Lindbloom’s View: Benchmarks

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“The significance of a man is not what he attains but rather what he longs to attain.” – Kahlil Gibran

By Rich Lindbloom

When my son Greg was about 12 years old I took him to the health club with me on occasion. While possessing massive thumbs developed from hours upon hours of Play Station activity, he was neglecting other muscle groups. (Honestly, where would man be today without the opposable thumb?) I introduced Greg to the bench press, starting out with either 5lbs or 7.5lbs on each side. It wasn’t too long before he was pumping out ten reps – clearly on his way to becoming the next Charles Atlas.

On the way home one day Greg asked me, “Dad, how much weight did I bench press?” I told him the bar weighed 45lbs and with the 7.5lbs on each side, the total weight was 60lbs. I had to muffle a chuckle when he responded, “Good, now when people ask me how much I bench I can tell them 60lbs!”  While certainly not the benchmark he would aspire to today, at that time it was a start. There is no doubt in my mind he will someday hoist the true test of any bench presser, the coveted deuce and a quarter.

That memory has me reflecting on what was the benchmark for a successful Hawk season at the start of this year. The pieces seemed to be in place for above average achievements, although with the strike shortened season we really didn’t know what to expect. I think we were all caught by surprise when we won 24 games to start the season, winning the President’s Trophy by the time all was said and done. Clearly, the benchmark for what would be a successful season was raised a notch or two.

As the season progressed, many fans started stating that if we didn’t at least get to the Conference Finals, the season would be an abject failure. Indeed, heads would have to roll, starting with Coach Q, Stan Bowman, Corey Crawford and whoever was in charge of discovering the key to the universe, the ever elusive, #2 center. The observations that the regular season meant nothing, and the fear that we “peaked” too early, were as common as complaints about the weather in Chicago in Spring.

Doubting Thomas’s also questioned if we could withstand the increased physicality that is part and parcel of the playoffs. Getting thwacked by Vancouver in one of the last games of the season, only served to exacerbate those fears. “That’s how you beat the Hawks,” many sagacious analysts pointed out.

Yet here we stand, up two games to one over the defending Stanley Cup champs, a team that beat the bellicose St. Louis Blues into submission in Round One. Obviously, the benchmark has been raised another notch – to making our second Final’s appearance in four years.

If the Hawks were frightened by the big bad wolf, they certainly didn’t show it in Games One or Two. You might argue that the Kings manhandled us in Game Three, yet the Hawks dominated the third period after withstanding the physical and offensive onslaught of the desperate Kings in the first two periods. (Thank you Mr. Crawford) In my opinion, LA was quite fortunate the game did not go into overtime. A very puzzling non-icing call greatly aided and abetted the scrambling Kings when the Hawks pulled Crow with about a minute and a half to go. That quite peculiar ruling by the linesmen, coupled with the “See No Evil” approach of referee’s Stephen Walcom and Eric Furlatt, left me pondering the meaning of life. How is it that a referee can miss the flagrant trip by Muzzin on Tazer when #19 was about to fly by him? Twice I saw a Kings player blatantly holding Toews and Keith’s stick. Apparently, clutch, grab and obvious interference go by the wayside in the playoffs. It left me considering an observation made by a Hawk hater at work after Game Two;

“I did enjoy the first two playoff series for all the teams that were involved in the hunt for the Cup due to the fact that the officials let the players play the game as it was intended to be played. However, as an astute follower of the games, I did notice that the last series for both conferences are being manipulated by certain refs. When calls are NOT CONSISTENT FOR BOTH TEAMS and that dictates the momentum for a certain team, (I observed this through the years I AAA and Jr A), and gives certain motivation and outcome to a selected team or teams, I don’t give a crap who wins the Cup. I am not going to waste my time, being a Stooge because of objective decisions made by refs (humans), who favor one player or team over another. There are more important things in life then being a clone watching games in ANY sports that are manipulated by outside forces.”

While my co-workers observations might seem a little over the top-well-some of the non-calls, coupled with the inconsistency of the calls they do make, left me scratching my noggin. Maybe he’s on to something. Should Duncan Keith have been suspended for his open ice retaliation after getting elbowed, crosschecked, and finally slashed on the hand as he tried to retrieve his glove by the Kings platinum blonde, Jeff Carter? Perhaps, but earlier in the game Dustin Brown, (someone on the Hawks needs to send a message to that nozzle), flagrantly speared Marion Hossa with a reckless stick in the chest. Apparently, reckless stick work is acceptable as long as it does not draw blood in the minds of the refs and the Czar of NHL discipline, Brendan Shanahan. “You vill obey me!”

Back in Game Four of the 09/10 Conference Finals, Joe Thornton almost severed Dave Bolland’s hand before the linesman dropped the puck on a face off. A two minute penalty was sufficient in that instance. In both instances where the “repeat offender,” as Shamalama Ding Dong called Keith, was suspended, he was retaliating for penalties that went uncalled by the zebra’s. Forcing the Hawks to play Game Four without perhaps the Hawks best player in the post season, does make you wonder if this game is more about money than determining a champion.

This is not to say the Kings did not deserve their hard fought victory in Game Three. They appeared to be a completely different team than the first two lopsided contests. The Hawks had considerable trouble exiting their zone, and were pummeled with great consistency by the aggressive King forecheckers in the first two periods. I did like the way the Hawks responded in the third period, smothering the puck for long periods of time in LA’s zone. Although it appeared we brought our C+ game to the rink that evening, there was a very good chance this game could have headed to overtime.

