Lindbloom’s View: Wild Things

Lindbloom_2013Jun28_ThinLizzy“Cuz we was fighting”

By Rich Lindbloom

After watching an hour of the post-game show after the Hawks scintillating Game Five triumph, I was fortunate enough to hear the Thin Lizzy song, Fighting My Way Back on the way home. I had no choice but to crank it up a notch, or three. It seemed to be a good description of the battle that took place at the United Center. Battered and bruised, torn and frayed –“fighting” for the Cup – quite simply, there is no other way.

Finesse and skill are required of course, but getting your name inscribed on Lord Stanley’s punch bowl comes down to “fighting.” Fighting for faceoffs, fighting for position in front of the net, fighting in those corner scrums, fighting through injuries, fighting through bad bounces, fighting for rebounds, fighting the ref’s unfair decisions, fighting off shots to Corey’s groping in the dark glove hand and fighting to get Stalberg back in the lineup. Literally, fighting with tooth, nail and claw. While I don’t think the Hawks would win many actual fights against a very tough Boston team, they are winning many of the secondary battles. There was one play towards the end of the third period in Game Five that will never find its way to the highlight reel. Funny though, in my mind, it was as big as any play that night.

With about a minute and a half left Zdeno Chara was barreling down at the center ice stripe along the right boards, intent on barging into the Hawks zone. This would have allowed Tuukka to abandon his post while the Bruins tried to pin the puck down deep in enemy territory. Marcus Kruger met the 6’ 9” Philistine head on in a violent collision, full well knowing he was about to get clobbered. You see, Freddy risked life and limb “cuz he was fighting.” Actually, all three members of the increasingly effective “Rat Line” played with reckless abandon. I believe it was this line that created several odd man rushes throughout the night. Early on in this series it seemed that the Bruins were the first team we faced that were able to mitigate the Hawks speed, somewhat at least. Lately, the Hawks are flying again. Although Rask has been up to the task, the Bruins are flirting with disaster if this trend continues.

Even perennial Nobel Peace Prize contender, Patrick Kane, jumped into the fray. He obliterated one of the Bruin’s, who was loitering in Corey’s crease, laying on top of the culprit inside the cage. For that moment at least, it seemed Kaner was saying, “Andrew Shaw got nothing on me.” Certainly an uncharacteristic act of aggression by #88, but it’s the Cup and Patrick was “fighting.” I had to laugh when I heard Barry Melrose on Sunday night and he exclaimed, “Would somebody please check Patrick Kane!” Hard to do with his “now you see it, now you don’t” type moves. The old John Mayall song, Room To Move, came to mind when I paused and considered how much space and time Kaner seemed to create all night long. It’s not a particularly propitious turn of events when Kaner is circulatin’ in your zone.

“If you want me baby
Take me while you can
I’ll be circulatin’
‘Cause that’s the way I am
You’ve gotta give me
‘Cause I can’t give my best
unless I’ve got room to move.”

I can’t recall a recent game where Kaner held court like he did on Saturday in Game Five. David Haugh of the Tribune said something along the lines of, “If they ever want to do a study on eye/hand control, they may want to start by examining Patrick Kane’s brain.” Both of our little “Wild Thing’s” goals required a skill set that is off the charts. In addition to those magic hands, Kaner created space in the Bruin zone like he owned a huge piece of that real estate; serious room to move.

The vaunted slap shot seems to be relegated to point men as hockey has evolved. When forwards try to crank it up, more often than not, the puck is deflected by a defenseman. Normally, there is just not enough time and space to let one fly. I can recall Kaner teeing a slapper up, even checking for the wind direction, twice in Game Five. What a wind up! Bobby Hull got nothing on Crazy 88’s! It was as if the Bruin defense was singing that famous Polka song, “I don’t want him, you can chase him, he’s too fast for me.” I know I beat this horse to death, but the question my boss once asked me, “Who would you take first, Toews or Kane,” gets tougher and tougher to answer as time goes by. If the Hawks prevail in Game Six, get ready to “roll out the barrels.”

Kaner’s sidekick, Captain Marvel, was on a mission all night long, at least before Boychuk clobbered him with an illegal hit to the head in the second period. If it was Raffi Torres, Matt Cooke or Duncan Keith, there would have been a suspension for that head shot. And please, don’t give me that crap about he hit the shoulder first. Tazer put himself in a very vulnerable position because he plays the game the only way he knows how, he was ‘fighting.” Before the game Tazer mentioned that while Chara is a great defenseman, the Hawks had to be wary of giving him too much respect. The last time I heard Jonny say something like that was when we were down 3-1 too Vancouver two years ago. If you recall, Toews almost willed us to the upset of the ages when he scored on Luongo in the waning moments of regulation. That still is my favorite Tazer goal.

