By Rich Lindbloom
OK, you can breathe now. With seconds remaining on the jobing.com Center’s scoreboard, the Blackhawks managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Despite outshooting the dogged Coyotes 50-33, the Hawks were quite fortunate to emerge triumphant over a tenacious, disciplined Phoenix squad. Bryan Bickell scored two goals, including the game winner in overtime late Saturday night; or was it early Sunday morning? He’s clearly the front runner for the John Druce Award, named after a role player who scored 14 goals in 15 games for Washington in the 1990 playoffs. Although goals are an obvious mark of a player’s efficacy, they often overshadow the less refined parts of the game. Refined is not generally a word associated with Bickell; he’s more like a working man’s hero. Just prior to his game winner, Brian started throwing his body around like dat Buff-lin guy did a few years ago. (Now that’s hockey.) I believe on one shift he clobbered three different Coyotes, seeming to take a sadistic delight inflicting pain upon his unsuspecting prey.
After five days of watching what at times more closely resembles a Demolition Derby than playoff hockey, I have a new found appreciation for just what the Hawks accomplished in that magical 09/10 season. In the playoffs, for two months it’s more of a matter of survival at times, than winning. The Coyotes are a prime example; in two games they’ve lost Vrbata, Hanzal and Korpedo to significant injuries. I suspect some, if not all, of those players will be dressed for Game Three – although it’s clear they’ll be less than 100%. That old hockey adage, “Keep your head on a swivel,” certainly is sage advice. I’ve noticed more NHL players dusting off their britches in the last five days, than in the entire regular season. There are times when I think Edwin Starr was describing a hockey game when he sings, “War, friend only to the undertaker.”
The Philadelphia/Pittsburgh series has been particularly brutal. If that series were to go 7 games, I’m pretty sure some Black Aces would be lacing them up. They may want to think twice about the time honored handshake at the end of that series-or have the riot police in place. Of course, much has been made of Shea Weber’s descent into previously unchartered waters of thuggery. After watching Alexandre Burrows for three years, I thought I had seen it all! Taking your opponents head, and slamming it into the plexi-glass may require the NHL to add a new penalty to the list of infractions. I can envision the referee making the call next season; “Two minutes for plexi-glassing,” as he demonstrates a hand forcefully shoving an imaginary head into the glass. Considering the new hand signal for this penalty made me think; just what is the hand signal for “diving?” Mike Smith’s simulation of an 80 year old slipping on a patch of ice made me pause and realize I don’t know what the signal is.
I’ve watched the replay of Weber’s advanced communication techniques with Zetterberg several times. I’m pretty sure he got his message across, even without the use of words. Hockey players like to keep it simple. On a scale of 1-10 for stupidity, it was an 11. However, I’m not buying Zett’s claim that the forceful thrust caused his helmet to crack in three places. As one “impartial” Predator fan noted, “If that hit caused the helmet to crack in three spots, Zetterberg may want to switch to a different helmet manufacturer.” However, I do realize the malfeasance is getting a bit out of control. With Disciplinary Czar Shamalamadingdong working overtime to try to sort it all out, I did have a thought on ways to make it crystal clear to players what is and isn’t acceptable forms of behavior in the playoffs.
Think Three Stooges. Remember the episode when Moe is explaining the rules of engagement to Curly? “They’ll be none of this,” (As he attempts to pull Curly’s ear lobe off), “Or this,” (as Moe sticks his fingers up Curly’s nose) “Or this,” (as he pokes Curly in the eyes.) Before the contest begins, have all the C’s and A’s come out for a meeting at center ice to discuss what is inappropriate behavior. Then send them to their respective corners and tell them to come out swinging.
I’ve done my best to suppress my inner meatball, trying to refrain from hollering “Hit Someone!” as the cure all for all that ails the Hawks when pinned down by enemy fire. Believe me, I’ve tried to become a knowledgeable fan and grasp the meaning of important statistics like Qualcomp. GFON/60, TOI/60 or Corsi, but in the heat of the moment I usually revert to the “It’s clobbering time,” remedy. More than once I said to my friend Don, “We’ve stopped hitting people,” while watching the Hawks spin their skates for most of the third period. The efficaciousness of clobbering someone was lucidly summed up in a conversation I had with my son after a recent game against a team that was quite a bit smaller than his. I told Greg that his stick handling and composure were much improved. He was much less panicky than in prior games. He said, “The other team was a lot smaller. I wasn’t worried about getting hit.” I’m thinking a lot of mistakes are made in the playoffs during “clobbering time,” decisions.
