Apr 102012

The Angel of Playoff Death

By Rich Lindbloom

“On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every first born-both men and animals-and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the lord. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you.” – Exodus12: 12-13

And you thought Pharaoh Shanahan’s rulings were severe!

The Jewish Feast of Passover, so inextricably bound with Christianity, is one of the most incredible events I’ve ever pondered. The Readers Digest version is God rescues the descendants of Jacob from the intense persecution they were facing in Egypt. He accomplished this through an obedient servant, (a servant who initially tried to convince God he had the wrong man for the job), and a series of ten plagues. The last plague was the death of the first born throughout Egypt, unless the door posts were covered by the blood of a one year old male lamb, without defect. One of the most unique aspects of the Bible is it’s almost completely devoid of humor-although I would say that God’s command of finding a male without blemish comes about as close to humor as you can get.

For the moment, let’s just assume they were able to locate a spotless male lamb. It is written that the Angel of Death passed over the homes with the blood on the door. Finally screaming “Uncle” the Pharaoh relents, reluctantly allowing the Israelites skip town-sort of. The Bible states 600,000 men head for the Promised Land-and there was probably an equal amount of women. Guessing that each couple had two children, we can surmise over 2 million people made the trek to the Red Sea. Pharaoh changes his mind however, pursuing the Israelites as far as the Red Sea. It was about this time that more than a few people began questioning Moses’s leadership abilities. The grumblings and second guessing were just beginning. Let’s just say there were a few people who were calling for a coaching change at this juncture of the season. Wouldn’t you love to know what they were thinking when they stood on the opposite side of the Red Sea? As the song goes, “Where do we go from here? Which is the way that’s clear?”

To think all the Hawks have to do is figure out Mike Smith and overcome their own power play to advance towards hockey’s equivalent of the Promised Land. Coach Q has got it made-pass the leeks and onions.

I guess it’s sort of fitting we’re heading into the desert to face our Quarter Final opponent. Moses spent 40 years in the desert when he first left Egypt, but returned to Egypt to rescue the Israelites after talking with a burning bush. I don’t think Tazer has been talking with any burning bushes, but the rumors that his return is imminent are highly encouraging. He last played Feb 19th against the Blues, skating over 21 minutes with a concussion. It was the game David Bolland used David Backes as a backboard, banking the winner off the Blues Captain late in the third period. (That really has nothing to do with Toews, but anytime I can dog Backes, I just feel better.)

What the Hawks accomplished without their Captain has been nothing short of miraculous. One of the biggest games of the year turned out to be that Toronto game where Coach Q brought in Ray Emery, after Corey let three get by him in the first period. That game was the turning point in the season in my opinion. Emery was a solid as a rock, stifling a speedy attack by a potent Maples team. Razor started the next 5 games playing well enough to be named an NHL star of the week. This time proved vital as Corey had plenty of time to sort things out. (It an ironic twist of fate, Corey eventually relieved Razor in the 4-3 shootout win over the Blues after Ray let three elude him in the first.) After the Toronto game, the Hawks went on an 11-1-2 tear, despite a murderous schedule that pitted us against one Vezina Trophy candidate after another. Halak, Lunquist, Quick, Lehtonen, Lu, Rinne and Brodeur are a pretty formidable group of net minders.

As in the 09/10 season, many pundits are questioning the strength and dependability of the Hawks goal tending. It seems an abnormal emphasis has been placed on the masked man between the pipes. After watching Tony-O for so many years, I do realize that a hot goal tender is a must if a team is to advance towards the Cup. However, both Corey and Razor have played exceedingly well during our “March” toward the playoffs. Perhaps they should sprinkle a bit of the lamb’s blood on the posts and crossbar just in case though! However, the other five players on the ice have an impact that’s not to be summarily dismissed. The Hawks vaunted core stepped up to the plate with eager bats during the Captain’s absence. The Hawks have outshot Phoenix in every game we’ve played this year, tallying 35-26-35-38 shots in the four games we’ve played against them. I find that statistic rather encouraging.

There have been numerous contributors to our strong finish this season. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching Kaner for five years now, and there’s little doubt in my mind he’s playing the best hockey of his career. He’s had me holding my breath since the first game I saw him play. Yes, I know-he’s constructed a few golden calves along the way. Yet, in Tazer’s absence he’s taking on a leadership role that many thought he simply didn’t possess. I still like to dwell on a question my boss posed to me in the 09/10 season; “Who do you think is better, Toews or Kane?” Let’s just say Kane’s effort during Tazer’s absence has increased the difficulty in answering that query.

How ironic that in a season that saw Coach Q change line combo’s more than a teenage daughter changes clothes, that at his juncture in the season, there appears to be some stability. Who would have ever thought that finding a place for the Captain would prove to be so perplexing? The obvious spot, of course, is between Kane and Hossa. Unfortunately that sort of puts Brunette in Limbo. Andrew proved to be quite effective when placed on Kaner’s line. He’s made a living around the net – I can’t think of a better way to score on Smith than banging home loose change. Still, this would obviously fall under the “good problem to have” category.

It looks like Coach Q is going to leave the “Two Wild and Crazy Guys Line” intact, at least momentarily. This line has clicked largely because they have speed to burn. Also, Stalberg’s brain has almost caught up to his Mercury like feet. I can’t recall when I’ve seen a Hawk get behind the defense so regularly. He’s still going to make a mistake or two because, well, Stalberg is Stalberg. However, can you name any Hawks who have brought more excitement to the Hawks this year when they gather a full head of steam? His metamorphosis this season would have made a nice story in the Roman poet Ovid’s book. Now, if we can just keep him from gazing at his own reflection. That didn’t work out to well for Narcissus.

