One day, sometime in the not-too-distant future, when Jonathan Toews and company are skating the Stanley Cup around some rink, somewhere, the Chicago Blackhawks will point to Sunday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings—Game Four of the 2009 Western Conference Finals.
That, they’ll say, is when we learned.
That’s when the cream rose to the top. The oil separated from the vinegar.
The Red Wings are a high performance spaceship, and they jettisoned the young Blackhawks like a lunar module on Sunday. A 6-1 non-nailbiter. All the better to be lighter and have more giddy-up when they face, likely, the Pittsburgh Penguins in a Stanley Cup Finals rematch.
If the Blackhawks have any hockey IQ at all, they’ll point to Sunday and realize that Game Four was when champions behaved like champions and young challengers wilted under the bright lights of series-making like three-day old lettuce.
It was tough to watch, really—the Blackhawks unraveling.
Their goalie played at a level reserved for pond hockey, which seemed to deflate the ‘Hawks.
There are two things that happen in hockey that make you cringe: giving up a goal in the final minute of a period, and giving up a goal in the opening minutes of a period.
The Blackhawks did both yesterday.
Then they lost their composure, and whacked and hacked the Red Wings, took penalties after the whistle, and even put themselves down two men in one fell swoop.
Sunday’s game could be the Blackhawks’ defining moment—if they play it right.
The videotape of the game should be preserved in a capsule, sealed, and placed in a climate-controlled vault.
It should be brought out in playoffs of the future to remind the maturing ‘Hawks how champions go about their business and how trash-talking punks go about theirs.
Rookie Kris Versteeg yapped more than a junkyard dog Sunday and spent most of his ice time skating from the penalty box to the bench.
If you think you’re going to throw these Red Wings off their game with your mouth and false bravado, then the hockey IQ in Chicago isn’t at the level needed to be Cup champs.
Been there, done that. That’s what the Red Wings bring to any playoff match.
Versteeg wasn’t even born when Wings defenseman Chris Chelios broke into the league. He was still putting frogs in his pocket and pulling girls’ hair when the Red Wings—several of whom are still playing for the team—won their first of four Stanley Cups since 1997.
You think the Red Wings are going to be thrown off their game by young Kris Versteeg?
And it wasn’t just Versteeg.
For whatever reason, coach Joel Quenneville’s team lost it on Sunday. The goal that may have been the final straw was Marian Hossa’s second, which came just 12 seconds after Toews brought the Blackhawks to within 3-1.
Oh, and that’s the third hockey thing that makes you cringe: giving up a goal so soon after you score one of your own.
The Red Wings would have none of the Blackhawks’ baiting—verbal or physical.
They fought back, as they usually do, with their skill. And their depth.
No Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, or Kris Draper?
Oh, didn’t they play?
Huh. I couldn’t tell.
Playing the Red Wings is like standing at one of those arcade games—the kind with the mallet and the rodent heads popping up.
Smack! Kill the Franzen head.
Pop! Here comes the Hossa head.
Smack! Kill the Hossa head.
Pop! Up comes the Zetterberg head.
Again, the Blackhawks are a fine young team. The Red Wings will have their hands completely full with these guys in years to come. Just as long as the proper personnel moves are made—the ones to complement the dazzling pieces already in place.
GM Dale Tallon is under the gun now. It’ll be his moves that will determine this team’s fate.
Like with the goaltending, for example.
Going into Game Five, there are issues in the Chicago net, which is the last place you want to discover issues while you’re in a playoff series.
It’s like finding hair in your food.
Cristobal Huet replaced the ailing Nikolai Khabibulin for Game Four—much the same way, I would imagine, that William Hung would replace the Dave Matthews Band.
Huet was awful. Terrible. A sieve. Anti-morale.
He waved at Franzen’s goal late in the first period, the one that gave the Red Wings a 2-0 lead.
He looked feeble on Hossa’s second goal, the backbreaker that came 12 seconds after Toews’ goal.
So there’s Huet and the ailing Khabibulin, and fuzzy-faced Corey Crawford, who wears No. 50, and since when did any goalie of any repute do that?
Those are your choices if you’re Quenneville, facing an elimination game in Detroit on Wednesday.