Friday, April 30, 2010

Brent Sopel and Chuck Norris: Separated at birth?

If you're not on Twitter - and if you're not a Blackhawks fan - you might have missed today's nod to the Blackhawks' D-Man and master of blocking, Brent Sopel!:

Brent Sopel

hockeenight - Brent Sopel already has the Hart Trophy. Just nobody knows it yet.

AndrewCieslak - You mean the Sopel Trophy? They renamed it.

hockeenight - Knowing the awesomeness that lay ahead, the "S" in Harry S. Truman stands for #Sopel  

hockeenight - #Sopel would have blocked the Titanic from the iceberg.

hockeenight - If #Sopel had been there, he would have blocked the shots from the Grassy Knoll.

hockeenight - If AZ really wanted to stop people from crossing the Border, they'd just have #Sopel block them all.

hockeenight - #Sopel has 2 lockers. The other one is for his hair.

dkurtenbach - As an ode to @hockeenight -   If the GOP had #Sopel , they would have blocked health care reform.

dkurtenbach - the national guard is calling in Brent Sopel to block the spread of the Gulf Coast oil slick.

AndrewCieslak - That's right- we're talking about what used to be the Hart Trophy RT @hockeenight - They renamed it the #Sopel

hockeenight - #Sopel eats opponents shots like Wellwood eats pizzas

hockeenight - #Sopel can block traffic at the Indy 500.

hockeenight - By popular demand, CHI area Arthur Murrays are teaching the #Sopel penalty killing dance.

hockeenight - Guns don't kill people, but #Sopel kills penalties.

blinkfink182 - #Sopel blocks pucks like Tea Bagging Republicans block useful legislation.

jim_neveau - Sopel is so powerful that he blocks out the Sun, but then it gets too cold, and so creates another Sun.

hockeenight - #Sopel can block Lindsay Lohan from an open bar.

hockeenight - #Sopel cuts a knotch into his stick for every shot he blocks. That's why it always snaps as he goes for slapshots.

blinkfink182 - #Sopel can block Ovechkin from the Stanley Cup... oh, wait...

blinkfink182 - #Sopel doesn't look like a drunken wolverine, drunken wolverines look like #Sopel

hockeenight - #Sopel can block a Chuck Norris roundhouse kick.

blinkfink182 - @hockeenight - Even #Sopel can't do that

AndrewCieslak - #Sopel doesn't look both ways when he crosses the road.

HockeyBroad - Special #FF shout to @hockeenight - who is on a #Sopel nee Chuck Norris run today. (In Soviet Union, Sopel still blocks you.)

hockeenight - #Sopel blocks shots like Wellwood blocks arteries

hockeenight - The sun never sets in Chicago. #Sopel just blocks it so we can get some sleep.

hockeenight - Sarah Palin could see Russia from her house - until #Sopel blocked her view.

AndrewCieslak - If #Sopel were here, he could block me from having to go shopping.

hockeenight - If you're low on dough, have #Sopel block the pizza guy from getting to you in 30 min. Free pizza!

stevewsop - How is #Sopel not trending yet in Chicago? Work it, folks. Or has #Sopel blocked twitter's ability to display his hashtag?

BlackhawksDL - @hockeenight - You're on fire with these. I don't see it stopping any time soon, since #Sopel is blocking the fire lane.

BlackhawksDL - I have an idea - how about FEMA sends #Sopel to block the oil leak near Louisiana?

hockeenight - #Sopel can mash the two Sedins' 8-heads into one 16-head.

hockeenight - The answer, of course, is #Sopel RT @PHTonNBC: New PHT - Who's more valuable, Sidney Crosby or Jaroslav Halak?

stevewsop - In other news, Steve Jobs has hired #Sopel to block Adobe products from getting on the iPhone.

stevewsop - Come on @NHLBlackhawks encourage the #Sopel trend! I heard he's going to start blocking for the Bears on his off days.

hockeenight - Zod kneels before #Sopel  

hockeenight - Since there's no phonebooths left in CHI, #Sopel can't change back to his secret identity.

hockeenight - CCR should have asked me. I'd tell them #Sopel will stop the rain.

SallyEclectic - @hockeenight - Can #Sopel please block the dust so I don't have to clean house?

AndrewCieslak - RT @hockeenight - The only form of birth control proven to be 100% effective is #Sopel  

hockeenight - #Sopel can get the Beatles back together. Even the dead ones.

BlackhawksDL - Instead of fighting Google, China plans on using #Sopel as their website blocker.

blinkfink182 - Only #Sopel could stop @hockeenight - from making more #Sopel jokes

blinkfink182 - My train just stopped dead. #Sopel was on the tracks

Hockeyoverdose - #Fact Freddy Kruger has nightmares of Sopel!

blinkfink182 - #Sopel , Hammer Time!

Hockeyoverdose - Sopel Condoms coming to a store near you, it wall block all ur shots!

blinkfink182 - #Sopel is Jack Bauer's and Chuck Norris' illegitimate child.

blinkfink182 - Only #Sopel can stop forest fires

blinkfink182 - We don't "stop in the name of love", but in the name of #Sopel

hockeenight - The only reason #Sopel has an inaccurate shot is because God doesn't want the competition.

hockeenight - If #Sopel had Jack Bauer's job, the show would be called "5".

blinkfink182 - Forget a Kevlar vest, I want a #Sopel vest.

bladesoffunny - If Spinal Tap was a hockey player, it would be #Sopel

hockeenight - Power failure in Glenview. Just #Sopel getting a quick workout.

