“I’m gonna show you, I’m gonna give it to you.”
“Never let your head hang down.
Never give up and sit down and grieve.
Find another way.
And don’t pray when it rains if you don’t pray when the sun shines.”
– Satchel Paige
By Rich Lindbloom
This post season has left me in a pensive mood while contemplating the ascendance of new stars and decline of old heroes.
I guess I could take some solace in that while yesterday’s hockey dynasty’s, like the Bruins and Kings, are watching this year’s playoffs from the sideline, the Hawks are in the Stanley Cup Final. Yet, it seems there are some chinks in the armor; there have been times in this season I’m overcome with a sense of the beginning of the end. One of the greatest guitarists most of you have never heard of, Roy Buchanan, has a song called The Circle that reminds me of the mercurial nature of success. I believe the lyrics are basically saying “what goes up, must come down.”
“One seems to change one’s life
In many different ways
Doesn’t matter what you do
The circle remains the same.”
I’ve often told friends that my favorite Hawk season remains Toews and Kane’s rookie year. It was a time of rebirth and exponential growth in our hope for the men who wear the Indian on their chest. And most importantly, seats were $10 in the boonies! The excitement brought on by our bright young stars was palpable. It didn’t matter that we just missed making the playoffs that year; Jupiter was ascending. I’ll never forget that huge bed sheet hanging from one of the sky boxes with three words inscribed in red on it; “Pride Is Back.” Or the spine tingling ovation for the last three minutes of the regular season finale at the United Center after failing by the skin of their chinny, chin, chin to make the playoffs.
Now, 8 years later, the youthful appearance of Toews, Kane, Keith, Seabrook and even our resident Mouseketeer, Corey Crawford, seems to have been replaced with the mugs of grizzled veterans. If you’ve followed the Hawks since 2007/08 season, you’ve been treated to some great hockey and an inordinate amount of success. James Neveau wrote a piece before Game Three in the Committed Indian, (don’t enter the United Center without it), that sort of echoed my sentiments. The piece was entitled, “Finding the Thrill.” Have we Hawk fans become inured to success, even while we can feel it starting to slip away? Roy Clark wrote a wonderful, melancholic song called Yesterday When I Was Young. I encourage you to google the lyrics – they evoke feelings similar to those moments when we pull out the old High School yearbook. Following is just one stanza:
“Yesterday when I was young
The taste of life was sweet as rain upon my tongue.
I teased at life as if it were a game,
The way the evening breeze may tease a flame.
The thousand dreams I dreamed, the splendid things I planned
I’d always built to last on weak and shifting sand.
I lived by night and shunned the naked light of day
And only now I see how the years ran away.”
As I hit the hay after Wednesday’s game, it wasn’t with the joy that would normally accompany a Blackhawk victory in the Stanley Cup Finals. Truthfully, it felt like we lost many battles within the game. There was a creeping sense of doubt in the ability of the Hawks to overcome this brash, talented Lightning Bolt team. As was pointed out in the movie Snow Dogs, it felt like I had been hit by thunder; twice. I couldn’t seem to take the sagacious advice in Psalm 118:24 “This is the day the Lord has made; rejoice and be glad in it.” Instead of feeling good about the Hawk chances when we head to Tampa For Game Five, I was reduced to the thought of someone at least whacking Nikita Khrushchev, errr I mean Kucherov, for his ongoing malfeasance;
“We will bury you!”
However it has been said that there is no ill for today, for which tomorrow does not hold the cure. Despite many commentators, sports writers and even die-hard Hawk fans beginning throw a few shovels of dirt upon the Hawks grave, I woke up Monday with a very positive outlook; more on that later…
For the most part, and especially at the speed it is played at now a days, hockey is a young mans game. Eventually, as Jane Ace noted, “time wounds all heels.” After Game Four Keith Jones jumped on the Lightning band wagon, extolling their youth and speed. He somewhat admonished the Hawks, stating they should not feel good about their victory. Jonesy went so far as to say the Bolts, who again had lost the contest, should be happier than the Hawks. It was a classic example of Freaky Friday or what is known as an “opposite day,” type comment. Fortunately, moral victories don’t count in the standings and the series is knotted at two games apiece. But damn it Hawks, don’t you dare feel good about yourselves!
Truthfully, there is no doubt that Game Four was a classic example of winning ugly. Jon Fromi in his wrap at thethirdmanin.com noted “The Hawks played the first period like old people…uh…getting…um…intimate.” That would have made my quote of the week normally, but Sam Fels said something in The Indian before game Four that beat him out by a nose hair. I’ll be touching on that quote in my closing ruminations.
Chris Block perfectly summarized a lot of Hawk fans doubts in a note he sent to me before last Wednesday’s tussle at the United Center:
“They’ve got to play a perfect game tonight. The longer this series goes, the worse the Hawks are off, as I see it. Tonight we’ll know for sure. But I wonder if the Hawks are on the verge of hitting a wall. Tampa is so good, confident and cocky. They just don’t care. They don’t get rattled. Tampa reminds me of the Hawks in 2010.”
