May 272015

Lindbloom_top_20150527June 9, 1978 

In the clearing stands a boxer,
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of ev’ry glove that laid him down
And cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame
“I am leaving, I am leaving”
But the fighter still remains – Paul Simon

By Rich Lindbloom

Something dawned on me as I watched the post-game interviews after Saturday’s thrilling, if not discombobulated, victory over Ducks.

Toews, Kane and Crawford all appeared to be exhausted, almost zombie like as reporters peppered them with questions. Although they won the thrilling overtime game, their countenance and words belied a group of warriors who were physically and mentally exhausted. The core group of this Blackhawk team is playing in their fifth Conference Finals in seven years. The Hawks are well aware of the self-sacrifice it takes to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals – it’s akin to climbing Mt. Everest without oxygen. (Keith could probably do it, and Toews would die trying no doubt.) Herculean efforts, battling through pain, taking themselves “to the limit one more time,” is a steep price to pay through one deep Stanley Cup run, let alone five. 

Although Ryan Kesler seems to have convinced himself that the Hawks can’t overcome the physicality that gets ratcheted up about ten notches in every playoff series, the road to the Conference Final is chock full of bruised and battered bodies. Of course Kesler’s ignorance can be somewhat understood, as this is only his second Conference Final during the same time period. Trust me Ryan, the Flames, Canucks, Pred’s, Sharks, Wild, Flyers, Bruins and Kings do not shy away from physical contact. In fact, those teams were littered with nozzles just like you.

This is the Hawk’s third consecutive year of advancing to the Conference Finals; to be blunt, the novelty and excitement has worn off a bit for the Hawk veterans. By that I mean the excitement, energy and desire of a team that reaches the Finals for the first time is going to be greater than a team who has been there several times. While not exactly a “The Thrill Is Gone” mindset, (RIP B.B. King), a team like Anaheim of Tampa Bay may be a little hungrier, a bit more enthusiastic, about advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals. To tell you the truth, I’ve grown a little weary watching the Hawks in these playoff runs, I can only imagine what the players feel like. These series do take a toll on us.

At the end of this piece I’ve attached a you tube of Round 15 of the June 9, 1978 fight between Larry Holmes and Ken Norton. I recall one of the boys at Hockeenight included it in a piece awhile back – it’s one of those moments in sports that should never be forgotten. The fight itself was voted the 10th best bout in boxing history. The 15th round, voted the 7th best round of all time by The Ring magazine, reminded me of what it takes to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Basically these two great heavy weights stood toe to toe, exchanging blow after blow. And this round was just the culmination of the 14 rounds of intense action that preceded it. How either pugilist remained standing when the final bell rung is nothing short of a miracle. After 15 rounds of exchanging thunderous punches, the fighter still remained.

As we head into Game Six, and hopefully Game Seven of this great series against the Quackers, I’m convinced the fighter still remains in our beloved Hawks. As Elvis Costello would put it, “Don’t bury me, cuz I’m not dead yet.” After blowing a two goal lead with about 10 minutes to go in Game Four, the Hawks almost overcame perhaps the worst period of hockey a Blackhawk team ever played. After going down 3-0, in a period that was not even that close, the Hawks reached down and mounted a comeback that those of us who watched will not soon forget. The fighter still remained.

Both Jonesy and Milbury had signed our death warrant in between the first and second period, noting it was just not the Hawks night. While my brain was thinking along the same lines, my heart seemed to take solace in their being 40 more minutes of hockey. Serious doubt still remained, but if we could just get the next goal somehow…

Before describing the incredible effort of the warriors with the Indian on their chest, I’d like to pass a long a poignant observation on our worthy adversaries. While the casual observer and TV announcers keep drooling over every hit that the Ducks lay on the Hawks, Anaheim is much more than that. Lindholm, Rakell, Etem, Palmieri, Getzlaf, Perry, Despres, Fowler, Kesler and Cogliano are all first round draft picks. Jakob Silfverberg, was a second round pick. As we’ve seen, this team is capable of going toe to toe with any adversary. Both teams in this series have been rolling four talented, hardworking lines. Even though I had added Belesky, Maroon, Cogliano, Silfverberg and Lindhom on my Fantasy Hockey League team at one point or another this past season, I wasn’t completely convinced they could skate with the Hawks. I am now!

Fortunately Coach Q did not take Jonesy’s advice and put in Scott Darling to rest Crawford for Game Six. When the Finnish flash, Teuvo Teravainen, struck pay dirt at the 1:11 mark of the second period, rekindling the nearly extinguished hope in the men of four feathers. When Teuvo set up Brent Seabrook for a snipe at the 19:35 mark of the second period, it appeared the momentum was clearly in the Hawks favor. While his no look shot through Clayton Stoner’s legs was a thing of beauty, his pass to Seabs was Gretzkyesque. Setting up behind the net, he corralled a puck that was about at his waist. He watched it until it got to his foot. With his head up looking for an option, Teuvo kicked the puck to his stick without looking at it. I can’t empathize enough the skill it took to make this play. Teuvo also assisted on Vermette’s winning goal in Game Two.

