May 142015
 

Amazing_20150514Simply A-maze-ing

Labyrinth – A place constructed of or full of intricate passageways and blind alleys;
Something extremely complex or tortuous in structure, arrangement, or character.

By Rich Lindbloom

The partial definition of the word “labyrinth” above would seem to be an apt description of the NHL Playoffs. Actually, life resembles a labyrinth if you stop to think about it. Sometimes I think my life is more about not falling through the gaping holes looking to swallow me up around every bend, then getting to the finish line. Heck, maybe heaven is the place where we find out we no longer have to worry about stumbling into the traps set along the path of life. Hell, for me at least, would be trying to guide the ball past holes 10 and 11 for eternity. Sort of like Sisyphus trying to get that boulder to the top of the hill, only to see it come tumbling down, again and again. 

In Game Three against the Wild, Patrick Kane did one of the amazing things he does, knocking a puck out of midair while skating at warp speed. For whatever reason, the hand/eye skill required to do that reminded me of the game Labyrinth and Paul Simon. I’m sure I’m not the only who mentally tortured themselves trying to get by hole numbers 4 and 5. I think my Labyrinth game eventually ended up in the fire pit. Actually, I’m “Still Crazy,” after all these years of listening to the sickening sound of the metal ball going ker-plunk. I finally gave up on the game; the “fighter did not remain.”

I recall Johnny Carson had Paul Simon as a guest on his show many moons ago. Personally, I think Simon is one of the greatest troubadours of my time; so many of his songs are submerged in the deep waters of disturbing emotion. You know the deep waters St Louis, Nashville and Minnesota find themselves in until next season. Carson and Simon made small talk for a while, and the interview seemed to be stalling a bit before Carson noted that he heard Simon was pretty good at the game Labyrinth.

They brought the game out and Simon matter of factly told Carson he was the world champion at the game. He had perfected his game while sitting in so many lonely hotel rooms, passing the time between shows. His first attempt saw him navigate the maze with the incredible ease, I’m not sure the ball even touched any of the wood blocks. (Anytime I got past a hole, I would try and rest against the wood blocks while composing myself for my next sortie.) While everyone was pretty impressed, Simon reversed the ball and went through the maze backwards, safely arriving at square one. He then took the shortest route, bypassing about 70% of the holes. The whole audience was pretty spell bound. At one point, Simon told Carson to time him, boasting he could set the record for the time it took to reach the finish line.

Somehow, he popped the ball up in the air to the left and landed it on the finishing run way. Sick! Of course Johnny had to give it a whirl. The concomitant Ed McMahon laughter that followed as he plunked the ball into one of the first holes still reverberates in my mind.

While most of us stand no chance against the game of Labyrinth, the Blackhawks were able to solve the maze known as the Minnesota Wild. In much the same manner as Paul Simon jumping the ball from the start to finish in two flips of the wrist, the Hawks sent the Wild to their favorite fishing holes a bit prematurely. The Hawks swept a very talented Wild team, although all the games were as tight a as bulls ass. In my mind, four things in particular accounted for the Hawks advancing; Kaner, Keith, Crawford and often the most valuable player on any team, Lady Luck.

The play that Kane made in Game Three, where he knocked the puck down out of midair on a cross ice pass at full speed amazed not only me, but Mike Milbury. He commented on the play in between periods, sort of shaking his head in disbelief. On the replay, I sort of thought to myself, that actually wasn’t that tough of play. That was until it was pointed out the replay was in slow motion! Milbury also commented on Kaner’s goal celebration, actually trying to imitate it, while saying, “What’s this all about,” while wiggling his fingers. His cohort, Jeremy Roenick immediately noted, “He’s Showtime.” – here we go again, eh. I’m pretty sure in street lingo the celebration means “Bring it.” “Special” Patrick was phenomenal against the Wild.

Corey Crawford was pretty amazing himself, stifling a potent Wild attack. Corey recorded a .947 save percentage for the series. I can still see his glove reaching back behind him to the right side of the net, to stop a puck from trickling over the goal line. As I recall, Zach Parise was lurking inches away from a mouth-watering rebound. With the game on the line in Game Three, Corey thwarted Granlund on a clear breakaway. Unsubstantiated rumors are Cor-dawg hollered “Get a haircut,” as he blockered away Granlund’s futile attempt. If it’s possible, Corey actually made that play look easy. Then in Game Four, when Rozsival broke his ankle in an awkward fall, Corey stoned Thomas Vanek. I’m wondering if any of the Hawk fans who said Corey should be moved in the off season to reduce salary cap issues are having second thoughts? Personally, I think those fans should be lined up, blindfolded and shot.

I loved the way the Tribune’s Steve Rosenbloom described Keith’s contributions to the Hawks success; “Patrick Kane is the Blackhawks pretty, shiny thing. Jonathan Toews is their metronome. The indefatigable Duncan Keith is their barometer, their gas gauge, their EKG. If he’s going, the Hawks are better than any other team.” Keith has a vision and the moxie that not many defensemen possess while being hounded by dog breath fore checkers.