I’m not sure what was going on in Aucoin’s mind when he rifled a blind clearing pass in OT around the boards. The ill-advised clearing attempt came after what seemed like a short eternity of puck possession in the Coyotes zone by our top guns. (Hossa and Kane practically crawled off the ice after that shift-I’ve never seen Hossa move so slow.) At first I thought Aucoin got rid of the hot potato in a blind attempt to get the puck out of the zone-the wishful thinking approach. (Otherwise known as the Niklas Hjarlmarsson get out of Dodge technique.) It seemed like Aucoin had time to make a better decision than passing the puck to Stalberg. On the replay though, The Rat is seen flying in towards Aucoin in full “I’m going to rip your heart out and fry it up for dinner tonight,” mode. Bolland did not record an assist on the play, but the intense pressure had a huge part in Aucoin’s foible.
Chicken Hawk decided to put a little pressure on Smith behind his crease in the second period. Bickell and Bolland most likely will be without the services of the surprising catalyst of our increasingly effective third line. In an overzealous pursuit of the puck, Shaw collided with Coyote goalie Mike Smith. When they collided, despite giving up over 30 pounds and 5 inches, Shaw caused Smith to do a back dive with a half twist. In a Luong-ish performance, Smith appeared to sell the refs-for a moment, even I actually thought he was seriously injured until I realized it was his glove, not his head, that went flying towards his net.
Don’t get me wrong, Shaw has to avoid that contact, plain and simple. But he said he’s sorry and I believe him. (Remember when your dad would make you say you’re sorry to one of you siblings and you had to do it even though you didn’t mean it?) Call me skeptical, but I’m not sure it’s a good idea to leave your goalie in the game if you suspect he’s had his bell rung. I guess if the ref’s called a penalty on Toews for goal tender interference, Chicken Hawk never really stood a chance. Toews’s phantom penalty was one of those that cause fans to do or wish bad things. It was a Chester (The Gump) Brannigan moment if there ever was one. Chester was an older gentleman that I worked with many years ago. He and his brother attended hockey games way back in the 50’s. I recall him telling me that the referee made such a terrible call in a playoff game that fans were breaking the wood chairs and tossing the pieces at the ref. There are not many games that evoke such strong emotions from the fans as hockey does-maybe football.
Two other question marks for the Hawks had a very solid Game two. If Corey continues playing like he has thus far, I like our chances. His save on Boedeker in OT was absolute highway robbery. Steady as she goes Mr. Big. Brandon Bollig recorded his first ever NHL point, blistering a wrister pass Smith. He rifled another shot a bit later that Smith snared at the last moment. This is a positive development because I did not realize Bandon possessed such a good shot. Also, Bollig’s done a pretty good job of curtailing his propensity for extracurricular activity. However, after seeing him fight in about 7 games in a row when he came up from Rockford, I have to wonder if he isn’t itching for a chance to drop the gloves. Could Raffi Torres, otherwise known as Excedrin Headache # 573, be in his eyesight? Torres has been superb in the first two games. He reminds me a lot of Carcillo-somewhat offensively talented mixed in with a few extra doses of knuckle headedness. As usual though, he’s the type of player on the other team you’d like to see knocked into the middle of next week.
The Coyotes are a bit more banged up than we are at the moment. It’s time to put a strangle hold on them. Last week my 16 year old son decided to put the old man to the test. At 6’2” and 180#’s, (last time I checked), he’s getting to be a handful. He grabbed me in a bear hug and demanded I say “Uncle.” I was not in the mood to exert a lot of energy at this point so I said “OK, you win. Uncle.” He mad me laugh when he tightened his grip and shouted, “Say it louder!”
Keep playing like dat Buff-Lin guy did Hawks. You’ve got them down, now make those Yotes scream “Uncle.” I want to hear it up in section 320.
It’s clobbering time.
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.