After the game, Teuvo was asked by a reporter if he was gaining more confidence. His reply made me smile; “I’m a lot more confidant out there than in front of you.” Clearly, the future looks very bright for #86. The line of Vermette, Teravainen and Sharp cycled in the Anaheim zone as if they were competing in the Tour de France. They could be the Ducks biggest challenge at the moment.

I’m not sure why, but Kane/Richards/Bickell has been a disaster in the Hawks defensive zone. Perhaps it’s because they are being matched a lot against Anaheim’s highly effective line of Cogliano/Thompson/Palmieri. I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen way too much of #7 for the Ducks. I haven’t noticed the defensive pairings for the Hawks when our second line is out there – maybe that has something to do with it.  But the Hawk’s will need a huge effort from this line in Game Six. I did take great delight when Kaner was paired with Teuvo or Toews at times in Game Five. If you’re a Duck d-dawg, that’s a lot to keep track of! As Brad Vandenberk noted in his game summary at “Let the dancing begin!”

Actually, I thought Bickell was cross checked in the numbers from behind at center ice, just prior to Maroon putting the Ducks up 4-2. I guess Anaheim’s whining about the disparity in penalties finally paid off. The 223# hitting machine on the Hawks went flying towards the boards. That’s a lot of hockey player to knock off his feet. I believe Bickell may be harboring some sort of injury. I liked Bick’s observation in reply to the classless Kesler’s observation that no human can withstand the physical punishment the Ducks were laying on the Hawks. Bryan noted that the players laying those hits are taking a toll on the hitter also. Makes me wonder if Bickell injured himself checking one of the Ducks, or Wild or Preds.

When Maroon scored that fourth goal with 4:15 left in the game off a nifty pass from Vatanen, it appeared our fate was sealed. But as Chris Kober from Anaheim Calling so aptly put it, “The Hawks gonna Hawk, or more specifically, Toews gonna Toews.” Overcoming incredible odds, the Hawks managed to send this game into OT. Many of us were singing that old Sinatra standard, High Hopes. Unfortunately, Bickell became the goat when he failed to get the puck deep while the hawks were attempting a line change. I’m pretty sure Coach Q was trying to get Toews’s line out there against Keslers. And if the truth be known, although I think Kesler is a dirtbag, he’s one hell of a hockey player.

Instead of heading back to the United Center up 3-2, we’re heading into a must win situation tonight. In my opinion, the Hawks do not need to defeat the Mighty Ducks two times; they just have to keep winning the next game. I know, profound, right? Our we Running On Empty? Have seven years of playoff wars finally worn us down? Is a palm tree Stanley Cup Final inevitable? (yeeeccchhh)

Well bear in mind that the Ducks had the Kings down 3-1 last year. I had Frederik Andersen on my Fantasy Team all year – and while he has been outstanding in this series, he does spring a leak now and again. Something tells me the weary Hawks will answer the bell in Round 15.

Ken Norton said his life was inspired by the book “Think and Grow Rich.,” written by Napoleon Hill. In particular, Norton focused on one quote; “Life’s battles don’t always go to the stronger or faster man, but sooner or later the man who wins is the man who thinks he can.”

In closing, I’m reminded of a Bob Dylan song, “I’ll Keep It With Mine.” Fairport Convention did a haunting version of this song in 1969. Sandy Denny’s incredible voice was accompanied by incredible, exquisite guitar work by Richard Thompson. The song has the ability to bring tears to your eyes. The last verse reminds me of our tired, yet still clinging to life Blackhawks.  As we enter into Round 15, I expect the Hawks will throw a few hits of their own tonight. I’m convinced after the last two games, “The fighter still remains.”

The train leaves at half past ten
But it will be back tomorrow at the same time again
The conductor..
He’s still stuck on the line
But if I, can save you any time
C’mon, give it to me, I’ll keep it with mine.” – Bob Dylan

Other Important Stuff:

As the Little Engine who thought he could said, “I think I can, I think I can…”

If the Hawks should, heaven forbid, perish tonight, I would hope those in attendance would give them a loud and prolonged standing ovation. It’s the least you could do for a team that has battled over the last seven years for Hawk fans. It certainly may be missing a piece or two of the puzzle next year.


Rich Lindbloom

Round 15 – Larry Holmes vs Ken Norton, June 9, 1978

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