Only nine biggest games of the season left for Blackhawks--standby for action

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Good weekend for all you busy fans to stock up the cupboards for the Blackhawks' push toward the playoffs with refreshments, snacks and razor blades.

Make sure to select the cutters with the embedded aloe vera so the slicing will be smooth as possible. No need to nick yourself before you die.

Just remember this, it's always darkest before the dawn, and I truly believe it's now dawned on the Hawks that Cristobal Huet is not the answer. Not this weekend. Not next weekend. Not next year. Not this century. Not in the afterlife.

Therefore, it's morning in America on West Madison Street.

Cockadoodle-do! Rise and shine. Forgive me while I go into my sunny song-and-dance, just one of my bad habits.

Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, what a wonderful day. It's the truth, it's actual, everything is satisfactual. Mister Bluebird's on my shoulder. Wonderful feeling, wonderful day.

The longest journey begins with one single step. It's never too late to start over again.

Times a-wastin' and a cake is no good if you don't mix the batter and bake it/ and love is just a bubble if you don't take the trouble to make it (so says my gal June Carter Cash).

OK, now I'll get serious and go to the classics for your reflection of the day.

What better time to bring in Horace to give your sagging attitudes a much-needed steroids shot, courtesy of Alex Rodriguez's leftover stash.

"Carpe Diem! Rejoice while you are alive; enjoy the day; live life to the fullest; make the most of what you have. It is later than you think."

Wait a second, was that Horace or Joel Quenneville? No, definitely Horace. Q doesn't usually string that many sentences together unless he has just seen the worst something or other in the history of sports.

OK, it's getting a little bit crowded out here on the ledge with all you bandwagon jumpers elbowing me. Let's crawl back to some optimistic ground and away from our Mel Brooks' High Anxiety. My fingernails are fraying and I sing and dance better on terra firma.

The Hawks remain one of the best teams in the National Hockey League with the fourth most goals (231), with the fewest goals allowed (181), with the second best home penalty kill (88.2), with the most shots (2507), with the fewest shots against (1816), with a 30-1-3 record when leading after two periods and 25-5-5 when leading after the first period.

I could go on with the A-list roll call, but I don't want you to become too overconfident and forget your fears of falling. These guys just have forgotten temporarily how good they are, but I suspect muscle memory will come to their rescue--the muscle that might turn out to be the most important right now.

The muscle that flexes best when a team is united and playing not with one another, but for one another.

There is no good, easily transparent explanation for how a 41-15-5 team at the Olympic break has degenerated into a 46-20-7 team other than shit happens and a .500 team is absolutely no fun to watch at all. You just get done praising them when they decide to suck and conversely you just get done lambasting them when they decide to be good again.

Leave the split personality act to me.

Patrick Sharp saying the 8-3 pasting in Columbus Thursday had been percolating in the spotty play since the Olympics raises some question of exactly where their focus has been. Injuries have taken a toll, but as we know, all teams must overcome injury--and we proudly pointed to team depth earlier this season as a reason to believe this group could repel all adversity.

Apparently, their dedication to duty took a vacation. Happens a lot in sports, but when it turns a great team into a sporadic and mediocre producer with the postseason beckoning and now charging at us with the ferocity of a slobbering Doberman targeting our gonads, these negative changes will be noted. The disappointment should be criticized by one and all.

So what kind of rematch do we have Sunday at United Center when the Blue Jackets step into the ring again with Chicago? It is hard to follow that self-proclaimed biggest game of the Hawks' season last Tuesday against Phoenix (a 2-0 win) with the biggest game of the Hawks' season again Sunday against Columbus.

From what I can ascertain, we have nine biggest games of the season left before none of it matters in the least and we enter the biggest games of the season in the playoffs. Kind of confusing, isn't it?

We might have to take a page from the Mike Tyson playbook and chew off Evander Holyfield's ear Sunday. In hockey, things like that are a matter of course. No one would hardly notice long as there's no unfair hit to the head before the Columbus ear chewing commences.

I guess we need to start taking these biggest games of the season one game at a time. Just to maintain some small perspective.

Should Antti Niemi actually suck Sunday, I believe there is a sizeable segment willing to wave a white flag and just withdraw from the playoffs before further embarrassments. From what I see on TV, you might have to fight the Blackhawk Standbys to do it and some of the old broads look feisty and mean to me, so watch yourself in the clinches.

The fact remains, however, that Huet remains one Niemi blowout away from yet his millionth chance at resurrection, whether you agree or not that he's a dead man skating.

So there is your internet poll question for next week. If Niemi and Huet both suck equally in the remaining nine games, at what saloon are you prepared to sign the surrender papers?

Not me. I'm mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. I'm going right back out on that ledge with a fearless prediction.

The Hawks win their next three games, beating the Jackets Sunday and then traveling to St. Louis to whup the Blues Tuesday and on to Minnesota to trample the Wild Wednesday.

And Niemi wins every one.

Those six points will raise them to 105 for the season, just three short of the most points in history for a Hawks' team.

