THE FAR SIDE OF THE POND: Winning the Sweep-stakes

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05/24/2010 12:34 PM - By Chad Huebner

What the ‘Hawks are on the verge of doing is something I personally haven’t seen them do before. I know I’ve written before that I’ve watched hockey on and off since the mid-80s, I really didn’t start following the ‘Hawks until 1997. For the next ten years, there weren’t a lot of high points: basically, them making the playoffs in 2001 was it. So the incredible run they made in the playoff last year, and the glorious run they’ve put on this postseason have been the highlights of my ‘Hawk fandom so far.

To be on the verge of making the Stanley Cup Finals is something I couldn’t see the ‘Hawks doing a decade ago, let alone five years ago. It will be an indescribable moment when it happens.

Oops, sorry. . . if it happens.

Nothing is guaranteed right now, but the odds are very much in my team’s favor. Yet we have seen a team come back from being 3-0 in a series this postseason, as the Philadelphia Flyers became the third team in NHL history to do so, and now they too, are on the verge of making the Stanley Cup Finals. If there has been one certainty during the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, is that hardly anything is certain. Except maybe, for what the ‘Hawks have accomplished so far. They have taken a team that is their equal, and in some ways, slightly better than they are until now. But the true measure of a champion is to take whatever the best is against them, and still beat that team. It may not be as sweet as sweeping the Red Wings, but it’ll do, at least for me.

At least NBC has the brains to broadcast the National Anthem. Regardless of who’s playing, it should be mandatory that the networks broadcast the singing of the Anthem. It just happens that the ‘Hawks’ fans know how to do it bigger and better than anyone else.

. . . .

. . . . I just, I just can’t. . . words fail me on this one folks. It’s something to see and hear and even then, emotions wash over in a tidal wave. The music, the crowd, Jim Cornelison slotting the Anthem home for the game-winning goal in the emotion game. . . this one means a little more than the others have.

Let’s see if the ‘Hawks can make history again.

1ST PERIOD

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Niemi loses his stick on a clearing of the puck, but Dunc is there to knock the stick back to him with his stick. Premiere defender, great on the PP, can control a game and plays nearly half of every game. . . I think Dunc even clears the ice during stops in play.

The Kaner-Buff –Toews line gets off another great shot attempt, with Kaner taking the shot and Buff and Toews parked in front of Nabby. Old school hockey done by young guys that works well.

Cheers for what was thought to be a Sharks’ penalty turn to boos as it’s against Jordan Hendry for holding the stick. Yep, replay shows him holding Jo Thornton’s lumber. ‘Hawks having to kill the first penalty game happens so many times this postseason, you figure it was just part of the game. Niemi simply stonewalls the Sharks’ two best shot attempts. Crowd cheers like mad. Business as usual for the ‘Hawks, it will probably take a 5-on-1 to really faze them.

San Jose is starting to put a bunch of guys in the neutral zone, so the ‘Hawks have to play some dump and chase for now. Shots on goal are a lot lower than I thought they would be: Sharks 3, ‘Hawks 1. Hey, as they all say, the hardest win to get is the fourth.

And from the bad going to worse department: Andrew Ladd leaves the game after an awkward hit, and the Sharks’ Logan Couture rips one top side that Niemi couldn’t stop. He started the scoring in Game 1, but look what happened to that one.

Nope, this isn’t going to be easy at all.

For once, the ‘Hawks are making multiple line combos, while the Sharks are going with more of their normal lines. The Heatley-Thornton-Marleau line has already been spotted a few times, while the ‘Hawks, sans Ladd, needed to make adjustments anyway.

Still, too much time spent in the ‘Hawks’ zone. They need some sort of breakout play to jumpstart their offense and the crowd.

We nearly got one as Brian Campbell takes the puck to the slot, gets a shot that bounces off Nabby’s left leg for a rebound, and Troy Brouwer, had he been able to control the puck, could have roofed it over Nabby for the goal. Instead, he still gets a pretty good shot off, but one that Nabby smothers.

And while I was writing all of that, the ‘Hawks had about 10 shot attempts in a 30-second span. At least they’re making the first period shot totals look more even. Lots of “ooohhhs!” and “ahhhsss!” from the crowd for that sequence.

Simply put, ‘Hawks’ better need to be better than the Sharks’ better. You better you better you bet.

2ND PERIOD

Ladd still not back, ‘Hawks’ surprisingly outshot the Sharks in the 1st, 8-7, and I'm not sure what to make of this game so far.

Scratch that, I know that Matt Damon with a scruffy beard would be a dead ringer for Niemi.

Sharks starting the period with a little more determination. They’re clogging the neutral zone and their own end in the ice while spending quite a bit of time in the ‘Hawks’ end. Oh, and Nabby’s holding his own, just to add to the misery.

Yet there is a little ray of sunshine as Kaner gets tripped up and draws the ‘Hawks’ first PP of the game. C’mon ‘Hawks, youuuuu can dooooo it!

Um no, no they can’t.

