Raffi Torres is a punk, and we get that.
He laid a devastating and illegal blow on Marian Hossa that sent him to the hospital on a stretcher. It can be assessed as a calculated play aimed at eliminating the only Hawks winger that possesses the physicality and patience needed to prevail in one-on-one matchups against the boards.
Phoenix knew that without Hossa on the ice, they would have a decided advantage in that ever-important part of the game. And they have, that is, until Game 5 when an unexpected effort (Nick Leddy) combined with intense leadership (Jonathan Toews) pushed through for a win-or-go-home victory.
The Game 5 victory was the first sign of significant life from the Blackhawks' Twitter community since the hit to Hossa from Torres. Instantly, fans and the team’s official Twitter started rallying around the hashtag #WinItForHossa. It made sense. I retweeted it with the expected passion and fervor of any diehard fan or any connected fan for that matter.
Aren’t teams always more dangerous when they have that something to wear on their shoulders as a banner? Slogans like “Rocktober” and “Broad Street Bullies” seem to get passionate fan bases all stirred up. However, the more I thought about the topic, the more I wish that I could redact my retweet and attempt to start a new trend: #WinItForThemselves.
Marian Hossa is as team-oriented of a player as any organization could hope for, at least for the Blackhawks. (Yes, I am aware that he jumped from organization to organization in search of a Stanley Cup.)
When invested in a goal (and this year’s playoffs was his goal), he is as dangerous of a hockey player as there is in the game. His desire, will and mental fortitude can drive opposing players crazy especially when the pace of the game changes in the playoffs.
When Torres eliminated Hossa from this series, it was a double whammy to the team’s hopes. Coupled with Shaw’s reckless behavior against Smith (yes, Smith overreacted but was rewarded for his savvy display of complete obliteration), the Hawks were left without two of their bigger and quicker board players and were forced to deal with Radim Vrbata, Shane Doan and Andrew Vermette without much support.
As the series continued to go from overtime game to overtime game, the Hawks looked more and more susceptible of falling victim to flat-out exhaustion because of their depth being so limited.
This year, much like last year, the United Center will be treated to a Game 6 where all the pressure is on the visiting team. Phoenix has never won a playoff series during its existence in the desert and they are playing a team that has much more experience in games of this magnitude.
So, instead of trying to #WinItForHossa, the Blackhawks need to be focused on trying to #WinItForThemselves.
Most likely, by typing that previous sentence, I will be accused for being disrespectful of Marian Hossa’s situation and the physical and mental struggle that he is going through by not being available for participation in tonight’s game. And that’s fine.
However, my observation is not disrespectful but rather a reflection on what I believe Marian Hossa would want for his teammates.
This Blackhawks team was expected to be Cup contenders again this season after being gutted by the salary cap in 2011. However, the struggles (some controllable, others not) mounted in serious fashion throughout the entire season.
Patrick Kane was tried as a center and then seemingly forgot how to score—whether it be with goals or assists. There was a nine-game losing streak. Corey Crawford and Ray Emery could never seem to find enough momentum to stay on the ice for a stretch of several games.
Michael Frolik literally couldn’t score at all. (from CSN Chicago's Tracey Myers) Jonathan Toews suffered a concussion. This team had every excuse to fold and wait for next year, but they didn’t.
An incredible stretch to finish the season, primarily after the acquisition of blueliner Johnny Oduya, gave this externally frustrating, yet internally resilient hockey team, a chance at the Cup.
The series against the Coyotes, up to tonight’s game, has been a microcosm of the season—good start, bad middle, positive ending in sight. Adversity has been mounting over the course of all five games, but suddenly it seems like there, for the lack of a better cliché, is light at the end of the tunnel.
Toews finally made a “captain-like” play to send the series back to Chicago. Young and rambunctious Shaw will be back tonight with expectations of flying around the ice, playing like he has always played. Crawford seems to maybe have found some focus moving forward. Leddy raised the bar for himself.
I don’t claim to be an insider, but instead I claim to be an informed fan that deals with his ridiculous sports anxiety by writing about it. However, you can’t tell me that Marian Hossa isn’t communicating to his teammates a message of unity in that locker room, instead of an inspired speech of individualism.
Personally, I think it’s great that Blackhawks fans care so much about their own players. But instead of focusing on revenge for Hossa, let’s watch this team for the rest of the guys and their “never-say-die” attitude that has been infectious throughout this season.
I want to see the youthful smiles of Hayes, Bollig and Shaw after they experience being a part of team that captured an unlikely series victory. I want to see the monkey come off the back of Crawford after being dogged all season for not having what it takes. I want to see an invigorated group become a feared matchup for the rest of playoffs.
I want to see Marian Hossa lift up the Stanley Cup and smile right into the camera while wearing a Blackhawks jersey, all the while knowing that Raffi Torres is at home watching from his couch.