane played with the befuddled Blue’s d-men. The coup de tat was when Kaner slid the kitchen sink through Halak’s five hole. It’s amazing how this little bugger has stepped up in Toews absence. Let me ask you Hawk fans who were demanding Kane be traded for a “real” hockey player a couple of weeks ago; would you take David Backes over Kane? I’ll take our Kanocchio any day and twice on Sunday.
Kane would have won the “Wam bam, thank you mam,” award if it wasn’t for the truculent play of our own Eddie Munster, Brent (Capone) Seabrook. Simply put, he spent most of the evening splattering Blues players all over the ice. I actually think he thought he was playing some kind of sick game of bumper cars. His game tying goal was merely the icing on the cake. The rest of his game was meat and potatoes; mashed potatoes; with a lot of gravy on them and a cherry on top.
Marian Hossa also joined in the “making the Blue’s nozzle’s pay” game plan, recording six hits. Two of them were of the bone crunching variety. My boss at work has been critical of Hossa’s lack of aggressiveness lately, pointing out he never finishes a check. Something must have set him off at about the ten minute mark of the first period because he finally started using his body as a weapon. I believe it was Hossa who knocked one of the Blues nozzle’s into our bench. Hossa and Kane throwing their weight around? What’s the world coming to? “Feel the Pain!” – Clearly has become the Hawks motto as we advance towards playoff madness.
Big Hoss also made a great play on his assist on Brunette’s surgical strike. He downshifted into second gear, allowing Bruno to catch up with him and then feathered a perfect pass to Andrew’s eager stick as he chugged past Barret Jackman. I jokingly noted that Hoss realized that unlike in football, where you want to lead the wide receiver, with Bruno the best ploy is to throw it right at him. We are now 9-2-0 when Brunette scores. I still think this old fart is the wild card for us in the playoffs. By the way, did you notice that ineffable back check in the first by Hossa helping to break up a certain 2 on 1 for the Blues?! If I were a girl I’d be trembling watching the awesome power of Marian’s massive thighs pumping like pistons in a Ferrari! While on the subject of pumping…
Brandon Bollig just may have turned the tide for the Hawks after we went down 3-1, despite outshooting the Blues about 12-5 at that point. At least that’s what a lot of us meatball’s in the 300 section were thinking! (You know, the one’s hitting their hands so hard they have to ice them after the game.) Bollig wasted no time discussing with the Blues villain Ryan Reaves the wickedness of his ways. Despite the borderline clean check that Reaves hit Mayers with, Bollig once again took umbrage, pummeling the Blues enforcer. Was it a dumb penalty – yeah probably – but it is quite clear that Bollig understands the meaning of the phrase, “Hit Someone!” That is sort of speaking Coach Q’s language.
Not to be bested by his cellmate, errr I mean linemate, Jamal was jamming on B. J. Crombeen’s ugly mug. I swear, after every punch, Crombeen would say, “Yeah yeah, that was a good one,” before getting tagged again. I don’t know what it is with Jammer, but the dude not only seems to win every fight he’s in, he also rarely gets tagged? He also has been using his body quite effectively as a weapon on the forecheck. He plays with the orneriness of a Terry Ruskowski. I didn’t see it, but reportedly he was taunting the entire Blues bench I think after Bollig quickly dispatched Reaves. Maybe he can give our new tough guy, Kaner, a few lessons on the heavy bag shown on that commercial.
Our d-corp acquitted themselves with considerable aplomb, despite allowing three fluky goals in the first. Hjalmarsson caught the brunt of the fans ire on the first tally, leaving Langenbrunner by his lonesome and then apparently screening Razor. This gaffe pales in comparison to our great misfortune if Hjarmal’s is still suffering from the concussion symptoms he’s been battling. He didn’t play the last 30 minutes of the game which was perhaps the darkest moment of the night. Guess we’ll have to keep singing that “If I had a Hjammer” song, for a while more. Praying for a speedy recovery for my favorite Sweede.