 Ahnfire, Stacie17 and Katherine partying with Stals and Freddy.

Apparently they didn’t find Viktor’s joke as humorous as Freddy did. “What did the Swedish father say when his daughter told him she was pregnant-Are you sure it’s yours?”

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Patrick Sharp is playing the best hockey of his career. I’m not sure who engineered the trade that brought Sharp to Chicago in exchange for Matt Ellison (go ahead, I had to look him up also), and a third round draft pick. In Baseball terms that’s what’s known as knocking one “over” Waveland Ave, or pointing at the flagpole. Like Stalberg, Freddy Kruger is also making his presence increasingly known. I think it was Sam Fels who noted, “The guy never seems to be out of position.” Raise your hand high if you ever penciled in this line combo back in October. Q hit the jackpot with this makeshift line! He’s a genius I tell ya!

Although you’ll occasionally find Chicken Hawk out of position, Andrew Shaw makes up for his mistakes with an exuberance that brings back fond memories of Adam Burish. Patrick Kane recently got a good dig in when he called Shaw a 19th round draft pick-in reference to him not being drafted in 2009 or 2010. Andrew brings an entirely new meaning to the term “overachiever.” He also seems to have that trademark that boosts anyone’s stock in the NHL-he’s a character. Bob Verdi pointed out in an excellent piece on #65 that when he was exchanging love taps with Cody Almond recently, he taunted his adversary who had 4 inches and 25 pounds on him; “C’mon, my sister hits harder than that!” From the moment he smashed his face into the plexi-glass after his first goal, he’s become a fan favorite. In a disturbing development, my daughter Taylor is now more interested in Shaw than Toews.

He’s not just a meatball though. It seems with every game he’s gaining more and more confidence. In 37 games, Shaw has tallied 12 goals and 11 assists. Many of the goals and assists have been crucial to the Hawks fortunes during the run in March. Despite many knowledgeable fans stating he doesn’t belong on our checking line, he has many rat-like characteristics that make him a good fit with Bolland. Add the “Big Cheese,” Brian Bickell, and our third line has suddenly become quite dangerous. Bickell seems to have finally realized how big he is; perhaps Shaw has shamed him into getting more aggressive. Or maybe Shaw just threatened to kick his ass.

That leaves Mayers-Frolik-Brunette-Bollig-Hayes-Morrison to round out the fourth line. As of noon on Tuesday the line appears to be Bollig/Mayers/Bruno. Unfortunately, it appears Brunette is not on either of the PP units. And I still think Frolik gives you a defensive presence and offensive threat that Bollig lacks. Phoenix was the third least penalized team in the NHL at an average of 9.2 min/game. The Hawks were the tenth least penalized, averaging 10.3 min/game. (The St. Louis Blues, who have a real Captain, were 27th at 13 min/game.) I’m not sure we need to be packing in this series-time will tell.

One area that really seemed to come together for the Hawks at the right time is our defensive pairings. I’ve noted elsewhere, Niklas Hjarlmarrson appears to be playing with a bug up his butt since being demoted to the 3rd pairing. He finished the season +9, which I found rather unusual with all the negative press he’s received this year. It appears he’ll be paired with O’Donnell which I have no problem with, other than the fact O’D, like Hjarmals, seemed to play the left side most of the season. 2/7, 8/27 and 4/? – are just about as solid as they come. Would someone please remind Keith to keep the “people’s elbow” down?

It’s hard to believe the playoffs are already upon us. It seems like just yesterday we were wondering how Carcillo, Brunette, Lepisto, Emery and Montador were going to fit in with our core. Although I’ll never forget Taylor’s question when we heard they signed Carbomb; “Why did we do that?” And she had a pained look on her face when she asked it! I guess the answer might be he’s a warrior. Aren’t they all?

There’s no question the Hawk’s warriors have fought through some adversity this year. While it certainly isn’t comparable to wandering around the desert for 40 years, it’s been a constant battle. Well done Blackhawks, when the going got tough, Shaw got going. (The dude deserves a cubicle at Johnny’s Ice House!) Or something like that. During the 9 game trip from hell, a lot of fans wanted to get rid of everybody with the exception of Tazer. (It was certainly the Hawks Red Sea moment this year!) How ironic that without “O Captain, My Captain,” the Hawks forged through unknown territory, vanquishing one foe after another.

Al Cimaglia used a word that perfectly describes playoff hockey in a recent article – “grueling.” It’s a grind that has few parallels in any sport. Battles that at times create their own Red Sea, literally. So start growing those playoff beards – bathing is optional, although if were on a winning streak just use extra deodorant. On the secondcityhockey.com website posters were thinking of options for the ladies in lieu of the playoff beards. It actually started at the stlouisgametime.com website. This prompted one astute poster named putmeinthemadhouse to note, “I thought the woman in St. Louis could grow beards.”

Tazer, been talking to any bushes lately? It’s time to cover yourself with a little blood – ok war paint will do. Hundreds of years from now, the story of Jonathan Toews returning after an extended hiatus to lead the Hawks to the Promised Land, is a movie made for Hollywood.  Wouldn’t Jamal Mayers make a great Yul Brynner?

“Let my Blackhawks go.” – Tazer

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.

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