MGRW - #Sopel calls come up blocked, even though he didn't dial #67

MGRW - Before #Sopel became a client, the tax preparer was simply known as H & R.

MGRW - #Sopel shall be known as the Blockness Monster.

"Here come the Hawks..."

Spotted Tuesday, April 27 on West Monroe

Maybe they could retune this bad boy to include "Chelsea Dagger" on its song rotation.

Comparing Chicago and Vancouver - a hockey tourist view

Welcome to Chicago, Vancouverites. As the city's visitor campaign states, "We're glad you're here", mostly because we're happy to take your tourist dollars while we rinse/repeat the 2009 performance ... uhm ... well, we're generally nice people, a few random idiots at last year's matchup not withstanding.

I figure that now is as good a time as any to point out that while the media is desperately trying to fuel the fire of past animosities, that perhaps we can look at each other and see the similarities instead. 

First, a little comparative city history:

Chicago was founded in 1833 and went on to establish itself as a major transportation hub, financial center, and industrial area. It is the third-most populous city in the U.S., with 2.8 million people living within the city limits and 9.7 million in the greater "Chicagoland" area. After the Great Fire of 1871, the city rose from its ashes, and under the Burnham Plan, laid out ideas for urban development and architecture that shape modern cities to this day. Modern Chicago is a vibrant, lively city that welcomes more than 35 million visitors per year.

The city's flag depicts two blue stripes, one of which represents Lake Michigan and the North Branch of the Chicago River, the other, the South Branch and the Great Canal. The three white stripes represent the north, west and south sides of the city (Lake Michigan being the "east" side). The four red stars represent Fort Dearborn, the Chicago Fire of 1871, the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, and the Century of Progress of 1933. Each star's point represents even more (listed here).

Vancouver was incorporated in 1886, and like Chicago, became an important transportation and shipping hub for its country. Like Chicago, Vancouver is the 3rd largest city in its country, with a city population of approximately 580,000 and a metropolitan population of over 2 million people. On June 13, 1886, Vancouver was destroyed by fire. (Are you seeing the parallels yet?)  Like Chicago, Vancouver hosted its own share of political and social intreague over the years.

The city's flag depicts the city's badge on a green background. The city badge depicts a crown, signifying Vancouver's status as an incorporated city; and an axe and paddle, which stand for logging and fishing, two major industries in the area. The green chevron depicts the forests that once covered the area. The five wavy blue lines symbolize the Pacific Ocean and the rivers that run through the city.

Both Chicago and Vancouver are waterfront cities: Chicago on Lake Michigan; Vancouver on the Pacific. If you want to see spectacular sunsets like this, head out to the Museum Campus on the southeast side of the Loop (downtown area).

Unfortunately we don't have any mountains like Vancouver does, but the flat terrain means that when the weather's nice, the locals come out in force to play. Miles of lakefront trails, parks, and recreational land invite locals and visitors alike to come outside. Locals like to joke that there are two seasons here: "Three months of summer, and winter."

Chicagoans take great pride in withstanding their weather, however, and you won't get much sympathy complaining about it. If you can't stand outside BBQing in 40 degree weather in shorts and a t-shirt, you're just a wuss.

If the cityscape seems vaguely familiar and gives you a sense of deja vu as you walk down the street, don't be surprised. Chicago was Hollywood's predecessor, and today, the city is enjoying a resurgence in its screen presence. Many popular films, ranging from John Hughes teen flicks as diverse The Blues Brothers, The Color of Money, The Hudsucker Proxy, Rookie of the Year, My Best Friend's Wedding, Public Enemies, and High Fidelity were shot here; with more Chicago recently playing the role of Gotham in Christopher Nolan's vision of Batman

Since the current sitting President calls Chicago home, we're used to being under lots of media scrutiny. No big deal. Our mayor, Richard Daley Jr., is a second-generation mayor here.

Recently, the city hoped to land the 2016 Summer Olympics, but the citizenry gave a collective sigh of relief that we weren't the final choice. Frankly, most locals find traffic here annoying enough without interrupting it further with parades, ceremonies, marathons and everything else. (Besides which, our city is so parade- and party-happy, that happens plenty enough as it is.)

Chicagoans are serious sports fans. In addition to the Blackhawks, we have the Bears (football), the Chicago Fire (soccer),  and not just one but two major league baseball teams - the Cubs (who haven't won a World Series in over 100 years) and the White Sox (who won one a few years ago). Both baseball stadiums are on the Red line "El" - the Cubs at Addison, and the Sox at 35th.

Despite their amazing losing streak, the Cubs have some of the most die-hard fans in the nation, and the waiting list for the Cubs season tickets is longer than the entire stadium can seat (over 41,000). Wrigley Field is one of the oldest ballparks left in the majors, and it is an experience all its own. Plus, what's better than sitting around on a weekday, getting a tan and drinking beer in a ballpark?

Oh right - HOCKEY.

Since our summer season of street and park festivals hasn't really kicked off yet, you can enjoy a ramble downtown to such sites as Millennium Park (above), the Art Institute, take in some public art, or make your way over to the Museum Campus to check out the Alder Planetarium (established 1930), the Shedd Aquarium (also opened in 1930), and the Field Museum of Natural History (founded 1893). There are more than 200 art galleries and dozens of museums in the city.

