05/17/2010 1:31 PM - By Chad Huebner
Due to the Bruins-Flyers’ series ending on Friday, I didn’t have enough time to write a Conference Finals Picks’ column, so here goes my predictions: ‘Hawks in six, Flyers in seven.
As for this series, it’s not often I say that I’d rather have my ‘Hawks face the Red Wings, and not just because the ‘Hawks would be enjoying home-ice advantage right now. The ‘Hawks have played against the Red Wings so many times; they’d know their tendencies even before the Wings executed them. Also, there’s that whole we-hate-the-Wings revenge factor. It’s so much sweeter to whup your most-hated enemies.
But against the Sharks? At least the ‘Hawks know they can beat these guys (3-1 against them in the regular season, with a couple of OT wins). But this Sharks squad is playing a lot different in these playoffs as opposed to past seasons as they. . . ummm, are winning? Yes, with each win, they get a little more confidence, a little more belief in the fact that they are a really good team.
Yet so are the ‘Hawks, and this has to be the most closely-contested playoff series the ‘Hawks have had in a long time. Whoever wins this series will have to be heavily favored in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Will the fact that both teams combine speed with physicality and skill mean that these will be low-scoring games? Naw, us fans want, maybe even deserve, close high scoring games.
Funny bit before we start this game: It looks like NBC is trying to tie in a promo for the new movie “Splice” with today’s game. Well, yeah, I guess a story about a genetically-engineered humanoid with animal genes has something in common with hockey. Perhaps they’re implying Johnny Toews has black panther genes in him? Or that Antti Niemi is a goalie with the size and density of a blue whale, so it’s that much harder to score against him? Gotta love it when TV and Hollywood try to. . . umm, “splice” two not-wholly related items together.
Well, this is the first time these playoffs I can say “the Sharks are circling Niemi” and I really mean it! But just like against the Canucks, he stands up tall and his mates get the puck quickly out of their zone. I’ve got a feeling there will be a lot of prodding and poking by both clubs, to see where the weaknesses are, if any.
Yes, I said poking and prodding, and not mean anything more than that.
And now the ‘Hawks’ resolve will be quickly tested as the Sharks go on the first PP of the series. Hah, they’re just playing right into the ‘Hawks’ plans. A couple of nice stops by Niemi and one good shortie attempt by Toews, and another successful PK is in the books.
Crowd boos Brian Campbell every time he touches the puck. Seriously? Guys, he was only with your club for about a season and a half. He’s not exactly a traitor to your club. You’re acting just like the Preds’ fans, only it took you the first minutes of the first game to look petty and crass. Do you want that, huh?
No score right now, but clearly the Sharks have had slightly more scoring chances, and slightly more control of the puck. It might be only a matter of time before they cash in, so the ‘Hawks have to figure out how to take the puck deep in the Sharks’ zone and hold onto it for dear life.
Sharks back on the PP as Big Buff gets hit with an interference penalty. We’re in “No Tolerance Mode” for this series. ‘Hawks luck runs out on this one, as Jason Demers has his first-ever playoff goal (seems like I’ve written that a lot about every ‘Hawks’ opponent in the playoffs). It looked like his shot bounced off the back of a ‘Hawks’ defenseman and went past Niemi’s left shoulder, a tough shot to stop.
Grrr, I’m tired of saying that the Sharks are back on the PP, but. . . they are again. It looked like the Sharks would be hit with an interference call, but replays clearly showed the ‘Hawks being guilty of holding the stick. It’s not surprising that the Sharks hold a big advantage in shot attempts this period.
There was talk that “Nabby”, the Sharks goalie, could be shaky at the most inopportune times. Apparently not this game, as Toews had a wide open net to shoot at from point-blank range, and Nabby sprawls on the ice stopping the attempt with his right pads. Another series, another tough goalie to figure out. Period ends, Sharks outshoot the ‘Hawks 13-8 and I think my beloved team is mighty fortunate to be down by only one goal.
