Saturday, April 17, 2010

Round 1, Game 1: Painful to watch

It was said prior to Game 1, and it will be said again: the team who wants the win more will get it.

How badly do the Blackhawks want it?
If game 1 of their round 1 matchup against the Nashville Predators is any indicator, fans could be forgiven for wondering. After two solid periods, with the only goal being scored by Patrick Kane, the Blackhawks led, 1-0.

And then, like has happened more this season than fans would care to remember, the team seemed to leave their cohesiveness in the locker room between the second and third periods.

Now, both teams made mention of the ice conditions at the UC, but in playoff games, you can't have excuses. It was an odd bounce on the first goal that sneaked by Antti Niemi in the third period, because it certainly looked like the goalie had made the save - at first. You could even see the happy surprise on J.P. Dumont's face as he realized that the puck had, in fact, gone in.  Dumont admitted as much himself, stating,  “It was a lucky bounce, but we’ll take it. That’s what happens sometimes.’’

Here's a suggestion:  

Dear United Center - when the Bulls can actually fill the stands again, so they look like they do for a Blackhawks game - e.g., like this:

then maybe you can schedule their playoff games at the UC again. In the meantime, ask yourselves: what team does Chicago MOST want to see win their playoffs this year? I'll give you a hint: they played tonight to a sellout, SRO crowd of 22,000+. Don't mess with playoff ice. It's *important*. Go send the Bulls to the Allstate Arena or something. Jeez, if the crowds I saw at a Bulls game a week and a half ago are any indication, a college gym would do.

I don't understand why a goal always seems to suck the wind out of the Blackhawks' sails. Do they think every game will be a shutout? The third period hadn't started out that well to begin with - Nashville finally became the more predominant team. Troy Brouwer then had a bad turnover; the Predators turned it into a goal - and it was all she wrote at that point, as you could practically watch the team's play crumbling into the ice.

There's already articles up, pointing towards Niemi and making it sound like he failed the team. I don't think that's the case here at all. 
There were multiple breakaways from Chicago players (Kane, Toews, Sharp, Hossa, etc.), and either the Predators shut them down, or Pekka Rinne nailed shut it at the net. No doubt the team was already frustrated by the time Patrick Kane finally got a goal in the second period. 
You can't say the Hawks sat on their heels third period. No, they ran their skates off - chasing, trying to catch up, and plain old sloppy play, all too familiar from March: bad passing, not scoring on breakaways, losing rebounds, defense scrambling to get back in its zone, and often, ending up with the puck under their skates and looking around like they had no idea where it went. It didn't even look like the same team from the first two periods; it was like they were deflated after one measly goal had been scored against them.

Then the Hawks decided to go with the empty net tactic - which, well, frankly, hasn't worked all that hot for them this season. Why give up any extra goals, when you still have a chance to pull yourself together and score a point, to at least force OT? Why take that risk when defense has played badly?

The fact is, if they hadn't fallen apart after the first goal against them, they probably could've managed to pull out a win. Niemi was certainly playing like he wanted to win; I can't say the same for the rest of the team. He was, up until the middle of the third period, getting it done.

Nashville played steady, solid, patient: waiting for the Blackhawks star players to get the puck, and then shutting them down. In the third period, they practically ran circles around the Hawks. And it paid off, as Chicago frantically ran around, attempting to get the game back under control, and simply made it worse.

There are no "gimmes" in the playoffs. Every single game counts. If you don't bring your best game - and play the whole game -then you go home.

In post-game interviews, John Madden stated, "They got a break on their first goal, obviously... good teams don't let that bug 'em, and we didn't do that for so much, we kind of sat back and let them take it to us right after that for a while."

See, this is why I like Madden: he doesn't try to sugar-coat the errors. He'll say it straight and he'll say it like it is. He'd got the experience on the ice to know that you win through good play, not excuses.

The Cubs were in the house, too, tonight, and ever-superstitious hockey fans were quick to lob a flamethrower of blame at the "Cubs curse". Well, the Cubs weren't the ones out there skating on the ice - and they were probably relieved they had had a win this afternoon.

It's only game one, and there's six more to go. The Blackhawks can turn this bus around.

But how badly do they want to?

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