Saturday, May 15, 2010

Countdown to puck drop

The city collectively holds its breath, waiting for the first game of round 3 to start, and the series ahead for the Blackhawks.

The Blackhawks' marketing mantra for the past two years has been "One Goal" - that goal being the great, gleaming silver trophy that is the Holy Grail of Hockey. During a number of games this season - and post-season - it has seemed like the Hawks took the "One Goal" a little too literally.

Chicago was a powerful team throughout the regular season, and there was no doubt that they would qualify for the playoffs. And here they are, knocking off the Canucks in round two - again - and going on to face the San Jose Sharks for the right to represent the Western Conference in this year's final round.

The team had some bad moments in the first two rounds. The Predators certainly made the series as difficult as possible, and it would be impossible to deny that Antti Niemi managed to help keep his team in some of those games.

Game 5 vs Nashville left the fans' hearts in their collective throats. When it looked like the Preds were going to take it, Patrick Kane nailed in a short-handed goal in the final seconds to force overtime, and then Marian Hossa scored the game-winning goal in OT, creating one of the most thrilling moments throughout the entire playoffs.

After Vancouver stomped on the Blackhawks - on home ice, no less - it seemed like the team just hadn't learned the lessons that the first round had taught them. But Chicago went out and did what Chicago does best - rallied from the losses and went on to take the series, 4-2, with all four wins being 2+ goal differences.

And that brings us to San Jose.

Both teams going into tomorrow's game are equally hungry. Chicago last took it all in 1961. The Sharks - founded in 1991 - have never even been to the final round. They're ranked as the top two teams in the Western Conference, and due to the oddest-of-odd finalists in the Eastern Conference, there's an awful lot of sports writers eager to proclaim this series as the preview for who will hoist the trophy come June.

To quote Han Solo, "Great, kid; don't get cocky."

Both teams know they're facing what is probably their best-matched opponent in the entire league. Both teams are big, fast, and deep, with tons of skill and talent. Any mistakes will be immediately capitalized upon by the other team. Assuming that both teams bring their "A" game faces to every single game, this is going to be a thriller of a series for the fans and players alike.

To be certain, whoever wins this series knows that the final-round faceoff against the EC winner will not, by any means, be a cake walk, either. You aren't a 7th or 8th-ranked team and make it to the 3rd round Conference playoff round by mere fluke or accident or even luck; you get there by your team working hard, working solid, and just flat-out wanting it more than the other guys. The Final round is going to be tough, just as tough as the 3rd round.

Like many other fans, I'll be tuning in to NBC on Sunday afternoon for game 1, eager to see my team do its thing - its beautiful, awesome thing - and start this series off right.

The city believes. The fans have faith.

One game at a time.

One Goal.

Just one team brings it home.




Let's go, Blackhawks!

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