I’m writing this late Saturday morning because I needed at least 12 hours to cool down and get some of Friday night out of my system. However, after waiting 12 hours to (in theory) settle down and be more objective, I can’t.
First of all, I refuse to blame Antti Niemi for the loss. He allowed two goals on 24 shots. In his first career start in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, against a hungry division opponent, Niemi played well. The two goals he allowed were fluke goals, too. For the Cristobal Huet supporters out there, don’t even start with “soft” garbage. The first goal wasn’t even a shot by JP Dumont that took a crazy bounce (on replay it looked like it bounced and redirected at about 45 degrees into the post). The second was scored off a great screen by a Blackhawk defenseman who was, contrary to his position’s name, not playing defense. Niemi’s effort was good enough to win a playoff game last night.
Rinne was just better.
Secondly, I hope the Harlem Globetrotters have been banned from the United Center between October 1 and June 15 forever. The ice was pathetic last night; players were losing their footing and unable to get rid of a pass for both teams on a number of occasions. If you’re hosting a playoff hockey game, then get the ice right. Last night’s conditions were a joke. Maybe Jerry Reinsdorf will understand this when he’s done raping the state of Arizona and the NHL to buy the Phoenix Coyotes, and he’ll stop screwing the Blackhawks by scheduling crap on non-hockey days during the playoffs.
As far as I can remember, there weren’t monster truck rallies in the UC or the Chicago Stadium when Michael Jordan was winning championships. Maybe we should treat these Blackhawks with the same courtesy.
Thirdly, I don’t care what we have to do, but Brent Sopel and Jordan Hendry cannot play in game two. They looked like a seventh grade boy trying to get a bra off last night. Officially, on the scoresheet, Sopel and Hendry were credited with one giveaway each. Apparently there isn’t a column in the box score for SUCK. In fact, the last time a Predator spent that much time in the offensive zone, Ben Roethlisberger ended up apologizing and Tiger Woods went to rehab.
Fourth, our fourth line was thoroughly owned by Nashville on Friday night. For as good as they had played in April, and with all credit and respect to Nashville for winning the battles, the fourth line got outplayed. If Colin Fraser is only going to win 25 percent of his faceoffs (2-8 Friday night), he cannot skate in the playoffs. Heck, Kris Versteeg won four of six in the circle; let him center the fourth line and put Bryan Bickell out there. In the playoffs, when you’re a puck possession team, you have to get the puck out of your zone and then control play in the offensive zone. The fourth line, with Sopel and Hendry, failed miserably last night.
Fifth, Duncan Keith needs a break. I think fans are now seeing that Quenneville wants to spread the blue line minutes around between Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brent Seabrook and Dustin Byfuglien, but Keith needs a break. He skated 29:25 last night, almost five minutes more than the second-highest total. The skater that had that second-highest amount of ice time: Byfuglien (24:32). Hjalmarsson skated under 20 minutes, but ended the game as the only Hawks skater with a positive plus-minus; Keith was -3. This is why Nick Boynton and someone, anyone, other than Sopel or Hendry needs to dress to eat minutes. If Sopel is playing 13 minutes and Hendry is playing only nine, then someone has to eat the other minutes. Keith cannot be a force late in games if he’s playing that many minutes.
My simple solution is give Hjalmarsson more ice time. He was fantastic last night; in my opinion, only Marian Hossa was more effective. He was credited with one hit and three blocked shots, but was the best Hawks defenseman at getting the puck out of the defensive zone.
Sixth, and finally, I hope Quenneville and his assistants watch film of the first two games of the Philadelphia-New Jersey series. I know the Hawks have issues with their blue line depth with Campbell being hurt and Johnsson disappearing, but the Flyers game plan is something the Blackhawks need to mirror. Philly has had great success posting up Chris Pronger, a defenseman, in front of the net; he has a goal in both of the games in that series because he’s parked in front of Marty Brodeur all night. Last year, when the Blackhawks were successful, Byfuglien was posting up in front of the net. Philly has been able to post up a defenseman and split games, on the road, against the two seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. There’s no reason the Blackhawks can’t do the same with Big Buff.
The knee jerk reaction to last night is that the world has ended, but it hasn’t. The Blackhawks are the two seed in the West for a reason, and should still be able to win this series. However, the issues I’ve outlined are issues, while easily corrected, have to be rectified if the Hawks want to see Game Five.