THE FAR SIDE OF THE POND: Oddly, Odds and Odd-Man Rushes go Against 'Hawks in Odd Game

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05/01/2009 9:03 AM -

By Chad Huebner

It still feels surreal to be still writing about the ‘Hawks, but I’ m sure I’ll overcome that soon. On the one hand, they’re in the best possible position that they can be, not having to face the Sharks this round, and won’t have to face the Red Wings (which is no guarantee against the Ducks) in the Conference Finals. On the other hand, they’re facing a team that was hot the last month of the regular season, carrying that fire thru a sweep of the St. Louis Blues, who also looked pretty good getting into the postseason. Last two games the ‘Hawks played against the Canucks, the ‘Hawks weren’t even close to competing, losing a 7-3 blowout in Vancouver, then getting skunked 4-0 at home at a time when everyone thought that was a crucial game in determining the 4-5 slots. Turns out the Canucks had more in mind.

Before I begin another playoff diary in what has become the greatest ‘Hawks postseason I’ve ever seen (keep in mind I didn’t start following the ‘Hawks regularly until 1997, the start of the “Dark Ages” for the team), here are my quick picks for the second round: Bruins over ‘Canes, Pens over Caps in the East; Red Wings over Ducks and my ‘Hawks over the Canucks in the West (thanks, San Jose and New Jersey for serving up some steaming plates of turdburgers in the first round). That’s right, I have a couple of upsets, and I think my beloved ‘Hawks will win the series at home in Game 6. You heard it here loud and clear; now let’s see if my fragile Chicago Sports Fan psychosis can last that long before breaking down.

PRE-GAME STUFF

Games 1 and 4 are shown only on Versus, so no Pat Foley calling the action. Yeah, yeah, the reason why it’s not on Comcast because this is part of the whole national TV deal, but the game’s not the same without Foley. At least Versus had enough sense to let Eddie O do the play by play. I’m somewhat a happy human right now.

They’re talking about Roberto Luongo, who’s having a career year despite being out for nearly a month during the regular season. His winning percentage, GAA and save percentages are at their highest since 2007, his first year with the Canucks, His overall won-lost record doesn’t look impressive, but keep in mind he spent time backstopping the Florida Panthers for many years, so talk about being held back.

Oh, and his first name is the same name of Adam Sandler’s character, Bobby Boucher’s dad in “The Waterboy.” Now I think we have more info than we need.

Going from Calgary to Vancouver, there isn’t much difference in the crowd intensity. Well, there’s one difference: it’s a sea of white threatening to drown out the ‘Hawks, instead of red.

1ST PERIOD

Bulin has as equally horrible stats against the Canucks as he did great numbers against the Flames: only six wins in 25 games vs. Vancouver, and he’s 0-9-2 in his last 11 games against them. Stomach-churning stuff, no? But maybe it’s time to put the stats in a cool, dark place.

‘Hawks on the PP just under two minutes into the game. They were 29.2% on the PP against the Flames. Anything near those numbers against the Canucks will translate into wins. They’d be almost Detroit-like.

Looks like the feistiness between the two clubs in their last regular-season meeting is carrying over to this series. Johnny Toews tried going after Willie Mitchell before the refs escorted Mitchell away. Me likee when it’s my team flexing some muscle.

Gotta get used to the fact the Vancouver fans yell “LUUUUUU!” when Luongo makes a good save. For a moment, I thought they were booing their own team for no good reason.

That sea of white I referred to earlier is actually a bunch of white towels. The waving of the white towels seems to go back to a 1982 playoff game against, of course, the ‘Hawks. Hope the fans don’t mean they’re throwing in the towel. Between that and crazily “booing” at their goalie, they’d make Oakland Raider fans look like Mormons.

Another successful PK by the ‘Hawks. It’s really one of their underrated strengths in the playoffs so far. Bulin’s been making some wicked saves, but the guys in front of him are keeping shots to a minimum, and clear the puck very well.

Whoa, Bulin just dodged a nuclear missile-sized bullet. Trying the clear the puck to the right, he’s almost hung out to dry as a Canuck intercepts the puck and has probably the easiest shot attempt in his entire life. . . but the ‘Hawks D skate back quickly, and amazingly, not a single shot is taken. Whew! Mistakes like that could potentially ruin not just a single game, but the entire series.

Andrew Ladd draws a 4-minute stay in the penalty box for a stick to the face, drawing blood. Here’s a true test for that “underrated” PK unit.

Either the ‘Hawks had an incredibly easy time killing off four minutes of man advantage, or the Canucks showing signs of rust after playing for the first time in nine days. I’ll go with the latter, as they couldn’t generate much on this latest PP and look a little lackluster so far. Time for the ‘Hawks to take advantage of this.

But they don’t, as Duncan Keith gets called for tripping. Hard to get anything started, and they’re letting a rusty-looking team way too many chances to take control of this game.

