A Historic Event Or Just A Nice Story?

Winning a Stanley Cup is the highest achievement for any NHL team. Coming back from a 0-3 deficit in the playoffs is a historic act as only three teams have done so. Tonight The Blackhawks could become part of NHL history.

My take was the Hawks were going to lose Game 4. But once they gained a single victory Vancouver regressed and the Hawks became the more complete team. But the good Canucks did resurface in the third period of Game 6. If not for some great saves by Corey Crawford during the third frame and in overtime the Canucks would be already heading to the second round.

Game 7’s are great theater but it often seems the final score isn’t close. There is no telling who has the edge this evening, although home ice is an advantage. But who knows…Maybe the Hawks can perform better on actual ice rather than the slow, uneven playing surface of the United Center. The ice at the UC for Game 6 appeared to be really bad. In any event the beleaguered Alain Vigneault will have the last line change which could matter.

This is not a potential loser’s lament, but in many ways the Blackhawks have already won.

After backing into the playoffs the season would have ended with a thud if the Hawks were swept. Probably the same could have been said if the Canucks won in five games. Now the Blackhawk Cup winning image has been somewhat restored and there are great benefits to this extended playoff stint.

This is a young team with many players with little or no playoff experience. Playing in three elimination games is a priceless. This series has also served as a valuable audition for players which might be in the Hawks’ future plans.

The Blackhawks needed a pleasant surprise and they got one named Ben Smith. I’m not sure why Smith wasn’t called up sooner…It’s probably best to just feel fortunate he was here for the playoffs

Smith is a smart player who plays both sides of the puck well. He has the guts and brains to get into position to score goals. Smith plays bigger than his size and has some nice hands.

Michael Frolik looks like a keeper, especially if he is playing wing. Frolik has made a commitment to play good defense. He blocked four shots on Sunday which led all forwards.

It’s been a nice trend lately as the Hawks have had many more blocks than the Canucks. In Game 6 the Hawks recorded 31 blocks compared to 12 for Vancouver.

Viktor Stalberg has tried to adapt his game and is still a work in progress. If Stalberg knew how to find goal scoring areas as well as Smith he could become a productive player.

Nick Leddy keeps my blood pressure elevated. But there is no denying Leddy has kept mistakes at a minimum although playing more minutes.

Leddy could muscle up in the next five months and be much stronger next season. He could begin the season in Rockford playing 25 minutes a game, but my guess is that path won’t be followed. Leddy can skate and has what can’t be taught….Very good vision and instinct.

For one of the few times Leddy looked a bit frantic in Sunday’s overtime but he didn’t make a costly mistake. Leddy was a steal in the Barker deal and should have a long, successful NHL career.

I’m not sure about Marcus Kruger, although I have nothing negative to say. If anyone is still wondering….A great way to look foolish is to become too opinionated on a young player too quickly.

Kruger shows good hockey sense and for now that’s enough. He has been put in a tough spot and for the most part doesn’t appear overwhelmed.

Chris Campoli has been a great addition and seems to be improving with every game. Look for the Hawks to make re-signing Campoli a priority.

This series has shown Crawford can play on the big stage. Crawford has been consistent all season and has saved the day when needed. He has outplayed a few other big name goalies during the post season.

Game 7

If Crawford plays as well as he did in Game 6 the Hawks have a great opportunity to make history.

For Luongo to shed his demons he has to beat the Hawks and help his team advance through the playoffs. There wasn’t much doubt in my mind Luongo would start tonight.

Bobby Lu is signed through the 2021-2022 campaign and was paid $10 million this past season. Because of the size and term of his contract Luongo can’t be traded. He has to be the main tender for the Canucks.

The Hawks must commit to getting to the Vancouver net. The Canuck defensemen played shorthanded in the last game and they must be pressured tonight. The Hawks need to continue to exploit the area between the face off circles and capitalize on scoring chances.

My key for a Blackhawk win is Jonathan Toews.

I’m thinking Joel Quenneville will play Toews with Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp for a good portion of the game. That line will probably have to produce at even strength for the Hawks to advance.