Johnny Oduya continues to win over the Blackhawk faithful, logging 29 minutes against the Blues. Do you think Coach Q has a new pet? Number 27 made a great play keeping the puck in the Blues zone on Stalberg’s deflection past Halak. Although he was probably responsible for the yeoman’s share of the Blues second tally, he made numerous sagacious decisions throughout the night. Is it just me, or does it seem the Hawks power play has shown signs of life with Oduya on the right point?
I remarked on the secondcityhockey.com website that Dylan Olsen is starting to remind me of a player who used to wear number 3 for the Hawks, meaning Keith Magnuson. One of the posters immediately noted, “Charlie” Manson was always one of my favorites. Hell a hybrid of those two screams, “Stay out of our crease!” Regardless, daydreaming about how good this kid might become would probably even cheer up Sleepy Jeanie. RIP Davy Jones. When it comes to the Hawks chances this post season, “I’m a Believer!”
A player who continues to make believers out of all but the wisest hockey fans, (and I think you know who you are), is Chicken Hawk. The best description I’ve heard about Andrew Shaw came from Chicago Native Son; “He’s an f…ing little work horse.” I think the unverified report that Dave Bolland thinks Shaw is crazy, is all you need to know what the feisty forward brings to the Hawks. I’m not naïve, and realize he had an active part in the Blues third goal, but the kid goes to the dirty areas of the ice like there’s an ice cream truck there. Shaw was credited with 5 hits, several times abusing a lumbering Blues d-man. Although when he started bumping it up with 6’1” 225# Roman Polak in front of the Blues net, it did confirm my suspicion he’s missing a few marbles!
Along with his line mates, Bolland and Bickell, they shadowed the Blues top line like a glove, generating numerous scoring chances themselves. Bolland had “9” shots on goal, one of those a slapper at the end of the third that Halak barely got a piece of before it glanced off his mask and into the netting above the glass. This line was indefatigable on Tuesday. Bickell was only credited with one hit, probably because on two other hits he ended up on the ground. They were still major collisions though, that impeded any forward progress for the Blues. It seems to me that Bicks is skating with verve and actually has stick handled surprisingly well lately. We certainly need the energy this line has brought to the table.
Before I wrap it up, I need to make one more observation. It’s an observation that might lead many to believe I’m playing with less marbles than Chicken Hawk. Marcus Kruger is starting to remind me of Toews in many ways. While he doesn’t possess Tazer’s funny faces, there’s a work ethic at both ends of the ice, and the seriousness of our sorely missed Captain. While Patrick Sharp is still the anchor of the second line, Both Freddy and Stals have picked their game up a notch. Kruger put on some stickhandling moves through center ice in the Kings contest that seem to be a harbinger of his burgeoning confidence. It was somewhat humorous when both Freddy and Sharp raised there sticks after each one thought they had scored on Quick. Sharps face seemed to say, “What are you raising your stick for, that was my goal. Now get over here and give me a hug.”
Well, there have been a lot of hugs going around lately, as the Hawks continue to battle back from significant injuries. Despite a tortuous schedule that seems us having to face one Vezina Trophy candidate after another, our head is still above water. Many Hawk fans have gone from demanding coaching changes and dismissing everyone but Toews next season, to wondering if the Blues are going to be our second round opponent. I’m not sure there would be any survivors if the Hawks and Blues ever locked horns in a playoff series. As we head into Dallas Friday, I’m reminded of an incident that happened to me in Seattle a few summers back.
My wife and I were with two friends strolling through the streets when we stopped by a Starbucks. As we exited, a homeless man made eye contact with me, and started mindlessly rambling like a St Louis Blues fan. My wife and our friends abandoned me and were laughing their arses off from about half a block down. I thought it would be rude to just leave the guy in the middle of his thoughts, (although I’m not sure there was a beginning or an end), but after five minutes of hearing about his intergalactic voyages I said, “Hmmm, well I got to go.” He immediately turned away from me and hollered “Next!”
Hopefully after Friday night, and each of the other ten remaining games we also will be hollering “Next!” By the time we get to the Final’s, I have a sneaking suspicion there may be a middle aged black couple hollering “Shoot!”
Rich Lindbloom is the author of the book War Drums in the Distance, a collection of articles Rich authored on the Blackhawks in their path to the 2010 Stanley Cup.