‘Hawks are getting some good looks, but Nabby is definitely no “LUUUU!”, so he’s been absorbing every shot attempt like a Sham-Wow on skates.
Here’s been the routine of the first five minutes of the second: Up-down-up-down. . . incredible save by Nabby! Up-down-up-down. . . incredible save by Niemi! And who says hockey isn’t an exciting sport to watch?
Oh, and before I forget. . . YES! ‘Hawks get a rare, four-on-three breakaway, and Sharp fires a knuckler that dips and dives down past Nabby’s legs for the equalizer. Maybe it’s not Nabby’s finest attempt, but it was a quirky shot to stop. Now it looks like the ‘Hawks are the more active team with and without the puck. Let’s just saw the ‘Hawks are playing like sharks and the Sharks are playing like. . . I dunno, minnows?
But here’s a shot for the Sharks to regain momentum as they go on their fourth PP. Just wondering: Even though the ‘Hawks deserved all four penalties, if things are this close between the two teams, wouldn’t you think the Sharks would have been called for at least one penalty by now? Hmmmm. ‘Hawks have to play smarter when things are this close, and not act like a bunch of Canucks. Niemi bails the ‘Hawks out once again with another jaw-dropper of a save.
Yet another exciting and unbelievable period comes to a close with the ‘Hawks evening things out on the scoreboard and on the ice. This has all the makings of a great heavyweight bout with both sides throwing everything they have and coming back for me. This might be a somewhat premature prediction, but when all is said and done, this series could go down (here comes an Ali quote) as one of the greatest of allllll tiiiiiiime!
(Cue Ozzy Osbourne’s “Iron Man”. Why? Why the heck not? This game is like two big metal men bashing each other. Makes a lot more sense than “Splice.”)
Speaking of Iron Man (which had a pretty good sequel I saw a day ago), that’s Niemi, without question. We’re less than five minutes into the third and he’s already faced 35 shots and stopped all but one of them. You feel like he could stop 60 shots this game the way he’s standing on his head. Important thing to note: this is Niemi’s first game against the Sharks. Conversely, it’s the Sharks’ first look at Niemi. Sometimes that matchup favors the goalie.
‘Hawks are starting this period spending most of their time in the Sharks’ zone. Only a matter of time before the Sharks commit a penalty. . . we hope.
Actual sounds from the current action: BLAM! POW! KEERASH! SLAM! KA-THOOM! BAZINGA!
Oh just stop booing Campbell! Deal with it! Move on!
Speaking of moving on. . . YESSSSSSS!!!!!!!!
Big Buff scores! He scores! We’re ahead! I can’t stop with the exclamation points! Just over six minutes to go! AAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Umm, yeah, anyway, I love this game. Looooooooooooooooove it!
Pierre McGuire just asked how Finland, a small country, produces so many incredible goalies like Niemi. I think it’s all the reindeer meat they eat. It makes them fleet of foot and able to gouge their opponents with huge antlers growing out of their heads. Okay, I’m making some of this up.
1:20 left, Nabby’s on the bench. Here we go, of God here we go. . .
Uh-oh. Oh mannnnn. Dave Bolland trips Devin Setoguchi, but for some reason, Kris Versteeg is in the box. WTF?! 6-on-4 for 54.2 seconds. Really? Five penalties to zero for the ‘Hawks? This is it, this is it, this is it, THIS IS IT! Play smart, play smart, for the love of God, PLAY SMART! Heatley on Niemi’s doorstep. . . and the puck scoots off into the corner. Thornton with a slapper attempt to Niemi’s left. . . and he whiffs! 4-3-2-1. . . ‘HAWKS WIN! ‘HAWKS WIN HAAAAWWWWWWWKKKKSSSS WIN! Niemi makes 44 saves. 44! I’ll say it again. . . FOOOOUUUUUURRRRTYYYYYYYY-FOOOOOUUUURRRRRRRR!
Round One of this heavyweight battle goes our way. May the rest of this series turn out to be this great.
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