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THE FAR SIDE OF THE POND: The Wait is Almost Over

05/19/2010 12:47 PM - By Chad Huebner

Truly, Tom Petty and his Heartbreakers had it right when they sang that the waiting is the hardest part. It’ll be after 9pm local time before tonight’s game starts, due to the fact that San Jose is two hours behind here. I’m starting to feel antsy, something that doesn’t usually happen to me because, well, the game would have started by now.

But I’m also antsy because of what it could possibly mean if my beloved Blackhawks win tonight. A 2-0 series lead is no guarantee, but it’s pretty close, oh yes, pretty darn close to making the Stanley Cup Finals. And if we make the Stanley Cup Finals, ooooh boy, things are lining up quite well for the ‘Hawks, yes indeed.

But if Game 1 is any indication as to how this current series plays out, then it won’t be easy at all for the ‘Hawks. Yes, that mix-up with sending Versteeg to the box instead of Bolland (who, as it turns out, is better on the PK) put a slight damper on what was, overall, a heckuva game, but that game clearly showed how evenly matched the ‘Hawks and Sharks are. This isn’t like last year when the ‘Hawks took on the Red Wings in the Conference Finals, and you just knew that the Red Wings were that much better than the ‘Hawks. This time around, it’s toe-to-toe, goal-to-goal all the way.

I’d also like to say that way back when this season began, I was more in favor of letting Cristobal Huet be the starting goalie and Niemi the backup. What I’ve seen so far this postseason is like in movies when the supposedly ugly, nerdish girl takes off her clunky clothes, wearing only a bikini and her body. . . ummm. . . gahhh. . .

What the frak was I talking about?

Oh yes, being easily distracted and seeing the true beauty that’s been hiding all along. Yeah, that was it! But that’s been Niemi’s game in the playoffs. He has definitely saved (har!) his best for now and I am truly a believer. He was the man on Sunday and he will be the man tonight and many more nights to come.

1ST PERIOD

Already on a couple of faceoffs I see the ‘Hawks trying the tactic where if the Sharks win, then the ‘Hawks will reach around the winning faceoff center and try to steal the puck. It is one of those risky moves that usually doesn’t work, and it can result in the Sharks getting a jump on the play. I like the effort, but not necessarily this early.

Oh good grief, the fans are booing Campbell again when he touches the puck. He was only with your team for two months. Two months! And had he not left for the ‘Hawks, you wouldn’t have been able to make the trade to land Dan Boyle from the Tampa Bay Lightning. So you’re basically booing one of your best deals in recent memory? I thought San Jose, aka “Silicon Valley”, was supposed to be full of smart people. Oh yeah, Yahoo! is in the neighborhood, never mind.

Now they’re cheering the fact that while they had a lot of good shot attempts in a row, Niemi and his mates stopped them all, including a Niemi save where he was sitting on his keister in the blue paint. Hey, Sharks fans, that all means that you gave the ‘Hawks your very best and still couldn’t score, okay? Dumb and dumber.

Yet I am deeply disturbed how much time the Sharks are spending in the ‘Hawks zone. Aside from two good shot attempts by Toews, the ‘Hawks haven’t been able to generate much of a scoring attack.

NYAH NYAH-NYAH NYAAAAH NYAAAAH! Weeeeeee scored on yooooouuuuuuu!

For all San Jose could try to do to score, the ‘Hawks accomplished it with a simple-looking wrist shot by Andrew Ladd (only his second of the playoffs-welcome to the back of the net, Mr. Ladd, it’s been awhile). Versteeg, who lost control of the puck at the Sharks’ blue line, managed to regain himself and broke up a potential 2-on-1 rush and gave the puck back to Ladd, another one of those game-changing moments.

And now things get a little better as the Sharks finally draw a penalty this series. The only bad news is that the Sharks have given up six PP goals total in the playoffs. ‘Hawks can’t get much going during the PP, what a shock.

The ‘Hawks are getting some great breakaway opportunities by sneaking a forward into the Sharks’ zone like a streaking wide receiver, and having the other four guys try to hit him on the long bomb pass for a possible scoring chance. I’m surprised they’ve been able to do this so far, as the Sharks are pretty solid along the blue line. They’ll probably make some adjustments during the intermission to stop this. They also have to figure out what more they can do since it looks like they’ve shown their best hand already. Coming from experience, it just takes that one quirky play to change the entire game. Here’s hoping the Sharks can’t do that the rest of the game!

2ND PERIOD

A couple of confessions: first, when the Sharks began play in the NHL in 1991, I thought they had one of the coolest unis and color combos in hockey. I had a hat that was black with a teal bill and the word Sharks looking like it had a bite taken out of it, and I also had a Sharks’ jersey.

Second, I think Marleau-Thornton-Heatley is one of the biggest lines, size-wise, that I haven seen in a long time. Sometimes when they’re on the ice, it seems like they dwarf any ‘Hawks out there at the time. I still get the feeling that that line can use their size to turn their fortunes around. Yep, I’m a realist, a very, very, VERY nervous realist.

Now it sounds like the Sharks’ fans are booing their own team. Can it be that bad? Well, the ‘Hawks are certainly controlling the puck more, trying to slow down San Jose’s vaunted attack. But hey, you’re only down by a single goal, people, it’s not the end of the world. . . yet.