While Kane made an incredible play to score the Hawks first tally, it was set up by a seemingly innocuous battle for puck possession between Chara and “The Captain.” Chara was trying to separate #19 from the puck along the right boards as Toews gained entry into the B’s zone. Toews did an amazing job keeping the puck alive by “fighting” off the Bruin behemoth, moments later resulting in Jonny Oduya’s slapper from the point. Tazer’s battle for puck possession in the Bruin’s zone with Chara, was every bit as important as Kruger’s steadfastness in the play of the game I eluded to earlier.

Unfortunately for Chara, both plays were a result of the diminutive Hawk players “fighting” him for puck possession. I believe the Hawks lower center of gravity had something to do with their winning those battles. Certainly Zdeno Chara is no slackard, but he happened to be on the ice for all of the Hawk goals in that game I believe.  Although, in Zdeno’s defense, “Easter Island” averaged over 29 minutes per game in the 2013 playoffs. Not an easy task against the Blackhawks.

Lindbloom_2013Jun28_CharaStance

“Hmmm, these guys better than Vancouver.” – Zdeno Chara

The one Bruin player who scares me the most in this series is Milan Lucic. He seems to have a little Big Buff to his game, a little playoff swagger. I recall earlier in the season the Boston faithful were upset with his lack of production. Pause a second and think where the Bruins would be right now if not for the efforts of Lucic in this series. He’s been “The Beast” for the Bruins in every game. Expect to see a lot of this nozzle tonight. It was a bit amusing when he tried to come to Chara’s aid after Bickell wasted Zedno directly in front of the Boston bench, doubling down on the shame it brought to the Bruins. That is one belligerent Bruin you don’t want to be “fighting”. However, would it really surprise you much if Andrew Shaw had a go at him? Nah, not really.

Bickell continues to click with 88 and 19, fitting in like an old shoe. His fighting for the puck in the corners, and fighting for position in front of the net have opened up a lot of room for our little Frat boy. Hopefully Toews will be able to skate in Game Six – to put it mildly, Boston doesn’t have a real good answer to 29/19/88. Is it just me, or did Bick’s develop a little sadism to his game this year? (on a side note, it was discovered why Coach Q split this line up after the Kings series. It turned out Bicks had a second degree knee sprain and it was highly doubtful he would even play in the series against the Bruins. Incredible.)

After the wild shoot out in Game Four, the story the media and arm chair goalies were focusing on was the porous glove hand of Mr. Big. It was as if the origin of life had been uncovered. Everyone had suddenly figured out that all you have to do to beat Corey was fling the rubber to his upper left side. Ba da bing, ba da boom – easy. Apparently, someone gave the Bruin’s bad information. Repeatedly throughout the night, they tested Corey’s left leg, to no avail. One can only imagine what the result of Game Five might have been if the Bruin players were actually able to read the scouting reports. I suppose this is as good as any place to segue into Game Six, so here goes….

Seventeen seconds – that’s the Cliff Notes version. If you want the truth, whole truth and nothing but the truth, read on!

Those ineffable 17 seconds at the end of Game Six will move no doubt surpass Bill Mosienko’s three goals in 21 seconds in Chicago Blackhawk lore. There was no suitable adjective to describe what transpired during that time-well maybe supercalifragilisticexpialidocious-I think it takes about 17 seconds to say that word. There aren’t many things you can do in 17 seconds in life. Hell, normally it takes the Hawks 17 seconds to get out of their own end on a Power Play! I would hazard a guess to say 17 seconds is about the average time most people spend brushing their teeth-go ahead, time yourself someday.

However, scoring two goals in a Cup Clincher, in the last minute of the game, on enemy ice, against a goalie who almost shut out the high flying Penguins – well that is just to hokey for even Hollywood to touch. (Although I may have to go back and re-watch the Mighty Duck’s movie.)

Make no mistake about this though, this improbable win, and all the games leading up to it, now rest comfortably on the broad shoulders of Corey Crawford. Live by the goaltender, die by the goaltender, or something like that. What a redemption after last year’s playoffs. Entering the abbreviated season, the big question mark among all the pundits, and a good percentage of Blackhawk fans in general, was the masked man between the pipes. Corey posted a .932 save % and a miserly 1.84 GAA in 23 post season games. Yet after Game Five, Corey still had his doubters. After he weathered the violent storm in the first period in Game Six, Jesus’s famous admonition to the highly skeptical Apostle Thomas in John 20:27 came to mind; “Stop doubting and believe!”

