During the Cubs first home playoff games last year the feeling at Wrigley was tangible. There was no excitement like at the other playoff venues. The fans were quiet. It was like a funeral. The uncomfortable anticipation of something bad happening came along with the purchase of a ticket.
But the Calgary Flames had better expect something very different. They are walking into what promises to be a building full of excitement, enthusiasm, confidence, and noise. There is going to be a building full of playoff starved hockey fans that when invited to show up are the most supportive and vocal fans in hockey.
We are ravenous for the ups and downs of the playoffs. Win those first two games and hope to get one on the road and all is well. But lose one at home and the adrenaline gets going…how are we going to recover? How can we get that one back? What if we do not get that next one at home? The overtime games!
Ah, yes. The Stanley Cup playoffs are like nothing else. The best tournament in sports! And they are back in Chicago.
Here are the thoughts rattling around the heads of Blackhawk fans.
Are the Blackhawks too young?
This is an important question and for Blackhawk fans they hope that their head coach will be able to get them to listen. When they play their team game and trust their ability to score goals by working their system they are tough to beat.
It is quite possible that the intensity of the new Stadium will be too much for the boys to handle—can they possibly handle the intensity of a decade worth of futility—and they will stumble in the early part of the series. I could see them splitting the home games and winning two in Calgary where they can relax and just play.
They may not be able to grow beards and they do not have playoff experience, but they have solid leadership both on and off the ice. Great teams have a combination of skill and camaraderie and the Blackhawks
The Blackhawks thrived in the regular season, but will the rigor of the playoffs affect the small, quick, enforcer-less Blackhawks?
They have been better lately when teams try to play the tough game with them. Early in the year they crumbled and lost their focus. St. Louis was really able to get them off their game. But they have been better down the stretch. I suspect that there will be games where they dictate the style and they should win those games easily, but in the games where the Flames dictate the game the Hawks will struggle.
The poster boy for this is Brian Campbell. He is great in transition. He is a great passer. But he disappeared last year in the playoffs. The Hawks are paying him a lot of money to get points from the blue line. The physical game is not his game. If he is able to play his game, and not disappear (or worse turn the puck over all over the ice) you will see a quick extinguishing of the Flames.
Will the Blackhawks power play show up?
It had better. Their skill players may have a hard time in the tough games, but tough games lead to penalties. If the power play is clicking as it can when Patrick Kane is on his game there will be a lot more reluctance to take penalties.
Will Khabibulin show up in the playoffs as he has during the regular season?
A dominant goalie in the playoffs gets the other team thinking too much and squeezing their sticks too tight. Nikolai Khabibulin has the potential to be awesome. He has been. If he is right the Hawks will not only beat the Flames they will go far in this tournament. When he is able to cover up the mistakes made by his young nervous players, they relax knowing that they do not have to be perfect.
Will the Flames show up differently than they did against the Blackhawks in the regular season?
The Hawks were awesome against the Canadian fans this year. They swept the Flames and Jerome Iginla was very, very quiet. In true form for Chicago sports fans that is not re-assuring. It is worrisome.
Wait, is this game being played at Wrigley?
Predication: Blackhawks in 5 (after losing the first game)