The "Toews-saurus" at the Field Museum, visible from Lake Shore Drive

If the hockey games aren't exactly going to your liking (and you haven't already stopped in at one of our many fine pubs to drown your sorrows), you can always check out Chicago's vibrant theater scene (more than 200), our exciting selection of restaurants (more than 7,300), go shopping in a wide variety of places such as Michigan Avenue's "Magnificent Mile", Lincoln Park, Armitage, State Street, or River North.

If the weather's nice, you might even spend some time on our 15 miles worth of beaches. Of course, if the weather's crappy, don't blame us - that stuff comes down from Canada and blows across three flat states before reacting to Lake Michigan.

Or you can explore the city: with 77 distinct "community areas" with many more distinct neighborhoods flavored by the many immigrants who helped build this great city. For example, the Sedins might feel at home in Andersonville on the north side, which celebrates its Swedish and Scandinavian history.

No matter how you visit our city, you will find plenty to interest and entertain you. The locals are friendly, the pubs are relaxing, our restaurants are world-class, our museums are reknowned, and there's shopping for every budget.

Top it off with playoff hockey, and you're going to have a good time here in the Windy City.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

History Will Be Made, indeed

What can be said about the opening series of the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs, except: I am so glad I'm a hockey fan. Non-hockey fans have NO IDEA what they are missing!

Now that the first round has closed out with the incredible Caps/Habs upset tonight, let's take a look back at this amazing first round. Is anybody surprised to realize that there's a full moon tonight?

- The league-wide #1 seeded team (Washington Capitals) starts off round one 3-1, only to be defeated in game 7 by the #8 seed in their conference (Montréal Canadiens) - a team which barely qualified to be in the playoffs in the final day of the season. One of the biggest NHL playoff upsets of all time.

- Two teams that would not even have qualified for the playoffs if the top 16 teams were selected by league-wide points, instead of conference points, are going on to round two - the Philadelphia Flyers (ranked 18th league-wide with 88 pts) and the Montréal Canadiens (ranked 19th league-wide, also with 88 pts).

- The majority of the 100+ point teams were in the Western conference, with 7 of the 8 Western first-round teams having 100+ point seasons. The 8th Western team, the Colorado Avalanche, had 95 points.

- By comparison, only four Eastern teams had 100+ points; the rest of the Eastern top eight teams had between 88-94 points.

- Two of the three Norris Trophy finalists were eliminated in the first round. The Norris is awarded to the "defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position". Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks is the only one to go on to round 2.

- All three Jack Adams Award finalists were eliminated in the first round. The JAA is awarded to the coach "judged to have contributed the most to his team's success".

- All three Vezina Trophy finalists were eliminated in the first round. The Vezina is awarded to the goaltender "judged to be the best at this position".

- The Jennings Trophy winner (who is also a Vezina finalist) was also eliminated. The Jennings Trophy is awarded to "the goalkeeper(s) having played a minimum of 25 games for the team with the fewest goals scored against it. Winners are selected based on regular-season play," and was won by Martin Brodeur of the NJ Devils this year.

- There was a lot of concern about the large crop of rookie goalies manning the nets across the league going into the playoffs. Three of those rookie goalies - Antti Niemi of the Blackhawks; Tuukka Rask of the Bruins; and Jimmy Howard of the Red Wings - took their teams to the second round.

- Three of the six shutouts earned in the first round were made by rookie goalies. Two of those three shutouts were made by Antti Niemi of the Blackhawks; the other was by Jimmy Howard of the Red Wings. The three non-rookie shutouts were Brian Boucher (Flyers), Evgeni Nabokov (Sharks), and Craig Anderson (Avalanche).

- Even more amazing - Niemi won those 2 shutouts in the first 4 NHL playoff games he ever played.

- Craig Anderson of the Colorado Avalanche stopped a record-making 51 shots on goal for a shutout of the San Jose Sharks. To make the victory even sweeter, the winning goal was knocked into the Sharks net - by a member of their own team.

- All three division winners from the Eastern conference (Devils, Capitals, Sabres) were eliminated in the first round.

- The remaining teams from both conferences are seeded, from their own conferences: 1 - San Jose; 2 - Blackhawks; 3 - Vancouver; 4 - Pittsburgh; 5 - Detroit; 6 - Boston; 7 - Philadelphia; 8 - Montréal. When is the last time that the remaining teams after round 1 were perfectly 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8?

- In the Eastern conference, the 6th-seed team now has home-ice advantage (Boston Bruins), vs. the 7th-seed team (Philadelphia Flyers).

- There have been a record 19 "too many men on the ice" penalties in a single series.

- The Red Wings won their first round one/game 7 on the road since 1964.

- For the first time in NHL history, a short-handed goal scored in the final minute of regulation ends up forcing OT in a playoff game - scored by Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks with 13 seconds left on the clock. The Blackhawks went on to win in OT, despite carrying four minutes of penalty time into OT.

* * *

And now a quick look at my predictions for round one. I want to think about round two a little bit before posting those predictions. What a monkey wrench bin in the east!


Canadiens vs. Capitals - Part of me wants to predict that the Capitals will just steamroll right over the Habs, ... And every team has its off days. Caps in five.

Ok, should've stuck with my gut feeling about the underdogs. And my little bit of Blackhawk angst towards Ovechkin for his remorseful boarding of Brian Campbell. But you know what? Karma's a bitch, and I'm ok with being wrong on this call.

Flyers vs. Devils - Devils in five.

Blew that one. At least I got the "in five" part right.

Penguins vs. Senators - Penguins in seven, with possible upset.

Well, I got the "possible upset" part right, as the Senators did their best to make it to round 2, but the Penguins won in six.

Bruins vs. Sabres - Sabres in six.