But this group of Hawk veterans, as so often is their want, found a way to put a W on the board. They were led by Cor-dawg, although this win was far from a goalie win alone. No, this win was built on the foundation of intestinal fortitude; this win was a result of scratching, kicking, sacrificing and clawing their way to victory. It wasn’t pretty – a lot of times that’s just the nature of hockey playoff games. The one thing that rekindled my hope as we enter a best of three contest for Lord Stanley’s Cup, is the Hawks desire to win – it’s quite apparent to me that it’s still there. Basically, the win was the Roy Buchanan lead in the song The Circle – indeed, ‘I’m gonna show you, I’m gonna give it to you.” It’s a pants on fire lead, kicking ass and taking names from the get go.
As was pointed out by Fromi, the Hawks were not on fire from the get go. Toews made an observation after the game that seemed to describe the Hawks problems with Tampa in a nutshell. He noted their youth and speed, but said that the Bolts were the tightest checking teams they’ve met in the playoffs. Literally, it looks like they have 8 men on the ice at times. Let me ask you; is there a player on the ice who has a greater desire to win than Tazer? The joke after we lost to Vancouver a few years back in the playoffs was that Toews was still staring at the wall in the locker room the next morning.
Toews has been fabulous in this series, in my opinion you’d be hard pressed to find a better player on the ice. I had to laugh when he questioned the ref’s high sticking call on him against Hedman. Viktor is 6′ 7″ tall so when Toews grazed his chin, well, that is kind of the definition of a “high” stick, no? Toews has been a wizard at the dot all playoffs long, and that has been one category the Hawks have dominated as a whole against the young whippersnappers from Tampa. It was Johnny on the spot who got us on the scoreboard first off a nice assist from Patrick Sharp.
Sharpie seemed to fit like a glove on Tazer’s line. He had Andrei Vasilevskiy clearly beat when Big Hoss sent him in all alone on the 20 year old Lightning goalie. (I did have to chuckle when some blogger called Andrei, Vasectomy – a lot easier to spell and remember.) The Tyumen, Russia native is so young looking, I thought I saw him mixing my shake at Dairy queen the other day. Although he deserved, and earned, high praise filling in for Ben Bishop in Game Four, if I were Tampa, I’d be a tad nervous. They can say all they want about the Bolts are confident with whoever is in the net, but there is a reason Ben Bishop is #1.
After all. the Hawks did hit two posts, a cross bar and Tazer came inches away from deflecting in two slap passes – one of them a beauty from Brad Richards on the power play. Vasilevskiy, did make two great saves on Kaner, one on a 2 on one with Desjardins and another attempt from the shallow slot when Brad Richards dropped a perfect pass off on a 3 on 2. (There’s that Richards name again.) C’mon Kaner, use the force next time!
Is it just me, or has Richards been playing exceptionally well this Series? It wasn’t just the way he sneakily tied up Anton Stralman’s attempt to cut off Brandon Saad on the game winner. (Fond memories of The Rat, Dave Bolland come to mind.) The veteran has been winning face offs, checking, scrapping, helping out the power play and being defensively responsible. Sort of an unsung hero in this playoff run.
I’m afraid Saad’s game winner boosted his salary by another million next season when the Hawks attempt to resign the Pittsburgh native. I read a few descriptions of his goal in Game Four and they said “Saad went five hole on Vasilevskiy.” It sure looked to me like it was one of those incidents of puck luck. It appeared Saad just knocked the puck towards the goal. Miraculously Andrei’s legs parted like the Red Sea at that precise moment. After the game Saad said he just threw the puck towards the net hoping to cause some chaos. Brandon, that wasn’t exactly chaos. The Webster’s definition of chaos is the last two minutes of Game Four when the puck was hermetically sealed in the Hawks zone. Watching those nerve wracking two minutes was like having your head placed in a guillotine, awaiting the blade to rocket down sending your severed head into a wicker basket.
A player who has contributed to the considerable chaos in our end of the ice this series is Nikita Kucherov. While he is a tremendous talent, he epitomizes the word nozzle. In my last piece, I exhorted the use of vigilante justice – ok, ok, maybe I’ve been listening to Don Cherry too much. But every time I see Johhny Oduya with one hand on his stick, I can’t help but feel the communist dawg needs to be dealt with. Which brings me to my next salient point – we need a fight in this series. Call me a meatball if you want to, but I know I’m not the only one who wants to see Kucherov pummeled – that’s hockey baby. And whichever Hawk decides to volunteer, make sure you get the first punch in. I have zero problem with a sucker punch. Even if it isn’t Kucherov, I still think a fight would spice things up a bit.
I will agree with one poignant observation that Jonesy made about Kucherov. Jones said “He looks fast against the Blackhawks defenseman, which isn’t easy to do.” Actually the Lightning speed has been a thorn in our britches all series long. By the way, did you know the average lightning bolt travels at 224,000mph or 3,700 miles per second? No wonder the Lightning look so fast out there! But to me, it seems the Hawks finally figured out how to slow the Bolts down a little in periods two and three. Basically, it comes down to two time tested words, when all else fails, “Hit somebody!”