Okay, maybe it is now! ‘Hawks are swarming Nabby, they keep chipping at the puck in front of him, and Kaner takes the puck into the wide-open slot, takes a shot at the traffic, and it looks like it bounces off Big Buff for the big goal. Here’s a stat I didn’t know until now: the ‘Hawks were 17-1-2 in the regular season and 3-0 in the postseason when Big Buff scores. I guess I should be listening to the experts more when they say he is a prototypical power forward. I mean, I always thought he was a good player, but a power forward on par with some of the current greats like Henrik Zetterberg? Bu then, it’s like with anything the ‘Hawks do these days: I have to pinch myself to make sure it isn’t all a wondrous dream.

While the action has still been up and down the rink, this game doesn’t match the intensity of Game 1. The big reason for this is that the ‘Hawks are dictating the pace of the game. They’re not letting the Sharks have nearly as much time in the offensive zone as they did in the first period. After they scored the first goal, it felt like a huge weight was lifted off the ‘Hawks’ shoulders and things seem to be a little easier for them. This second goal proves that out.

Just like the first goal, the Sharks send another finned friend to the sin bin, only this time they cash in. Toews and Big Buff get some traffic in front of Nabby, Dunc shoots at them, Toews’ redirect rings off the inside pipes for an incredible 3-0 lead.

I mean, I thought the ‘Hawks would be leading at this point; I didn’t think they’d be dominating like this. Are we sure they’re not playing against the Canucks?

Sharks go back on the PP because Bolland was guilty of holding the stick. And yes, it has been confirmed: he is in fact in the box.

Well, no shutout for Niemi, oh shucky darn. Seriously, ‘Hawks better not take the Sharks too lightly, and they better squash any mo’ the Sharks feel they have right now.

(The Sharks did something on that goal they, and the experts, were talking about what they should do this game: screen Niemi. Way too many times in both games the Sharks were taking shots on an open Niemi, who was able to see what was zooming his way. The Sharks got a ton of net presence on that goal. With all that said, I still think it won’t matter in the end, but hey, I thought I’d waste some space in this column. Sneaky, eh?)

Sharks pick up the pace over the last five minutes of the period, but the ‘Hawks hold on to that crucial, two-goal lead. The third is setting up to be as insane as the rest of this series.

3RD PERIOD
More stats stuff: Toews’ point streak in the playoffs (11 games) is the longest in ‘Hawks history since Stan Mikita in 1962. I think that means Toews is very good, but I also think I’m still dreaming all of this.

The ‘Hawks are also 7-1 in the 2010 playoffs when leading after two periods, while the Sharks have yet to make a comeback from being down by at least three goals. Again, I don’t want to wake up until mid June.

Sharks juggle their lines to get the play back on their side. Good. I’d rather not see Marleau-Thornton-Heatley together the rest of the game.

And they can do all the juggling, plate-spinning and tumbling they want, because the ‘Hawks go back to a three-goal lead thanks to Nicklas Hjarlmasson. Right before his shot, Troy Brouwer comes at Nabby stick side, and manages to distract him long enough for Nick’s slapper to go between Nabby’s right arm and right side. I think the ‘Hawks have this screening the goalie down pat; maybe the Sharks should take notes.

You’d think the crowd would be mostly silent by now, but no, they’re still booing Campbell, and now they’re booing Bolland, probably for what happened in Game 1, as well as what they think is a bad penalty call on Thornton for whacking Bolland at the faceoff dot. Uhh, I’m sorry, when you SLASH someone like that, that’s usually a SLASHING PENALTY. I’m telling you, the total IQ of this Sharks’ crowd keeps dropping every minute.

Hard to believe we’re only halfway through this period. It seems this game is taking forever.

“The waaaaaiting is the hardest part. . .”

Thank you, TP.

Tee hee! I made a funny!

Still more stats: Game 1-Big Buff 1 goal, three hits. Game 2-Big Buff 1 goal, three hits. He’s nothing if not consistent, but really, he’s just been that good during the playoffs.

Whoops, now the Sharks have a little bit of life in them as Marleau makes it 4-2 with a little over four minutes left. Niemi uncharacteristically gives up a rebound, and the puck trickles to his left in the crease, where Marleau was waiting to tap it in.

But the game goes on as if nothing happened. ‘Hawks get some shot attempts, but mostly they’re clogging up the neutral zone, squashing any sort of Shark attack. It looks like the Sharks have lost some of their urgency in spite of the fact they’re only down by two.

The two minute-mark passes and instead of being able to regroup for a final push, now they have to kill off a penalty. As Nabby goes to the bench, it’s time to reel this one in. Hossa had a shot at an empty netter, but his backhander dings off the post. Bolland and Thornton start a scrum with about 18 seconds left. . .

. . . And that’s all she wrote. ‘Hawks tie a single-season playoff record with their seventh straight road win. Out of the other four teams who share the record with the ‘Hawks, three of the four went on to win the Cup, a very encouraging sign, and still more proof I’m dreaming all of this.

Okay, we’ve seen your best, San Jose. You had your moments, and you gave us quite a scare in the first period of both games. But you came up empty, and we’re able to transform your best guys into minor leaguers. It’s time to shut you down in our house, which won’t happen until three nights from now. The wait will be well worth it. 

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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