One very positive note I took from the game was the continued sterling play of the Blackhawk netminder. Cor-dawg continued his miserly ways – almost single handedly keeping the Hawks within striking distance for two periods. Corey seems to be labeled with the dreaded “Humpty Dumpty” syndrome after last year’s gaffes against the Coyotes. (Funny, no one seemed to remember all the great saves he made in that series-such is the life of a goalie I guess.) It seems many analysts and Hawk fans-and I think you know who you are, keep waiting for “the great fall.” Mr. Big will have to play quite large tonight to offset the suspension of #2.

One aspect of Corey’s game that seems to be greatly improved is his play behind the net. While no Mike Smith yet, he is controlling the puck and even making some great break out passes. It’s a noticeable difference from previous seasons. It appears his increased puck playing prowess has help mitigate the Kings foaming at the mouth forwards as they try to chase down the puck deep in the Hawks zone. I believe it was in Fifth Feather last year that Corey was compared to Al Pacino in the movie Scent of a Woman when he strayed away from the crease. Of course, now that I’ve pointed this expert observation out, Corey will no doubt give up a wraparound tonight. Such is life. As I told my wife after Game Three, “C’est olive vie.” Nathalie quickly pointed out it is “C’est la vie,” once again appalled at my willful ignorance of the French language.

Now I’m not going to go as far as calling Kaner detractors ignorant, but here’s a news flash – the guy can’t score every game, especially without the key to the universe centering his line. I got into a heated exchange Wednesday morning with a co-worker who also happens to be an astute observer of the mayhem that takes place on frozen pond. I’ll be the first to admit Crazy 88’s did not have the best performance of his notable career in Game Three. However, do you really want to bench the Hawk player I think is the most dangerous on the team? Clearly, Kaner is at his best when he corrals the puck on the fly. That scenario, for a number of reasons, just didn’t work out to well in Game Three. For goodness sake, Sydney Crosby has one assist in three games vs. the Bruins – does that mean he’s washed up?!

Several people noted that he needs to shoot more. I’m pretty sure one instance of his lack of trigger pulling was when he skated from left to right directly in front of Quick’s crease at one point. I guess firing the puck into four players jockeying for position in front of Quick was an option. However, you may as well be trying to get the puck by the Great Wall of China. I’m going to go with Kaner’s instinct on that play – there just wasn’t a good opening to fire at. Hopefully Coach Q will not bench our Lilliputian. He’s been known to make a big play or two in his career. (I think I got my co-worker to at least admit he’d take Kaner over Bickell!)

One last observation; as long as the NHL has determined they want the Kings to even this series up tonight, I’d love to see Andrew Shaw even a score with the notorious Kane baiter, Justin Williams. In a post crease scrum, Williams blasted Chicken Hawk in the chops, violently knocking #65’s head back. If that was done to one of the stars in the league, other than Toews, the culprit would have been sent to the time out box. I’m not sure of a lot of things in my life- perhaps three – my salvation, you can’t fight City Hall (i.e. –the refs), and the certainty that Shaw would obliterate Williams in a legitimate bout. Justin’s only hope would be the linesmen separate the two before Andrew rips his heart out. “Kick his ass tonight, Seabass!”

In closing, while I’ll admit the Hawks have met my benchmark expectations, I’m now hoping for a little more. Whatever happens though, in my mind it boils down to one thing – let me explain. I used to belong to the Chicago Health Club in Glenwood. There was a small free weight room in the back where the muscle heads hung out. I’ve always liked free weights, so despite a personal best of 185 on the bench press, I would try to squeeze in a few sets when the serious lifters got done benching. There was usually someone around to spot for you when you wanted to get those extra few reps in – you know the ones that burn baby, burn.

However, I found myself alone one evening and was at the tail end of my third set. The last rep got about 6” up before it quickly descended back to my scrawny chest. “Ruh row,” as Scooby Doo would say. While I pondered how to extricate myself from the pressing situation, one of the bigger lifters at the club emerged from the shower with a towel around his waist. As he started to walk by I sheepishly said, “Hey buddy, could you help me out here?” He hustled over and seemingly lifted the 135lbs I was attempting to heft with one hand. It was sort of an embarrassing situation to say the least.

What dawned on me though, was even though that muscle head could probably curl what I could bench, he appreciated my effort. Obviously he knew full well I was pushing it, digging a little deeper. That’s my newest benchmark for the Hawks – as long as the effort is there, nothing else matters at this point. The chips are going to fall where they may – but go for it Hawks, push it past those safe limits. And would someone please show Kaner where the weight room is?

Other important stuff:

What a great series against the Wings, eh.  One quite fitting of our storied past – Did you notice the handshake at the game? It was one of the most heartfelt ones I’ve ever witnessed. Zetterberg especially took time to firmly shake and talk to the Hawk players. I’m not sure what Franzen said to Crow, but you could feel the mutual respect. Detroit showed a lot of class, when they could have been very bitter about losing three straight. It seemed like some of the veterans were using the handshake line as a way of saying goodbye to the warriors they’ve battled over the years as they depart for the Eastern Conference. Here’s to hoping we get to play the Wings nine times next year, with the hawks winning the 9th game.

To me the highlight of the series was when Howard tried to console a slumped over Niklas Kronwall. I’ve never made any attempt to hide my disdain for the player who where’s #55 for the Wings. However, at that moment I had nothing but respect for the downtrodden warrior. Kronwall had very big shoes to fill this season. Not to easy to replace a Rafalski and then Lidstrom in consecutive years. As I watched Howard pat him on the back, the thought occurred to me that this game is much more than a paycheck to these players. Truth of the matter is, there were no losers in Game Seven, only a team that scored one less goal. Well done, Wings.

Finally, TV analyst Keith Jones needs to decide what he wants to do with his hair. You can comb it straight down, or comb it to the side – but you can’t have it both ways Jonesy. Maybe Roenick could give him the name of his barber.

Rich Lindbloom

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