As important as scoring is how well Toews and company perform defensively.

It wouldn’t be a surprise if Toews is often matched against the Sedins. Vigneault had Ryan Kesler’s line playing against Dave Bolland on Sunday in the late going. AV has the last line change and he may look to keep Kesler on Bolland and free up the Sedins.

The Hawk Captain has been hasn’t been able to light the lamp and is a minus four in the series. His crew will need to provide some offense and be defensively responsible as well.

With this surge the Blackhawks have made up for a less than sparkling regular season. We will find out soon whether it’s a historic comeback or just a nice story.

Al’s Shots

As reported by XM Home Ice yesterday and later confirmed by the Blackhawk Media Department…

Bryan Bickell underwent surgery to repair a tendon which was severed in Game 2.

Bickell will be out of action for six to eight weeks and is expected to make a complete recovery. The surgery was done by the Hawks’ hand surgeon and was anticipated since the injury occurred.

Bickell wanted to play as long as possible and yesterday was when the surgery needed to be performed. Bickell’s loss will be felt as he was playing well with Bolland and Frolik. Those three formed the most consistent line for the Blackhawks.

Who will Coach Q. play in Bickell’s place?

Troy Brouwer?

Tomas Kopecky made the trip to BC and might be ready to return to action.

One thing for sure….

Quenneville needs to ice the best team which shouldn’t include 59 seconds of John Scott. In Game 6, Scott played only three shifts. His lone appearance in the third period was for eight seconds.

A couple of years ago assistant coach Mike Haviland made a comment about Bolland which caught my attention.

Haviland called Bolland the life-blood of the team.

Bolland is a hockey players hockey player…. Not a lot of flash. But Bolland has a high degree of skill. He plays with an edge and is an intelligent player.

Bolland will be part of the Hawks in the future. The only negative on Bolland is he has had back problems and has trouble winning faceoffs. Those issues could be related.

No matter if Bolland is the second or third line center he could add to the offense.

It’s hard to quantify what the Marian Hossa keep in, prior to the Smith game winner, meant in terms of dollars to Rocky Wirtz.

Hossa showed his elite status and his supreme effort could lead to another playoff series. If so Hossa will have paid for a good chunk of his $8 million salary.

The Canucks’ GM Mike Gillis was upset by the Bickell check to the jaw of Kevin Bieksa.

Maybe Gillis should direct his frustration at himself and every other GM, who decided a killing zone behind the net would make sense.

It seems the last place a hit to the head should be permitted is in the area behind each net. Defensemen especially are most vulnerable there.

Let’s hope for another good game… One decided by the players not the officials.

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  1. Moots says:

    Nice write up Al, Let’s see a repeat of game 5. score early and take the crowd out of it and the players will follow!

  2. Ken says:

    Al,

    Great write-up. 9pm cannot get here fast enough! I too believe that captain serious is the key to this game. He scores, we win. With his history of coming up big in big time games, I have little doubt about the outcome of tonights game (despite my earlier prediction of losing in 6). With Bickell out, and if TK cannot play, who dressess. And who eats up those 59 lost seconds tonight.

  3. rock says:

    Should be an intense game. Some difficult/interesting/controversial line-up decisions need to be made by either coach.

    Wonder how the game will be officiated.

  4. Mr Ricochet says:

    Good observation Al on Bolland’s bad back possibly affecting his face off abilities, or lack of them. Anyone know how he did at the dot in juniors?

    Does Q dress Scott for his ability to play D in a pinch should someone go down? I’m thinking Dowell dresses for sure due to his defensive ability to play with Bolland and Frolik. It seems stop the Sedins and you’ve got a great chance at beating the Nucks, so Dowell seems like a nice fit unless Johnson moves up to the 3rd line and Dowell to the 4th.

    Speaking of Johnson, we wouldn’t be talking about a Game 7 without that incredible backcheck in the 3rd where he tied up a stick ready to hit an open net on a Crawford rebound.