On March 5, 2008 Corey recorded his first shutout against the high flying Anaheim Ducks. I remember the night vividly, because my daughter and I raced down to a neighbor’s to watch the third period after Volleyball practice. (We didn’t have cable yet) She easily beat me in the 150yd stretch and dismissed my excuse of running in dress shoes by stating, “I wasn’t even trying.” Nothing like rubbing a little salt in the wound, eh? To make a long story short though, I saw something in Cor-dawg that I really liked that night. His style was a big contrast to Huet and Khabibulin. I’ve been a steadfast supporter ever since. Maybe it was his wholesome, Mouseketeer like appearance. But it was obvious the number 52 pick in the 2003 entry draft could play.  Was he the masked man who could lead us to another cup though? That was the million dollar question.

Corey has stolen a lot more games than he’s lost over the last five years – can it really be that long already? Yet the two alleged softies he gave up against Phoenix in the playoffs last year, had left an indelible mark on the minds of many Hawk fans. Goalies get tossed under the bus probably quicker than any athlete in sports. You have to possess a little different mental make up to play that demanding position.(I.e. – you have to be crazy) While Corey seemingly had put last season behind him, he still wasn’t lumped in with the likes of a Quick, Lundquist, Rask, Howard, Bobrovsky, Niemi or the enigma’s in Vancouver’s cage. This despite a stellar regular season. Indeed a season worth mentioning his name, (and Razor’s), as being in contention for the Vezina trophy. When things went good for Mr. Big, well it was because of an improved Hawk defense. When things turned sour, it was Corey’s fault.

I was amazed how many people stated that Crawford should have won the Conn Smythe trophy for MVP of the playoffs after Game Six. Truth of the matter is, he deserved it. Kaner was obviously a great second choice. However, I firmly believe that the Hawks would not have hoisted the Cup if #50 had not slammed the door on so many great scoring chances throughout the 23 games of intense playoff competition. Even Kaner was quick to point out that Corey deserved the trophy. Corey had “fought” through the intense scrutiny of his numerous critics. The ghosts of the 2012 Playoffs were buried. In 2013, “Crow Said No.” Period. Exclamation point.

Another name that could have been seriously mentioned for the Conn Smythe was #2, the Duncster. He finished the playoffs with 13 points, a +10 and averaged over 27 minutes/game. Coach Q did not think twice about riding this bedrock of the Hawk defense hard. No offense to the three players nominated this year for the coveted trophy, P.K.Subban, Kris Letang or Ryan Suter – but I’d take Keith over any of those d-men in a heartbeat. There is no defender in the league that sticks his man as closely as Doughnuts. I wonder when the last time was that the Norris Trophy was given to the best defenseman, and not the defenseman who was most offensively focused. If the trophy was handed out to a defensively minded blue liner, a player who wore #4 might have been mentioned this season…

Niklas Hjalmarsson averaged over 23 min/game and was a +10 in the playoffs. He was easily the most improved player on the Hawks this season. His decisions with the puck under pressure were light years ahead of the 2011/12 season. He absorbed more rubber than U.S. 30 Drag Strip. His pinches on the point to keep the puck in the other teams zone in the playoffs, were a lover’s delight. Although he might fade into the background on our star studded team, the #4 car had a phenomenal season. This could be the season we recall Hammer turning into a Duncan Keith clone. No one “fought” harder to keep the puck the hell out of our zone. Once again he helped point out the obvious, Swede’s rule. He’ll probably be most remembered for the goal that wasn’t against the Wings.

Most of you are probably familiar with the saying “A cornered rat fights hardest.” The revamped “Rat Line,” Kruger, Bolland and Frolik “fought” as hard as anyone on the ice in this rough and tumble Finals. Fourth line my derriere! How many fourth lines do you see out on the ice in the last minute of a Cup clincher? Bolland seemed to get better as the Playoffs progressed. A recipient of much criticism this season, perhaps deservedly so, #36 brought his A-game to the Finals. Don’t you just love it when our third or fourth line, as the case may be, scores the game winner in the final game of the season?! Hawk fans may want to think twice about labeling this two time Stanley Cup winner expendable in the off-season. His rattiness should never be underestimated. Game winner in Game Six of the 2013 Lord Stanley Cup Finals – well done Mr. Bolland, well done.

If Bolland is known as “The Rat,” perhaps we should label Andrew Shaw “The Ferret.” That questionable excuse for a pet has a proclivity for burrowing into things. I don’t think there was a Blackhawk on this team that got under the opposition’s skin like #65. While the 2013 Playoffs may have permanently disfigured his face, I had to laugh when my 19 year old daughter said after Game Six, “That’s a man.” As hardnosed as they come, Chicken Hawk was second in the Playoffs in penalty minutes, sent to the Sin Bin for a total of 35 minutes. He absorbed an absolute beating while “fighting” for position in front of the net throughout the Playoffs.