As I watched the game on Wednesday, the eye test told me the Hawks were raising up the physicality meter. The Hawks recorded 34 hits in Game Four. In Game Three the total was 27, Game Two – 28 and in Game One – 21. Hockey 101 states that you have a hard time joining the rush when you’re dusting off your shorts. While Brent Seabrook may have been the only Hawk to send a Bolt flying, the Hawks as a whole were finishing their checks with greater gusto as the game progressed. Anton Vermette is very good at taking the body, for some inexplicable reason he played just over 9 minutes on Wednesday. If you ask me, the Hawks were playing like they were a little ticked off. (By the way, I thought Seabs looked lethargic in Game Four. A friend at work told me he heard Seabrook had the flu or something. If that’s the case Brent, I take back everything I said about you.)
A little bit was made of Duncan Keith punching Ryan Callahan in the back of the head at one point, I think in the second period. What the announcers failed to point out was as Keith and Callahan went into the corner to dig out the puck, Callahan’s elbow narrowly missed Keith’s head. Ryan should consider himself lucky; Keith does not play when a grinder tries to take his head off, Sedin and Carter come to mind. In short, what Keith did to Callahan is just retribution in my book.
In the end though, despite a furious onslaught by a Lightning bunch that really didn’t want to go back to Tampa with the series tied, the Hawks once again, Found A Way. Admittedly, we may have landed on a wing and a prayer, but after four games, this series is a tight as Brutzy’s nuts. Could it be that this cocky, brash, confident, young and speedy Lightning team might feel a bit more pressure tonight. As the saying goes, “Old age and treachery will always beat youth and exuberance.”
The bottom line is, when I awoke Thursday morning, I felt a lot better about our chances. Despite being staggered a few times, the Hawks have withstood a fusillade of punches from this surprising Tampa Bay team. With the series tied 2-2 some of the Bolt players have to be thinking, “What do we have to do to knock this team out?” I loved Sam Fels thought in the Committed Indian on Wednesday;
“The Lightning really appear to be feeling their oats after Game Three and haven’t been hesitant to tell everyone how good they think they are. Yeah, well, the Hawks haven’t swung yet.” (images of Rocky landing that first blow to the ribs of Apollo Creed come to mind. It was noted, “as the match progresses, Creed’s superior skill is countered by Rocky’s apparent unlimited ability to absorb punishment and his dogged refusal to be knocked out.” – boy does that sound like a description of this Finals)
All this changing of the guard hype reminds me of our Thursday night pick up Volleyball games. I still play with a lot of the same people we played with almost 30 years ago. Over that time, our kids have gone from just trying to bump the ball over the net, to in some cases playing Club and High School volleyball. They’re very talented all the sudden and boy don’t they know it.
While playing last week I mentioned to two of the better players, Kevin and Claire that it would be fun to have the old fogies tee off against the young whippersnappers. Kevin started laughing heartily noting that “We would kill you.” While Claire didn’t exactly voice her opinion, the smile on her face belied her thoughts. I told my daughter about it and her and Zach were licking their chops. What they don’t know is that why we old people might not be as intimate as two young lovers in spring, we still got game! If we can just remember to keep our knees bent at all times and let the broads do most of the passing, the kids might be in for a surprise. What they don’t know is, although I’m not even as quick as a turtle anymore, I have a wild card up my sleeve. Mark Cimmaroli. Need I say more? Be scared whippersnappers, be very scared.
Bottom line is, I believe a modicum of fear is settling in the back of the Lightning’s rudimentary brain stem. And the truth of the matter is, after watching the adversity and ups and downs the Hawks have faced all season, I woke up Thursday morning and thought, “This Hawk season is quietly becoming one of my favorite.” You have to admire the desire of the Hawks to win, to push themselves, to fight thru the pain and exhaustion. After all the bumps, bruises and drama this year, they are two games away from hoisting the Cup. Win or lose, savor the moment Hawk fans, hockey in June is always a good thing.
And Coach Q, if you have half a brain you will crank up the following song before the Hawks take to the ice tonight. I guarantee you, the players will be bouncing off the walls.
My hat’s off to this upstart Lightning team; but tonight we’re going to show you, tonight we’re going to give it to you. As Satchel Paige noted in his down to earth wisdom, I believe the Hawks are going to find a way.
Other important stuff:
If Brent Seabrook’s stomach is still hurting him, he may want to take Satchel’s advice; “If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.” Good thought for you Hawk fans sitting on pins and needles also.
Do we have any defenseman who can skate the puck out of the zone. Hjalmarsson especially on one play in the third, could have skated to at least the Hawks the blue line.
Timonen seemed to have a little fire in his belly on Wednesday. In general, we were talking about how difficult it must be for the third pairing guys to get into the flow of the game when you only play 5 to 6 minutes. That being said, I’m not sure my intestines could take it!
Is it just me, or is anyone else tired of hearing about celebrities buying celebrities expensive steak dinners?
Coach Q, find a way to play Vermette more.
If you ever want a visual representation of puck luck, watch a replay of Seabrook’s stick deflecting Stamkos’ shot ever so lightly past a wide open net. Lord have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us.
Roy Buchanan and Satchel Paige are two people that I’d love to sit down and have a beer with.
Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.
Find a way