I expected Miller to steal this one for the Sabres; instead, rookie Tuukka Rask stole it for Boston - in six.


Sharks vs. Avalanche - I think Colorado will at least rattle the Sharks' cage a bit. Sharks in six.

Colorado certainly rattled the Sharks; but not enough to win the series, which went to six.

Canucks vs. Kings - Canucks in seven.

Well, it took six, but as predicted, these were some of the most interesting games of the first round, as a closely-matched pair of teams battled it out.

Coyotes vs. Red Wings - Look for an upset here. Coyotes in seven.

Well, it came close, but the Cinderella story ended at game 7, when the Red Wings showed they've still got it when it counts.

Blackhawks vs. Predators - Blackhawks in six.

It looked like the Hawks might be eliminated in five, but they rallied in game 5 in an electric finish, and went on to win the series in game 6.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Wednesday random

Got my notice today from Ticketmaster that my refund for Round 1, Game 7 was being processed. I have probably never been so happy to NOT go to a hockey game.

Round 3 and Final round (round 4) tickets for the Blackhawks went on sale today. And promptly sold out in like 30 seconds, as predicted. Ok maybe it was a few minutes, but still, they sold out fast. Even the expensive seats. Anybody who thinks Chicago isn't fired up for the Blackhawks yet is really living under a rock.

Now patiently waiting for tonight's Habs/Caps game, and the schedule for Round 2 for the Hawks. Woo!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Vancouver: Looking forward to the rematch

Hawks win game 6 to take 1st round; will play Canucks in round 2

Post-game handshakes, Chicago Blackhawks vs Nashville Predators
April 26, 2010

Oh, thank you, Blackhawks. Thank you for winning Game 6. It is about the only time in my life I have been ecstatic to not get to use my tickets - in this case, Wednesday's Game 7 tickets. 

After the Hawks scored first, the opening 20 minutes turned into a ping-pong first period where both teams traded goals, and both goalies - despite acrobatic flailing across the ice - seemed to have a hard time stopping the puck, the Blackhawks were up 4-3. The best - and worse - thing I can say about the second period was "nobody scored". 

The Predators pushed hard in the third period, but the Hawks held their own. When Nashville's goalie, Pekka Rinne, was pulled with about a minute left to go, the Preds pushed their extra man advantage, but the Hawks cleared their zone, and John Madden ran away with the puck and tossed it into the goal to make it 5-3 with 7.8 seconds left on the clock.

It wasn't a pretty game. The first period was a mess; and the second and third were hard and physical. Both teams were looking tired as the third period rolled on. But in the end, the Hawks held out, and took home the win.

It's almost two hours later and I am still giddy with glee, and perhaps more strongly - incredible relief after that game.

The Blackhawks will now go on to play the Vancouver Canucks, who they beat in last year's semifinal round, so you can be sure those will be some very exciting games.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Words of warning to tonight's refs

Finnish lesson for NHL refs: "Ota kdtesi pois minun housuista" = "Get your hands out of my pants".

It's also useful to know just in case you ever get detained by the cops in Finland.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The good, the bad, and the ugly: Looking at game 6

It's almost funny - most Blackhawks fans were worried about facing Detroit for round 1, but I was more worried about teams like, oh.... Nashville.

While everybody else was busy keeping an eye on the strong leading teams - Chicago, Washington, Vancouver, San Jose - Nashville found a style of play that worked well for them, and rode it through the season to secure themselves a firm spot in the playoffs. It was the late-season surge by Detroit, the last-minute jostling among the standings, plus Chicago being unable to pull out just one more point, that ended up aligning the stars for the Blackhawks and the Predators to face off in round one as the 2nd and 7th-seeds.

Watching the disaster unfold in game one at the United Center, fans could be forgiven for thinking that maybe, just maybe, the Blackhawks players perhaps bought into their own hype and marketing a little too much. The first two periods, it could've been anybody's game, and Chicago had barely squeezed a single point ahead by the time the second period ended. The third period was nothing short of a disaster, as the team didn't seem to have any of the energy or drive of the first 40 minutes, and they went from 1-0 to 1-4. What happened? Did they think the Preds were going to lay down for a single-point win?

Game two was a different story. The Hawks were clearly out to set the record straight after being embarassed in their own house two nights earlier, and they sailed out with a dominant game, Antti Niemi racking up a shutout, and just looking like a very different team overall.

On to Nashville to game three - well, that game was so bad I hardly want to talk about it, but let's dredge on anyway. After a decent first period, the Hawks momentum drained out like air out of a tire - WHY? - and Nashville stomped on them to make the series 2-1, Preds favor. The team just looked disjointed on the ice, and while Niemi worked hard, he couldn't steal a win for the team.

Still in Nashville for game 4, the team roused itself and started showing life and a glimmer of the Blackhawk team that we know is there. And as much as I really like Niemi as a player and a goalie - he's been incredible this season when the Hawks have desperately needed it - I can't say that his performance in game four was the sole reason for him to rack up another shutout. No - Chicago defense finally showed up and demonstrated what they're capable of. Game four was a team effort, and they managed to show a glimmer of what they're capable of, and were rewarded with a shutout win.

Returning home for game 5, I must say I was starting to worry about the series looking like the Star Trek film franchise - only the even-numbered games being winners. Nashville scored first on a well-screened, well-aimed shot, and Chicago was able to respond with two goals by the time the first period was done. Both teams racked up another point in the second.

