By Michael Calvert
Saturday night’s game is a feather in the hat of the NHL due to conference realignment. All teams now play each other at least twice, so fans get to see some of the biggest teams in the league once a year in their barn. This game featured two of the biggest teams in the League, one by name, the other by name and talent.
The Toronto Maple Leafs, the NHL’s only billion dollar franchise, were in the UC on Saturday. My initial inclination is to compare them to the Yankees, but as much as I don’t care for the Yankees, that comparison is not fair to them. The Yanks win consistently. I think the Leafs are more like the Dallas Cowboys; it’s a big deal whether they are winning or losing, and mostly are losing.
This year’s Leafs team is coming off their first playoff appearance in quite some time. They’re also sporting one of the best special teams in the league. Put together along with a good 6-2 start, and the Leafs arrived to United Center on Saturday with some newfound hype surrounding them.
1st period: Stop me if you’ve heard this before… The Hawks come out in the first period on fire and are outshooting the Leafs 6-0 before I even realize how nifty the Hockey Night score bar is with a lot of useful tidbits and a flashing goal siren.
Coach Q shook the lineup pretty firmly Saturday, putting Hossa and Saad on the first line and moving Kane to second line, and demoting Bicks to 3rd line duties. I can’t say that moving Kane has anything to do with poor play, as I am not stupid or without eyes. Moving Kane down to second line has to simply be an injection of life into the second line, which for any other team would be an awful lot like a first line. At any rate, the Patricks were centered by Kruger on line 2.
The Hawks test out the #2 power play in the league early with Seabrook cross checking Colton Orr. It’s likely Colton deserved it. On the PP Toronto had a lot of possession and sustained pressure well, but nothing on the score sheet to show for.
The Leafs must have felt like putting both sides of their special teams on display, as the promptly go on the PK when ol’ Davey Bolland hooked Jonathan Toews. I don’t want to get too much into the Dave Bolland return. His name was announced. Fans cheered. Bolland grinned bashfully.
The Leafs in compliment of the #2 PP also boast the #4 PK in the league. The Hawks were also able to sustain a good amount of pressure on the Leafs PK until Patrick Sharp decided to whack Van Riemsdyk’s calf with his stick 4 inches away from the ref, ending the Hawks 1st PP.
Near the end of the second, Jay McClement, Toronto’s top penalty killer, hooks Brandon Pirri and the Hawks are back on the PP. Paul Ranger (here’s an interesting hockey story: Google Paul Ranger if you’re bored) stops Bickell from collecting a pass that would have led to just Bicks and Bernier. That was about it for the first. Spoiler alert, this game needed one period and that was period 2.
Period 2: The scoring began with Bryan Bickell hustling after his own shot and patiently waiting for Bernier to be out of position to deposit the rebound. I’ll give credit to both Bicks and Bernier here as Bernier never really got out of position he seemed to have a magnetic attraction to the puck but Bickell finally was able to tap it past the goal line and then into the net.
In what is becoming something of a theme, highlighted by the recent St Louis game, the lead wouldn’t last long. The league’s number 2 ranked power play did some damage when Nazim Kadri tipped in a Joffrey Lupul shot just a minute and a half after Bickell’s tally.
It wouldn’t take very long for the Hawks to answer Toronto’s answer. Just past halfway through the second deft scorer Mike Kostka puts a lethal wrister past Bernier…. Wait, I mean somehow Mike Kostka’s slapper? wrister? Some type of shot anyway managed to float past Bernier like a Tim Wakefield knuckleball. Brandon Bollig was shielding Bernier, so it was a wise shot even though I make fun of it. Congratulations to Kostka for scoring his first NHL goal. And way to do it with an exclamation point as it ends up being the game winner against his former team, not too shabby at all. To top it all off after a hustle goal that was all individual effort, a sloppy goal that was “greasy” the Hawks score a PP goal late in the second that was all pretty. Saad fires a beautiful pass to Brandon Pirri, who must listen to Eddie O because that stick was all over the ice. 3-1 Hawks.
3rd period. The news from the 3rd period was that the Hawks took another lead into the third period, yet this time held on to it. Nordstrom had a goal disallowed that would have made it 4-1 on goalie interference. Tough call as it wasn’t intentional interference, but interference none the less. This penalty could have shifted the entire game, but again the Hawks kill this Toronto PP rather easily.
A few minutes later Bernier is pulled and Saad almost scores.
Game over. Hawks 3, Toronto Cowboys 1.
Kostka really knows how to make an entrance, goes from healthy scratch to PP contributor and game winning goal scorer.
Pirri’s pretty good. I hope he sticks around. And considering his goal came on the PP, it looks as though he may.
Hossa is finally starting to look like a guy who should be a better hockey player than 95% of the league. So that’s cool.
Really a well-rounded win – scoring opportunistically, ugly and pretty. Crawford was barely tested, and when he was he was up to the task. The lone Leafs goal was a bit lucky, I suppose, as the puck came to life to jump over Oduya’s stick on a PK clear, then somehow managed to fend off gravity and Hjalmarsson’s stick to find the back of the net going literally 2 inches per hour.
The Hawks are still really good, not so sure about the Leafs? But hey, if your chances are 50/50 to make the playoffs, I suppose they’ll be a player come April.