For starters, Kaner had a wide open net to shoot at, only to have his shot blocked by Mark Vlasic. Dunc gets hit in the mouth with the puck and losses half of his dental work; the Sharks take over the play and Marleau one-times it to complete the turdburger hat trick.

But I’m still thinking okay, we’re down 2-0. The comeback can still be done. But if the Sharks go up 3-0, I think the Sharks have too much physicality to give the ‘Hawks any extra room.

‘Hawks back on the PP though after Heatley’s infraction, but the Sharks are playing as good as the ‘Hawks on the PK. And in a scrum in front of Nabby’s net, Toews gives a cross-check. Let the frustration continue!

Oh, but wait a second. . . wait just a cotton-picking second! By Gordie Howe’s elbow! On the 4-on-4, with another scrum in Nabby’s neighborhood, it looks like the puck crossed the red line for a second. But did the ref blow the whistle before that happened? I couldn’t hear a whistle, so it seems like it should count. . . gah, so much riding on this call.

And. . . YESSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!! GOOOOD!

Frak, we needed that one, more than any other goal these playoffs.

But you know what’s better than one?

YESSSS! I THINK YOU DO!!!!!

Sharks had a lot of good scoring opportunities, but the ‘Hawks had one, and made the most from it on a Davey Bolland tally. He waited until Nabby went down to shoot it over him for the equalizer.

(On a side note: my girlfriend came home from shopping right before the ‘Hawks scored their first goal. Even with all the Chicken Carbs I’ve eaten over the past few weeks, I consider her more of a good-luck charm right now. Yay girlfriend!)

‘Hawks have done what would normally be inconceivable. They have all the mo’ right now. This is one team that might be down, but they are certainly never out. Destiny? Ahh, get back to me on that one when all of this is done.

3RD PERIOD

I’m glad I’m having a few beers right now. All the emotion, all the intensity, is not something a normal human being can handle without some sort of  relaxing beverage. It may not dull all of my amped-up senses, but it comes really close!

And here’s another situation where it comes in handy to be buzzed: a shot bouncing off the crossbar behind Niemi. Thornton almost changed the course of this game. . . again. . . which is something that’ll probably happen numerous times before all is said and done.

Another great ‘Hawks’ scoring chance by. . . Ben Eager?! The Eager-Madden-Burish line while underrated, has been surprisingly good the past two games.

Haven’t had a delay of game in awhile, at least this time it’s on the other team. Yet another pivotal PP for the ‘Hawks. Some good chances, but once again the Sharks are dictating the play with a solid PK.

Eh, who wanted the ‘Hawks to win this one easy?

(I did!)

Sharks getting really chippy, which is something you wouldn’t want to do when you’re tied, but eh, I won’t stop them from such dumb tactics, as they give the ‘Hawks another PP chance. Okay, now this PP is really pivotal!

Sorry to say, but the story remains the same. Sharks are standing tall in this one. . . heh, like they have a choice.

But they are also playing with fire, Heatley slashing Kaner’s stick out of his hands. I just don’t understand this. You’re not trailing, you’re tied. You can play aggressive without all the dumb plays. Where’s the sports IQ on this one?

Ah, who gives a frak. . .

YESSSSSS WEEEE CAN!
Big Buff comes through! About damn time!

Let’s start the countdown of all countdowns for me so far. . .

Five minutes to go, Sharks are in frenzy mode, fans are exploding with “LET’S GO ‘HAWKS!” chants. . .

Four minutes to go. Sharks acting like they’re on the PP, but ‘Hawks are great on this PK. . .

Three minutes to go, another love of the glove by Niemi! He’s like Matt Damon in “The Bourne Identity” good. . .

Two minutes to go, one Shark shot goes off Niemi, one ‘Hawks shot goes of the post. . .

One minute to go, Nabby pulled, ‘Hawks take the puck deep, WTF, Versteeg was tripped up no call?!

And then. . .

Well, at this point, I stopped covering what happened in the final minute or so of the game. In the past, I’ve been pretty good at keeping up with the helter-skelter as the ‘Hawks win a playoff round. This time, I wanted to take it all in, good or bad. I wanted to finally enjoy the moment, a moment I personally have never experienced before.

It’s going to be a hard week to endure, waiting for the other Conference Finals to end and having the networks delay things to fit their schedules, but I can’t get too excited, too overjoyed by all of this, like I did when the Chicago Bears made it to the Super Bowl in 2007, and when a certain baseball team was one game away from making the 2003 World Series (now THAT was a stomach punch of a loss, no two ways about it). I have to be like the players, who kept things relatively low-key in the locker room after the game, even though they are all pretty much at a plateau they’ve never reached before. There’s more work to be done, and you get the feeling this mixture of young, speedy talent with a sprinkling of veterans that have won it all (and lost it all) before, can complete the job.

It’s all been a long time coming. For the ‘Hawks’ organ-I-zation, it’s been 18 years; for me, it’s been a lifetime.

Remember; e-mail me at chadhuebner1972@yahoo.com for anything on your mind. Best responses and/or questions will be answered publicly.






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