The Blackhawks were *there* for the first forty minutes. They played hard, they played fast, and despite Nashville scoring, they were taking it to the Predators' net frequently and playing the kind of beautiful, amazing hockey that we all know they're capable of playing.

And then it was two more in Nashville's favor, leaving Chicago's fans to wonder - why, why, why? - have the Blackhawks only showed up for two of three periods far too often this season, many times only scraping out wins by the seat of their pants.

Speaking of pants, Niemi had an interesting couple of minutes late in the first when a puck disappeared into his gear. I've seen a lot of bloggers and reporters slamming his play in this game, and I'm not about to make any excuses either, but seriously - how well would you play after a couple referees fished around in your pants and gave you a TSA-worthy frisking on national television?

Finally, with just over a minute left on the clock, a puck chase near the Predators' goal led to Marian Hossa hitting Nashville player Dan Hamhuis, getting charged with a five-minute major boarding penalty - it looked like Chicago would be taking another loss, and then head back south with a long shot to win the series.

Late in the period, the Blackhawks had begun to show life again, but it also looked like too little, too late; was the penalty going to slam the door shut on the team?

Showing the kind of grit and desperation that we have thus far not witnessed nearly enough of in the series, the Blackhawks executed a beautiful play and Patrick Kane tossed in the game-tying goal with 13 seconds left on the clock.

Thirteen seconds.

This game became one for the team - and the NHL's - history books. Kane was the first player to score a SHG (short-handed goal) in the last minute of regulation play to take a team into overtime.

Nashville should've had it. They were thirteen seconds from leading the series 3-2. And as overtime started, there were still 4 minutes on Hossa's penalty, which should have given them ample time to take advantage and score.

But, as Chicago has proved over and over again this season, they came up in the clutch. Niemi might've been spotty earlier in the game, but in OT he showed why he's been dubbed the "Finnish Fortress", shutting down five shots in four minutes. Chicago surged to recover, and in the midst of a scramble in front of the Nashville box, Hossa's release from the penalty box was perfectly timed, and he put in the winning goal.

It's 24 hours later, and myself - and countless fans and writers - are still busy talking about the game. The ending was that amazing.

The other thing that have had people talking a lot about the game was Hossa's hit on Hamhuis. There were immediate comparisons to Alex Ovechkin's hit on Brian Campbell which broke Soupy's collarbone and fractured his rib, and took him out of play for six weeks. Ovechkin received a two-game suspension for that hit, but he also had a record for malicious hits.

On the one bright spot, Hamhuis got off the ice under his own power, and didn't sustain any injuries that would take him out of play for future games. Maybe if he'd been injured, Hossa would've been yanked from the game and/or received a suspension, something more in line with Ovechkin's penalty.

Hossa's hit was so unusual for him, as a player, that combined with the fact he came back out onto the ice to win the game, it's not surprising that it was an immediate controversy.

Of course, if Kane hadn't scored in the last seconds to press overtime, and Nashville had been able to score in OT before Chicago did, it is very likely that the NHL's ruling on the hit would not have been met with as much disbelief on Sunday, as many people - myself included - expected Hossa to at least be hit with a one-game suspension.

National Hockey League Executive VP and Director of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell issued this statement today, regarding the NHL's ruling on Hossa:

"I have made the decision that this play does not warrant supplemental discipline after considering all of the facts, including reviewing the video and speaking with Mr. Hossa. This play is distinguishable from recent incidents by a number of factors, including the degree of contact involved; the fact that the consequences of the play do not appear to be as severe; that this was a hockey play involving a race for the puck; that Mr. Hossa is not a repeat offender and that the call of a major penalty by the Referee was significant and appropriate."

The Blackhawks know how very, very, very lucky they were to get that double reprieve - not only to not lose Hossa for any games, but for not to be heading to Nashville down one game.

If they remember this lesson - if they play their skates off - if they don't let the building get to them and simply focus on what's going on out on the ice - if they have a good D game instead of their "maybe/maybe not" D game - then they can close this game out on Monday night in Nashville.

That's an awful lot of "ifs".

And Nashville is going to look to take advantage of each and every one of them.

Nashville is going to come out playing like sharks smelling blood in the water. They're going to be mad because they didn't win on Saturday in Chicago. They're going to be annoyed that Hossa didn't get at least one game suspension for the hit. The Blackhawks should expect to face a hard-hitting, determined, gritty team that will hope to capitalize on any mistakes they make. 

So the Hawks will need to play smarter, play harder, and not make the kind of stupid, sloppy play that has so far marked the series for them so far.

Can the Blackhawks make it to the final series?

Yes, absolutely - if they stop paying attention to the marketing and the hype and the expectations, and instead focus on their skills, their play, and getting the job done. They need to stop having last-minute miracles rescue them at the last minute, and instead pay attention to the old Samuel Goldwyn quote: "The harder I work, the luckier I get."

Dear Blackhawks: we, the fans, have faith in you. 

We know it's in you - now show us what we know you're capable of.

As the first eliminations shake out, a look at the week ahead

Well, let's see how my predictions are shaking out so far, since now there's been a few eliminations made:

- Flyers down in five.

Heh, my bad - Devils down in five. Did anybody see that one coming?

- Penguins over Senators in 7; possible upset.

Well, I got the "possible upset" part right, but Pens took the Sens in six.

- Sharks in six.

Got that one right, at least.

There's been nothing predictable about this year's playoffs. Teams that weren't even "supposed" to be here today be in the playoffs have been giving top-seeded teams a serious run for their money.