    If Q decides not to dress Scott I’m guessing Kruger gets the call. Kopecky hasn’t evened practiced yet with the Hawks, so I doubt he dresses.

    • Al Cimaglia says:

      Normally I wouldstay no for Kopeck…But for a Game 7 the protocol chnages.

      As far as Bolland in Jr’s …Not sure but not too comparable.

      He wasn’t as bad as now a couple of years ago…??

  5. djd says:

    For me, the series has been a smash hit, no matter the outcome tonight. When I heard Toews’ quote last week about exposing the ‘nucks for what they are, I wondered what he was doing. It seemed so uncharacteristic of JT.

    Nonetheless, the team has made me eat my words, and being out here in BC—around the lunacy that is canuckland—supporters seem so on edge the tension is palpable. A loss tonight and who knows what will happen to this Canucks squad.

    I think this ‘hawks-lite team made a very strong statement in coming back in the series. Let’s hope they got the bad game out of their system on Sunday. I’m actually glad they’re on the road as they seem to play better once they get their legs moving. Hoping for a fast start tonight.

  6. B King says:

    Best write up of the year.

  7. Dave Morris says:

    Al, your usual excellent and comprehensive view is much appreciated.

    Gentlemen, none of us expected the Blackhawks to ‘rise up from the grave’ as it were, and take this series to the limit.

    What IS satisfying is to see sneering commentators like NHL Network’s perpetually smug Mike Johnson (a fringe player his entire career), who proclaimed the Nux would “run the Hawks out of the building”, eat crow.

    It’s also fun to read the panicked whining of Vancouver hockey writers (who moan about the so-called ‘gloating’ of Chicago columnists, specifically Rozner and Rosenbloom), and to see the egotistical Mike Gillis pleading for a ‘level playing field’.

    Whatever happens tonight, the Blackhawks have found the team spirit that eluded them all year long.

    The odds are against them, but perhaps the hockey gods will be for them.

    Or not.

    We can hope for a valiant effort, and keep our fingers and toes crossed.

    As Tampa coach Guy Boucher said the other day, “there’s no such thing as ‘momentum’ in the playoffs. Every game is a new story.”

    But if Jonathan Toews, the best player in the NHL right now, has the final word, Hawkey people will see justice done. The Chicago Way.

  8. Living the Cup says:

    Nice blog Al. It’s helpful to have something good to read to distract me from worrying about the outcome of tonight’s game.

    Not to nitpick but I think I’m correct in saying that only 3 teams have come back from 0-3 to win a series (’42 Leafs, ’75 Islanders, ’10 Flyers).

    3 other teams came back from 0-3 to force a game 7 but lost. The Hawks are only the 7th team to force a game 7 after being down 0-3. Those are the long odds.

    Having forced a game 7 the odds are considerably better for a win- 50/50 in fact.

    I like the Hawks chances precisely because of something you mentioned. Toews has not scored yet – he sure is due.

    If the Canucks were to win I think it’ll be on the back of a stellar performance from Luongo. Probably all Vancouver expecting the worst from him which makes me nervous. He may turn the tables and be great – he’s capable of that.

    Looks like Kruger and Pisani will play for Bickell and Scott. Hope that’s true. I don’t want to see Scott in uniform for game 7.

    I think he served something of a purpose for a couple of games but clearly last game he was useless and in a game 7 I don’t expect much if any goonery.

    • Al Cimaglia says:

      I don’t think Scott will play.

      Thanks for the correction….I realized but was out and couldn’t fix……I had four on my mind and maybe it was a Freudian slip…I hope.

  9. ArlingtonRob says:

    Al,

    I agree with your assessment completely. I was pleased the Hawks made the playoffs this year for one reason…experience for the young guys, especially Crawford. Mission accomplished and then some.

    At this point it’s all gravy.

    And just making the perpetual “soon to be cup champions” sweat it out, whine, and make excuses, is something special.

  10. Al Cimaglia says:

    And just making the perpetual “soon to be cup champions” sweat it out, whine, and make excuses, is something special.

    I will have more to say about your point tomorrow.