Basically, I think he just keeps tabs on where Kane is any time 88 jumps over the boards – good thinking! While the home run passes are what make the highlight reels, what has always amazed me about Duncs are the little defensive plays Keith makes to thwart the opposition. There are a myriad of them every game that defuse a dangerous situation before it can develop. Of course, it helps when you can skate like a water bug on crystal meth.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about the Hawks right now is Coach Q is finally going with the lineup many of us have been clamoring for some time now. The current lineup has allowed Coach Q to confidently role four lines. In Games Three and Four respectively, Kruger played 15:24, 15:06, Shaw played 14:07, 11:31 and Desjardins logged 14:15 and 12:28 minutes of ice time. Think about it, that’s our fourth line! And coach Q had no problem throwing them out on the ice for shifts late in the third period, against the other team’s top line.

Andrew Shaw is perfectly placed as a winger on our lunch bucket line. As my grandma would say “They put a little elbow grease into it.” I believe Sam Fels has noted on several occasions that “Chicken Hawk” is at his agitating, annoying best when he’s not playing center. While watching Game Four, at the end of the second period I thought to myself, “Andrew Shaw just might be having the best game I’ve ever seen him play.” My suspicions were confirmed when Shaw was named 2nd star of the game; once again, I do know hockey. Desjardins does not know the meaning of the word stick check, constantly sacrificing his body for the betterment of his team. He’s beginning to remind me of John Madden from the 2010 team. Not many teams have the luxury of a Marcus Kruger on their fourth line. Marcus epitomizes the saying “unsung hero.” This indomitable line has done a great job sealing the puck deep in enemy territory.

Our third line Teravainen/Vermette/Sharp also has struck terror into the hearts of opposing fans and coaches. Vermette’s tenacity in the playoffs has been off the charts. I liked how one of the Wild’s nozzles was involved in a post whistle scrum with the handsome one, either in Game Three or Four. Vermette skated up behind the villain and gave him a forearm shiver in a camaraderie building moment. I’m pretty sure Sharp told him at one time, “If you be my body guard, I can be your long lost pal.”

I believe Vermette was about 65% on faceoffs in the Wild series – I’m pretty sure someone finally suggested that Coach Q give Antoine a shot at the center position. Teuvo continues to gain confidence, and more importantly Coach Q’s trust. His vision and quick decisions with the puck have been creating time and space for Sharp and Vermette. Personally, I love watching the kid skate, especially on the forecheck. Teuvo will burn you if you take your eye off him for a second.

Before his unfortunate spill at the blue line, Michal Rozsival was actually having a solid series against the boys from 10,000 lakes. Amazingly, bloggers who roasted Rozsival daily, were even forced to admit he had played quite well. While Michal is sort of the anti-Keith as far as skating quickness, his physical presence and veteran experience are going to be sorely missed. I don’t know how many of you noticed it, but as the 36 year old Czech defenseman went down in obvious pain, he still took a desperate swipe at the puck as Vanek tried to seize the moment. Moments later he tried to get up and help out when he realized the puck was still in play.

Now I’ve sprained my ankle many times, and the last thing on my mind as I’m going down in sickening pain is playing defense. It will be interesting to see who Coach Q pencils in to replace this veteran presence. Chris Block, who covers the IceHogs, noted Stephen Johns has been playing quite well during the Hog’s playoff run. He was the 31 star in Game Three against Grand Rapids. Although, it appears Rundblad is our first option. “Let’s get physical, physical,” Rundblad – Hit Someone! – Let me hear your body talk!”

While on the subject of d-men, after Rozsival got hurt, Matt Cooke and Hjalmarrson got into a post whistle kerfuffle, with Cooke actually giving Niklas a facial. I don’t know if Hjalmarrson made a conscious decision, but he wisely refused to respond. At this point in the game, losing another defenseman for even two minutes could have been disastrous. I’m pretty sure the diabolical, evil, sin infected Cooke knew exactly what he was doing. Cooke is the classic hockey equivalent of a burr under one’s saddle. He has the type of face that only a mother could love, but the dude is a hockey player.

As I noted before, although we dispatched the Wild in four games, the third period of Games Three and Four resembled a team trying to hold their ground against a hurricane.  One play in particular summed up the luck it takes to advance in the playoffs. With almost 4 minutes to play in Game Four, the Wild added the sixth attacker and the kitchen sink to the mix. It was classic bulldozer hockey in front of the net.