And the Canucks take the first lead on a Pavol Demitra shot that bounces off of Bulin and into the net. I didn’t like Demitra when he played for the St. Louis Blues (who I hate almost as much as the Red Wings) and I still don’t.

So the period started out in the ‘Hawks favor, with some nice PKs and with the Canucks looking flat. But now the ‘Hawks are the ones looking shaky (over 7 minutes on PK duty), and need to get something started quickly, or else Luongo can make that 1-0 lead look like a 10-0 lead.

2ND PERIOD

Hard to believe the ‘Hawks outshot the Canucks, 10-8, in the first. It didn’t look like any of the ‘Hawks 10 shots looked like quality shots, though.

‘Hawks dodge a couple of more bullets this period, one where Bulin gobbles up a good close-in shot attempt, and another where Seabs foils Mats Sundin’s stick deflection at the last second. At least the ‘Hawks are putting together some good-looking offensive drives; they’d look even better if they tried to get a warm body in front of Luongo from time to time. Shades of Games 3 and 4 in Calgary. . .

But the Sedin twins (Henrik feeding Daniel) push the Canucks lead to 2-0. Last time the ‘Hawks were down by two was in the first game in the playoffs. I think we all know what happened then. Of course, that was at the United Center, so I don’t see the ‘Hawks getting the same crowd support this time around.

Wonderful, another PK for the ‘Hawks to kill. This has been, what, four straight for them without the Canucks getting called for one? So much for the “long rest=rust” theory.

I guess the refs are able to see what I type as I type it, because they awarded the ‘Hawks their first PP in what seems like decades. Yippee! A PP goal would really, really, REALLY be nice right now. ‘Hawks dig and dig at Luongo on one attempt, and that’s the best they can do. Did I happen to mention that “LUUUU!” is playing really well? Of course I did.

Yet all the Canucks have to do is get an odd-man situation, and poof! it’s now 3-0 all of a sudden (Selke-nominee Ryan Kesler with the latest tally). I don’t know what more the ‘Hawks can do. Offense looks good without scoring a goal, defense looks good, even on the PK and Bulin looks solid, even though he’s let three goals slip by him (sounds weird, but trust me). A very frustrating situation made more so when The Kaner gets called for Chicago’s sixth penalty in the game-their second 4-minute penalty of the game-and at least the second one called right after the Canucks score.

Second period was almost a carbon copy of the first, times two. ‘Hawks get off to a good start with some nice scoring attempts, but come away with nothing, and spend most of the period on the PK again. Canucks seemingly don’t do much, yet they’re up 3-0, which is starting to look like 30-0 (see how I just multiplied that 10-0 from before? Pretty clever, eh? Ah well, everyone’s a critic).

3RD PERIOD

Time for that patented comeback, right? I’d say that would be possible if the ‘Hawks were playing at home and Luongo had Swine Flu all of a sudden (Swine Lu?), but I have my doubts. And the ‘Hawks are still leading in shots? How is this possible?

Mere seconds after Eddie O mentioned the ‘Hawks were down by three goals in Game 4 against Calgary before tying it, The Kaner gets one back. At least they avoid being shut out again.

Seems like Vancouver is content to let the ‘Hawks run around for while before taking back control of the game (it worked really well in periods 1 and 2). But ‘Hawks are starting to get even in PP attempts. Once again, the urgency to convert, is it there?

Yes, it is! It didn’t take long to answer that question. Kaner again! “LUUUUU” gives up a fat rebound to 88 who slots it home. Are they going to do it again? Are they going to make a believer out of me again?

Big Buff, known for his physical play more than any sort of deft touch, actually lifts the puck on his stick and bounces it on his blade like Tiger Woods with a golf ball, all while being pressured near the boards. That looked pretty.

But you know what looks even prettier? A TIE GAME! Dave Bolland spoils Kaner’s bid at a natural hat trick, but oh well, I think they’ll live with it. 5:22 to go. Do you believe any of this? Do I believe any of this? My brain’s turning to cottage cheese just trying to comprehend what’s going on. It’s affecting what I’m typing so fa- dhdfgvgfdgdgdhhhghghdggdhghdggh. . .  huh, what? Wha happened?

But that state of euphoria only lasts until the 1:13 mark. Another odd-man rush by the Canucks, another goal. Damn. My insides are being pulled like taffy in this up and down dream, er, game. Bulin gets pulled with a minute to go. ‘Hawks have the puck in the Canucks zone. . . then it bounces over Brian Campbell’s stick, and the Canucks take it down for the game killer.

The ‘Hawks had plenty of chances to take control of this game, but too many penalties to ill, plus some superb goaltending by “LUUUUU” (yes, I’m starting to get sick of that), led to a supposedly rusty Canuck team to go up 1-0 in the series. At least the ‘Hawks made a respectable attempt in this loss, much like that Game 4 in Calgary. Hopefully they can figure out what went wrong in this oddball of a game and come out swinging in Game 2. And hopefully I’ll be able to put the melted remains of my brain back in my skull before then. 

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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