Sunday is certainly going to be very exciting and may see two thrilling match-ups push out to the seventh game of the series:

- Detroit and Phoenix head to Motor City for game 6;

- The Canucks and Kings are taking it to LA for game 6;

Monday night will offer far more excitement than Monday Night Football as three of the most adrenalin-fueled pairings hit game six:

- Boston will be battling to pull out a 4th win against Buffalo;

- Chicago returns to Nashville with hopes to close out the series;

- And in perhaps what is the most amazing story of round one, the Caps and Habs take it back to Montreal for game 6.

What a year to be a hockey fan. People who aren't fans of hockey: you don't know what you're missing!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Show That Never Ends

My favorite get-pumped-up-for-the-game video is finally online!!

Don't leave the game early - ever

And I'm pretty sure that people who felt the Hawks were going to lose the game early felt like this:

Gooooooaaaallll! Hawks take Preds in OT to win Game 5

Remember when I said I don't need a gym workout for an aerobic workout, because I watch hockey? Yeah, today was that kind of game.

Although the Blackhawks came out very strong from the beginning, the Predators scored first, 6:23 into the first period, on a well-screened Niemi. Andrew Ladd tied it up at 9:57; and Niklas Hjalmarsson popped in the second point for the Hawks.

Most memorable moment of the first period, however, is when Niemi nailed a stop late in the first - and the puck disappeared.

"There no pockets in those pants, folks," the announcer pointed out, dubbing him "Pac-man" for "gobbling up the puck", as the referees patted down Niemi like he was going through a TSA checkpoint.

The puck was found - Jonathan Toews found it in Niemi's shirt - and the game rolled on. Tomas Kopecky made it 3-1, and late in the second period, Joel Ward brought the Predators within one with another goal for Nashville. 

This seemed to shake up the Blackhawks a bit, and while their play at the start of the third couldn't exactly be called sloppy, it can certainly be said that they lacked the intensity of the first two periods, and the Predators capitalized on it, taking it hard to Chicago's end. And while I'm a big fan of Niemi, I am hardly going to be alone in saying it wasn't his best game when Nashville bagged two more in the third period, drawing Nashville ahead to 3-4. 

Marian Hossa banged Dan Hamhuis into the boards with just over a minute left in regulation, taking a 5-minute penalty for boarding. Reporters/bloggers seemed eager to compare it to Ovechkin's hit which took Brian Campbell out for over a month, but it didn't really look like an intended hit, and we'll certainly hear more about that later. 

The Blackhawks certainly looked poised to lose the game and return to Nashville with a one-game deficit: Predators took the power play with under a minute left.

Patrick Kane had a bad turnover earlier which had led to a Nashville goal, but he redeemed himself with 13 seconds on the clock to get the tying goal. Talk about huge noise in the UC. Talk about Blackhawks fans everywhere having heart attacks from a combination of dread and excitement.

OT started with Nashville still having a 4-minute power play on the clock, but the Hawks entered OT with the same grit in their bellies as they'd demonstrated for most of the first two periods, closing down the Predators power play. And Hossa also redeemed himself - knocking in the game-winner seconds after stepping out of the penalty box.

Holy amazing come-from-behind-recovery story, Batman!

Now, with what is undoubtedly one of the most exciting games I've seen thus far for the first round series, the Blackhawks are one game away from advancing to the next round. I'm looking forward to seeing their Monday night game, played in Nashville - and I'm certainly not going to complain one little bit if I don't get to use my tickets for game 7.

More of this? YES, please! Let's go, Hawks!!

Game 5 back home at the UC today

With the Icehogs' season over, Corey Crawford has been called up. No need to panic; last year, the Blackhawks carried three goalies into the playoffs as well.

I received my second round tickets in the mail yesterday, so I hope that's a good sign.

Hope to see and hear lots of this today:


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Niemi gets 2nd shutout as Blackhawks win 3-0

First: Damn, Soupy. Didn't expect you to be back on the ice yet but THAT is team dedication and you looked good. Brian Campbell, you are the man.

Second: Patrick Sharp, star of the night (and recipient of The Belt) with two goals, with that second one absolutely gorgeous. Jonathan Toews had the other goal of the night.

Third: Antti Niemi bagged his second shutout of the series. Mark that down: rookie goaltender, two shutouts in his first four NHL playoff games ever. From the Blackhawks official Twitter stream: "The last time the Hawks had 2 shutouts in a series was 1974 vs. LA (Tony Esposito)." 

The team in general played MUCH better this game: more energy, much better on completing passes, racing to get up to the crease to catch rebounds. I doubt it will be possible to call any games against Nashville "pretty", but the results are what we want: another win on the Hawks' tally, bringing the series to 2-2, and now they head back to the United Center for a Saturday afternoon game that'll be carried on NBC. (2pm CT for those of you looking to see it.)
You can do it, Blackhawks. Rock the UC on Saturday. Can't wait to watch!

April 22

Dear Blackhawks: 

Hope to see LOTS of this tonight:

And hope to see Burish and Bickell kickin' butt and taking names (while managing to stay out of the bad boy box). 

Love, hugs & Chelsea Dagger,
Your Loyal Fans of Four Feathers

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Ouch. Just... ouch.

If the Blackhawks want to swap wins with Nashville, they might want to remember that the Predators won first in the series, which would put Chicago at the short end of the stick.

