Entrenched in the heart of Gangland, the Canucks look to take a 2-0 lead over the Chicago Blackhawks in their Western Conference Semifinals match tonight. We know the pushback from the Hawks is coming, the real question is whether the Canucks are going to be able to match their intensity, stay focused on the game plan, and if the game degenerates into shenanigans, not let the Hawks dictate it too much. Does this feel familar? It should. We were in the same situation a year ago.
A lot of people were shocked by what they saw out of the Chicago Blackhawks Saturday night, but a look at the stats of this team shows you that since the NHL resumed play after the Olympics, they're 1 game over .500. Pretty average for a team that many had penciled in all season as a Cup favorite. Sure, they suffered some injuries, the only notable one being Brian Campbell. They turned things around in the start of April with 5 wins before losing the last game of the season to Detroit.
Is there something wrong with this Blackhawks team? They've struggled to score goals in the post season, their game 5 win over the Preds was an anomaly, and it was as much a complete breakdown by Nashville combined with lucky bounces and a gentle nudge from the officials. A perfect storm, if you will. I'm not saying the Blackhawks are going to get their asses handed to them. I am saying it's been a while since we've seen that dominant Hawks team. If they don't make an appearance tonight, they're in big trouble.
Another question for tonight is do the Canucks make any changes lineup wise? Aaron Rome is reportedly ready to return, but after another solid game from Andrew Alberts, do you give Rome another night to heal and not mess with the chemistry? Same can be said for Ryan Johnson. He's nearing return as well, does someone come out so the PK specialist can return to the lineup? We will wait and see. It's going to be a hell of a game, that's for sure.
Chicago has already stated there will be no change in goal tonight. Antti Niemi had a couple strong bounceback games after giving up 4 goals in a couple losses to the Predators. That being said, the offensive firepower of the Preds doesn't hold a candle to the Canucks, and with all 4 lines clicking, I expect the Hawks to try and match the Canucks tonight and try to engage them in a run & gun kind of match, along with a little more nastiness than we saw in Game 1. Is it going to be over the top? I wonder, as Coach Joel Quenneville was already concerned about giving the Canucks opportunities by going out of their way to make a hit, taking themselves out of the play as a result.
What I think you will see is a number of Hawks players looking for that perfect shot though. That Willie Mitchell moment. A huge hit could be a momentum changer in this series, and they desperately need it to get themselves and their fans back in this series. For the Canucks, playing their game but being conscious of Chicago's desire to mix it up is key, and continuing to get shots on the net is as well. Niemi's rebound control was like Sarah Palin's logic: somewhere between scattered and non-existent.
I tried to tell them
The outrage on the Twitter machine last night over the officiating in the Detroit / San Jose game was a little comical, but ultimately frustrating. A lot of what was said saw Canucks fans branded with the tin foil hat of shame. We have been saying all along, it's competence and consistency that we want. There's no conspiracy with the officials. They're just bloody awful right now, and you have to wonder the logic of them contacting Roberto Luongo about diving when you saw the embarrassingly bad performance from Evgeni Nabokov last night. That makes the game look bad, and the refs should have realized after the first time that he did it that he was trying to draw calls. Both teams were guilty of it, and both teams should have been penalized for it, and not rewarded. I know the game is fast, and even faster at ice level. But is it wrong to expect the officials to get a call right even a few times a game?
That being said, I don't know what was more surprising, the fact that the Sharks are headed to Detroit with a 2-0 series lead, or that the winning goal last night came from Joe Thornton. Just like it's a little early to declare the Sharks playoff woes over, it's also too soon to say No-Show Joe has arrived. It is going to be an interesting night Tuesday at the JLA though, as the Wings try to salvage the series.
A lousy game 1 for Jaroslav Halak had some predicting an easy run for the Penguins. But a plucky and banged up Canadiens squad withstood the Penguins' onslaught, frustrated the hell outta Sidney Crosby and walked out of Pittsburgh with the split. Every goal that Mike Cammalleri scores should be added to the highlight reel of Flames' GM Daryl Sutter's case to have his ass fired. You seriously let this guy walk to keep Olli Jokinen? You're reaping what you sow, in this instance. The fields will be barren for years to come in Calgary. Anyways, this Montreal / Pittsburgh has a whole new feel to it now, and while I am still not sure they can pull off another upset, we've all seen what a hot goalie can do for you in the playoffs. Now if they could just shut down Matt Cooke...