Bulldozer_2_20150514

The action was intense, with the green clad warriors in full attack mode. Wide spread panic ruled the moment. Although we were ahead 3-1 at the time, everyone in Chicago was keeping a wary eye on the clock, as they observed the frenetic action on frozen pond. One of the Wild forwards slipped the puck past Corey, only to see it hit the left post. To add salt to the wound, the puck did a reverse five hole, somehow squirting between Crawford’s legs. Toews scooped the puck up to Hossa, who then fired it into Minnesota’s abandoned net from the hawks zone. In the blink of an eye, instead of the score being 3-2, it was 4-1. Finally, we could all take a chill pill in The Windy City. Until…

Jason Pomniville made the score 4-2, at the 17:42 mark. Nino’s goal was set up by a blast from the point by Matt Dumba – that first round pick of the Wild has a slap shot that could make Bobby Hull blush. On a side note, both he and Spurgeon blasted Kane pretty good in the third period – sacrilege!) Less than a minute later, Nino Niederreiter pulled the Wild to within one – not good. No one breathed in Chicago, or Minnesota for that matter, for the next 87 seconds. In oxymoron-ish terms, it was a short eternity. Just to make things interesting, the Hawks took a too many men on the ice penalty with 15 ticks of the clock left in the game. When all was said and done, amazingly, the Hawks sent the Wild to their favorite fishing holes for the third consecutive season.

All is not doom and gloom for our friends in Minnesota’s frozen tundra. While I’m sure there is great disappointment in the Twin Cities, the ice fishermen are finally yanking their ice fishing huts from the lakes. Now I don’t want you to think that the nine Lindbloom kids didn’t know where their next meal was coming from back in the 1960’s, but the first vacation I ever went on was to Roosevelt Lake, between Emily and Outing Minnesota. I was going into 8th grade at the time.

My dad rented a cabin at Birch Knoll Resort on that pristine body of water; just my three brothers, my dad and myself went the first time. File that glorious week away as a small slice of heaven on earth. One of the highlights of the trip, and every consequent trip to Roosevelt Lake, was stopping at The Badger Cafe in Tomah, Wisconsin for supper – hell yes! Dinty Moore beef stew was one of the staples my dad cooked. The quality of the food increased considerably when my mom and sisters joined us the next year.

DintyMoore_3_20150514“Everything tastes better in the great outdoors!

On that first trip, I vividly recall standing on the shores of the massive Mille Lacs Lake about 100 miles north of The Cities, thinking we had finally arrived at our destination. However, we pressed on until we reached Roosevelt Lake. I recall the owner, Mr. James, really taking a liking to our family. I remember our first morning out on the glass like lake as if it was yesterday. We were up with the birds, and my dad rowed us to a spot that looked like it might be a fish hangout. My dad had to constantly remind us to be quiet, “You’re scaring the fish away!” With my three younger brothers and I quibbling about which side of the boat we were casting on, we raised quite a ruckus. As dad would say, “You’re making enough noise to wake the dead.” My dad, as was almost always the case, spent a good part of his “fishing time,” untangling our lines.

I think I caught the only fish that morning, a nice size largemouth bass. My dad was as excited as I was. I remember Mr James greeting us almost every time we docked the boat to see how we fared. We’d also get into arguments with him about his beloved Minnesota Twins, it seemed he always had the game on the radio at night. In a reverse Blackhawk/Wild rivalry, the Twinkies were the slightly better team back then. Mudcat Grant, Jim Kaat, Dean Chance, Harmon Killebrew, Earl Battey, Tony Oliva and Rod Carew to name a few, tormented  lot of good White Sox teams.

When my mom and five sisters joined us the next year, we rented two cabins, one for the boys and one for the girls. My sisters were more into sunbathing than fishing, and I can’t recall whether or not they would put worms on their own hooks. I’m pretty sure my dad or one of us boys did that. My mom turned out to be quite a fisher woman, almost always catching more fish than my dad! I believe the second year was the time when my brothers took one of Mr James cigars and went in the cabin and smoked it. They spent some time in the penalty box when my little brother Jimmy ratted them out.

The last memory I’ll share is when my mom, brother John and I got stuck on the far side of the lake when a violent storm blew in. The lake was filled with white caps, and it started pouring. I can still picture my mom in the front of the boat, probably wondering if she should trust a 14 year old to guide her to safety. We made a run for it, with our boat being buffeted by the choppy water. All you needed was the Door’s song Riders On the Storm, to complete the tense situation. By the grace of God, we managed to cross the lake.

The Hawks will no doubt be in the middle of some tense situations as we begin our series with the Quackers. Our upcoming series with Anaheim reminded me of two vacations my wife and I took with our kids to Disneyland and Disney World. While they were fun, they were very expensive, and actually not so relaxing. Lines were long, the park was crowded and I’m not fond of roller coaster rides. I’d have to say I’ve always preferred the equanimity of nature over hustle, bustle and excessive pricing of a Disneyland type vacation.

Wild fans, you may not have the Cup, but you can always find a little peace of mind by grabbing a pole and a line. As Taj Mahal sang, “Bet your life, your sweet wife, gonna catch more fish than you.” And as my dad once told me, “When all else fails, use the Daredevil lure.”

Lure_4_20150514

For the Hawks, well for at least one more series, the labyrinth continues.

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Rich Lindbloom

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