Along with his line mates, Saad and Stalberg, it seemed this line spent a lot of time in Boston’s zone.  If you’re a 20 year old rookie like Brandon Saad, where do you go from here? Although Stalberg didn’t score against the Bruins, it was obvious the little talking to he had with Coach Q lit a fire under #25. When he was plugged back into the lineup their appeared to be a lot more fight in that handsome Swedish dog, eh? No offense to Bollig, but for continuity’s sake, it was very important that all three player’s names started with an S. I tell you, Coach Q is a genius.

Patrick Sharp ended up with the most goals for the playoffs, 10, despite playing with a center only slightly faster than a Galapagos turtle. Add to this Hossa’s bulging disc that caused loss of feeling in his leg, and it’s a wonder they scored at all. I thought Toews might pass the Cup to Crawford after he hoisted it. Somewhat surprisingly, he skated over to the veteran Handzus, his first chance is his long career to press the Cup skyward. Michal’s contributions were significant since his acquisition from the Sharks. It seemed Coach Q used him as his security blanket in tight spots. Handzus averaged 16:03 min/game, was a +7 and tallied 11 points. I think it’s safe to say Stan Bowman got a pretty good return on investment from the Shark’s castoff.  Hossa and Sharp ended up with 16 points each – not too shabby, although for some reason it seemed like Patty Cake scored our last 10 goals.

Well, we did it! I was once reminded that I was not actually on the team, but I don’t think there is any sport that the fans identify so closely with their heroes. Maybe it’s because at one time, it was rumored there were only 18,000 Blackhawk fans in Chicago – and as my boss pointed out, “They go to every game.” I suspect there will be more than 18,000 Hawkheads in Grant Park today. I also heard in his post-game interview Captain Jonathan Toews used the word “we” 17 times. He used the word “I” a grand total of zero times. Speaks volumes, doesn’t it?

I think it’s safe to say most of us will remember where we were and who we were with when Bolland hoisted home the game winner over Rask’s outstretched arm. One of the oddest and most romantic stories I heard was from three fans who joined us after spending the game listening to it on the radio at Lassen’s – another fine Homewood establishment. Lassen’s had no power, but they turned on the radio and put candles on the bar! There were only 10 fans there, but I’m sure it was an evening they’ll never forget. Go ahead, top that one!

I happened to be at the Fifth Quarter in Homewood, with half of the town of Homewood it seemed. That was the night a violent storm rolled through town just prior to puck drop, leaving many of us without power for the duration of Game Six. (The six O’clock micro burst was later eclipsed by the Hawks 17 second micro burst!) I’ve never been bumped into as much in my life. One had to “fight” for position in front of the flat screen or when trying to get a refill of their favorite adult beverage. After Bickell rifled a perfect feed from Toews to knot the game at 2-2, The Fifth Quarter exploded. 17 seconds later, you could not hear yourself think. Exhilarated fans were jumping up and down, screaming with hands held high to the sky. What a moment!

It was as if a huge weight was removed from our shoulders – make no mistake about it. If your passionate about this great game, the playoffs wear you down almost as much as it does the players. Although we weren’t out on the ice with a cracked rib, sprained knee, bulging disc, punctured lung – (I’ll never forget, or will stop telling the story of Patrice Bergeron’s incredibly brave effort), I think many of us are as glad the playoffs are over as our battered hero’s. Fifth Feather noted in a recent piece a quote by Al Michaels – “The thing about hockey is, you die a thousand deaths.” No truer words were ever penned.

In closing, thank you Wild, for starting to renew what is sure to become a bitter rivalry in the years ahead-something tells me we haven’t heard the last of you; thank you Wings – as iron sharpens iron, you helped us realize what it would take to advance in the playoff war of attrition; thank you Kings, you certainly reminded us of why you were the defending champs. But mostly thank you, our Original Six brothers, for a Finals that will be etched upon Blackhawk fans collective souls for a long time to come. A coin flip might have been a more equitable way of determining the outcome of this Final. It was a “fight” to the finish with a very worthy foe. Good thing the handsome guys won.

Battered and bruised, torn and frayed, “Fighting for the Cup”, quite simply there is no other way.

For your listening pleasure – a tribute to this year’s Conn Smythe winner.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVcx2IaKaLw

Lindbloom_2013Jun28_Crawford_Crowing

And for the runner up – well – not exactly a bad consolation prize! Everybody loves a parade.

Rich Lindbloom

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