This has been a strange post-season for the entire NHL, however, and not simply just the Men of Four Feathers. Most heavy favorites are struggling to just keep their series even; the only "never-was-a-doubt" team out there right now are the Washington Capitals.
Still, there's little doubt that the teams who barely squeaked into the playoffs and/or are regarded as the "weaker" teams are making things as challenging for the "favored" teams as possible. Most people in Chicago (and, let's face it, throughout the Western conference) wasn't too anxious to face Detroit; I was most uneasy about facing Nashville. It's hardly reassuring to see that prediction come to fruition.

The Hawks can still win this, can still pull things together, and make it to the second round. But if you watch the first three games of this series, you can be forgiven for having doubts.

Nashville has pushed the team to the edge, and games 1 and 3 have been sloppy messes, where goalie Antti Niemi has mainly been left to attempt to save the Hawks from total annihilation. Tonight, for example, Niemi started out looking strong, while the rest of the team seemed to be battling to find their footing.

Excuses? Can't blame travel fatigue, altitude, or schedule. Nashville actually seemed to be playing a slightly faster game, which should've played to the Hawks strengths. 

Instead, we saw a lot more of what we saw in game 1: bad passing, messy puck handling, defense scrambling to get back in their own end, racking up penalties. How often was Niemi left standing there with a Predator bearing down on him and a Hawk racing to catch up? Or, on their few really good chances to score, they either couldn't place it in the net, or it got deflected by Rinne. By the time in the third period that the Blackhawks began showing life and pep in their skates, it was already too late, and the Preds were pushing hard to close it out.

It doesn't help, either, that Coach Q was shuffling the lines like he was dealing five-card stud. And, like poker, all that crazy shuffling simply favored the house, not the guest.

The players have repeatedly said that they have total faith in their goalies; but how much does it affect them to constantly have their lines tinkered with? Take the lines that work best, with the players that are most comfortable together, and put them in, and allow them to settle down and do their jobs, and do them well. When the team gets nervous in front of the goalie, then that's going to transmit back to him, and he's going to wonder just how much he's going to have to stand on his head to make up for the mistakes and errors littering the ice in front of him. No matter how you cut it, this constant line shuffling is NOT a winning proposition for the Hawks.

The Predators have made it crystal clear that they want this series - and the Cup - very badly. They're in it to win it.
And for all the talk we've heard from the Blackhawks about "One Goal", with the goal being Lord Stanley's silver cup, but they've been taking the "one goal" a little too literally as of late.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Five reasons hockey players are tougher than other athletes

5. The worst player in the NHL is probably in better shape than some of the best athletes in other pro sports. Some baseball players look flat-out winded after a sprint to first.

4. You can have a spectacular wipeout in front of the net and still make the goal - and then the whole arena applauds you for your spectacular effort, and you'll get on the "Amazing plays of the week" video reel to boot.

3. Weather delays/cancellations? Pfffft. The colder the better, baby. Hockey games aren't canceled for anything so trivial as a little rain or snow. The roof would probably have to blow off the top of the stadium, and even then, there'd probably only be a brief delay while debris was cleared off the playing area by the Ice Girls.

2. "Taking one for the team" might mean a puck to the face and broken teeth. Hockey players will stay in the game with incredible injuries - broken bones, cuts, bruised ribs, you name it - anything short of body parts being cut off. Scars are a sign of honor; and players will do anything to get back out on the ice ASAP after an injury.

1. Name any other sport where you must have the grace of a dancer, the speed of a gazelle, the stamina of a marathon runner, and they play the game on a surface that has the flexibility of cement, with a club in everyone's hands, and what are essentially two knife blades on everybody's feet. You think you're badass? You don't play hockey.

One Goal

Monday, April 19, 2010

Tell me your hockey stories

Hard to believe, but my blog just passed its one-month anniversary yesterday, and I was happy to celebrate that with a day full of awesome hockey (and of course, a Blackhawks win). (I don't know if I should be thrilled or not that in one month, I've already managed more regular readers and Twitter followers on my hockey blog than I've done in three years of work on my travel/photography blog... yikes!)

I told you my story; I want to hear yours: What got you into hockey? Who's your favorite player(s)? Tell me a favorite hockey memory of yours.

It can be won or lost by goaltending in the playoffs

”Goaltending is a normal job, sure. How would you like it in your job if every time you made a small mistake, a red light went on over your desk and 15,000 people stood up and yelled at you.” 

- Jacques Plante

The mullet look is working for him

Have you seen the new Power Mullet video for Kane? Hilarious. If not, here ya go - happy Monday.

Nights like these are just.... incredibly awesome

Just an incredible day of hockey today.

1. Chicago Blackhawks vs. Nashville Predators: in his second NHL post-season game ever, Antti Niemi scored his first playoff shutout, as the Hawks won 2-0. It wasn't the prettiest game - Nashville certainly missed two or three chances when the net was pretty open - but the Hawks came and played the full 60 minutes, rocked the D, worked hard in offense, and brought the game heavily to Predators goalie Pekka Rinne. In fact, if fellow Finnish rookie goalie Rinne hadn't been equally - if not more so - smokin' in the net, the Hawks could've made this one more like 5-0 or 6-0. Even cooler fact? Niemi scored the first shutout for a Blackhawks team since Eddie Belfour did so way back in '96. Series now tied at 1-1.

(ps. Caps fans? Watch this video to see how to properly do "Chelsea Dagger")

2. Colorado Avalanche vs. San Jose Sharks (OT): Craig Anderson has been white-hot all year and into the playoffs. Tonight, he blocked fifty - 50! - shots on goal, versus the Sharks goalie only needing to turn aside 16. When the game rolled into overtime, you've got to feel a little bit bad for the Sharks, who managed to knock in the winning goal - into their own net. But if anybody ever deserved a shutout, then Anderson certainly did tonight - and got it. Colorado now leads, 2-1.

3. Phoenix Coyotes vs. Detroit Red Wings: No doubt the Detroit Red Wings were confident they'd take their first home game in this series, but Phoenix continues to show just how they earned their spot in the playoffs, and they took a 4-2 win in Hockeytown to lead the series 2-1.

4. Philadelphia Flyers vs. NJ Devils (OT): I didn't catch any of this game, so I have no commentary, but the Flyers - who barely got into the playoffs - won 3-2 in overtime to lead this series 2-1.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Various pre-game pictures from the 4/16 game

I was simply too ramped up about the game to think about oh, maybe walking around for a better view at the ice, so this was the one shot I managed to take of the 'Stanley Cup playoffs' logo before it was all skated up.

Just another shot of the pretty pre-game light show.

Patrick Kane #88

Colin Fraser #46

Duncan Keith #2

Antti Niemi #31

Patrick Sharp #10

Brent Sopel #5

This may be the most flattering picture I have ever managed of him. Looks pretty good clean-shaven and minus the bruises from the puck to the face, yes? Not sure who he was waving to.

Duncan Keith #2 and Jonathan Toews #19/C

One of these days I'm going to take a good picture of Toews that is in focus, and without weird stuff happening on the glass, or from behind.

Niklas Hjalmarsson #4

In a rather informal poll of a few hockey-lovin' women today, we decided Hjalmarsson's Ikea-based "One Goal" commercial just might be our favorite of the "One Goal" bunch. Jokkmokk! Meatballs!

Tomas Kopecky #82

This one's a bit blurry, but I just wanted to point out the stick. Look at the bend on that as he comes in contact with the puck. Makes you surprised they don't break more sticks per game.

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?

Friday, April 16, 2010

"Hockey never left Chicago. But it definitely has returned."

Alright, it's here: Game 1 of Round 1 of Chicago Blackhawks vs. Nashville Predators.

And every sports writers, blogger, Tweeter, fan, coach and guy off the street can give their opinion, toss the statistics back and forth, and make their predictions, but the truth is going to come down to the puck drop tonight and three 20-minute periods of play.

Nashville has it slightly easier than the Hawks going into the series. Nobody had particularly high expectations of the team and yet they quietly and solidly worked their way to 7th place in the Conference, and they're facing up against the team who perhaps has the highest possible expectations on their shoulders, the Blackhawks. The teams have two different styles of play, but in terms of level of play, are fairly closely matched.

Chicago needs to have their act together, and keep it together, for every single game from here on out. They can't cruise to big leads and then sit on their heels. They can't play rock-solid defense one game and have holes you can drive trucks through the next. They have to be consistent, solid, pressing contenders like we know they can be.

And if I hear one more word about the "inexperience" or "question marks" in the Blackhawks net, I'm going to scream.

It's not simply because Niemi has clearly earned the spot, but it's because he isn't the only rookie goalie out there, earning their playoff stripes. As previously noted, perhaps no other team in the entire league has higher expectations heaped upon their shoulders: three gold medal and one silver Olympian medalists, including one of the stars of the Olympics, Jonathan Toews; a team that had been discounted until last year and has roared to new franchise highs this year; a team full of bright young stars with great chemistry together. It is little surprise that amidst all those spotlights, people are questioning the "goalie situation".

We've just been through the first two days of the playoffs, and I don't think there's a rookie goalie in the league who hasn't stepped up and been ready to shine.  Game after exciting game, there's been two nights filled with upsets and 1-point wins.

Game one at the United Center and what is sure to be an exciting, heart-pounding series is tonight. Let's go, Blackhawks!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Holy night of upsets, Batman!

To quote the late, great Harry Caray: "HOLY COW!"

Did all the top-seed teams show up and just think they were going to skate all over the guys who barely squeaked into the playoffs?

I saw most of the 1st and 3rd periods of the Pens/Sens game, almost all of the Coyotes/Wings game, and the last period of Sharks/Avalanche. (What's better than hockey? More hockey!) I didn't catch the NJ/Flyers game so I can't speak for that game, but there were points in the Pittsburgh/Ottawa and San Jose/Colorado games where I thought one of the teams was napping on the ice. 

I think Detroit showed up to play and didn't expect an easy time of it, yet still looked surprised as the Coyotes moved into winning position in the third period. Also? Snakes on the plane ice FTW - loved it.

Still, overall, a very exciting night of hockey, and lessons for the other eight teams who have yet to play to learn from. Does it make me nervous, being a fan of a top-seeded team, after watching all these other high-seed teams lose tonight? No. I have faith in my team; I know they can play well.

Did you see that ending in San Jose? Avalance scores the winning point with 0:49 left on the clock. Just goes to show - no matter what the statistics look like, you can never really accurately predict the playoffs.

Going to be a very, very thrilling ride all the way down the line to the last game when somebody hoists that Cup and skates it around the rink.

* * *

Also, on a side note: I know and understand the reasoning/idea behind the "white out" demonstrated at the Penguins and Coyotes' arenas. Here's what continues to baffle me, years later: generally, the visiting team wears white for the games. So when I'm looking at an arena full of white shirts, it feels like an awful lot of visitor's fans showed up. How does that help psyche out the visitors? I guess it may be meant to camoflage white shirts worn by visiting fans and turn it all into one big white mass, but ... ok, whatever.

I'd rather see a Blackhawks "red out" any day of the week. But maybe that's just me.