In the final six games against New Jersey, Calgary, Dallas, St. Louis, Colorado and Detroit the Hawks go 2-2-2 just to scare the hell out of us again and finish with 111 points. Huet plays two of those games. I'll let you guess which two.

Life is not always wine and roses, but sometimes whine and pansies.

Just remember back to when we were bitching about the Hawks never making the playoffs. Bitching about the Hawks failing to be the best team in the NHL 100 per cent of the time certainly is an upgrade.

I would like to make a final request here. Could somebody get a picture this weekend of Scotty Bowman laughing at any suggestions the Hawks might want to think about addressing their goalie situation a while back?

I just want it for my files. Plus, any picture of Scotty Bowman laughing is a rarity. Now that I think back on it, Scotty did tell that Toronto radio audience that the whole Hawks front office was laughing at us at the trade deadline for being so stupid.

Make that a group photo. I'll get it signed at the Blackhawks convention by all the jokers.

Let's see who gets the last laugh here. I hope it's all of us, because if there is a coming war with Washington and Alex Ovechkin in the championship, I'd like some of those Blackhawk Standbys beside me in the trenches.

Don't give up yet, folks. The fun's just beginning. Zip-a-dee-doo-dah to you, too.

Comments

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  • What can I say, Mike; when you're right, you're right. Huet has shown no signs whatsoever of being the man to bring home the cup in 2010, at least no signs in the second half of the schedule. I was one of those fans who defended him in the past and, if by some miracle, he reverts back to his play of October and November on the few occasions that he will be given the start in the final games of the regular season, I will be happy for the team, as everyone else will be, but it will clearly be "too little too late" as far as his fate in the postseason is concerned. I backed the wrong horse, but I share your optimism about our prospects in the playoffs -- if I am reading you correctly. Let's prove more people wrong, including Jeremy Roenick.

  • In reply to Northernhawk:

    Huet still will be lurking in the corners at the prom like a boy without a date. Who knows, he could still get lucky and somebody might ask him to dance before it ends. I bet he steps on her foot though, the same skate the first goal went off last night.

  • Ageed, Mike and although we do not have a Glen Hall, Tony O or Ed "Eagle" Balfour, we can still hope that Niemi along with Crawford will come through for us in the clutch and hopefully put some pride and encouragement back into our troops for that endless pursuit of the "CUP" as was accomplished with the great team lead by Hull, Mikita, Hall and company five decades ago and I quite never lost that fever feeling!!! Go Hawks Go!!!!

  • In reply to RickSmith:

    Semper Fi.

  • In reply to RickSmith:

    Mike, you've out-Joyced Joyce (and I don't mean Brothers) and out Selby'd Selby...maybe out-Kerouacked Kerouac with this wacky word wizardry of yours.

    Hockey writing will never be the same.

    Perhaps Q, taking his cue from you, wants to re-invent the Lexicon of Puckology. So the PHX game was, in the linguistics of Q-speak, 'the biggest of the year'?

    The Next Nine are, then, 'the biggerest'. And they just get biggerer. Who knows, this kind of biggery could become a habit.

    PS Looking ahead to his retirement, Cristo is opening a fondue restaurant near you soon. Watch for it.

  • In reply to DaveMorris:

    Can't wait to taste the butterfly dip. I knew when his own personal PR man was leaving the sinking ship it was time to strap on the life vests.

  • In reply to JMKiley:

    Mike, no need for the life vest. Just bring your fondue fork.

  • In reply to JMKiley:

    A simple images.google.com search got me my new avatar. What do you think the 11 represents?

  • In reply to JMKiley:

    I knew it was a bad choice to play Huet the other night, but I never saw that coming. I have never thought of Huet as a talented goalie, just lucky at times, but really? he didn't even try on some of them. This team needs to refresh, rearrange, and get some motivation with leadership from their coach. I am not completely worried yet, but things have got to change now to make an impact in the playoffs.
    I truly believe that Huet has got to go away at this point. Crawford was played when Huet was sick and I can see no other reason to do so other than to see how he looks for future ice time.
    Pull Crawford up and go with Niemi, starting now. Play Crawford in a couple of the upcoming games get some strength back on defense and go from there. There is nothing worse than Huet at this point.
    Your right Mike, the numbers still look good for the Hawks and it makes me feel more at ease, but numbers don't tell the whole story.

  • In reply to DaveMorris:

    I have the Huet two more times. At Minnesota March 31, after Nieimi plays the night before in St. Louis and the first game of the last back-to-back sets for the year, at Dallas April 6. Maybe I could be wrong and Crawford is in net for those two games.

  • I said it earlier this year just after the trade deadline: What the Blackhawks brass knows that many Hawk fans don

  • In reply to matto:

    Well said. What bandwaggoners and many "experts" don't recognize is the Blackhawks limped all the way through the offseason and played this season with some players who most Hawks insiders would agree are not part of the master plan. A Stanley Cup championship takes years to build. The Hawks are 2 years into the process and, whether you agree or not, the fact remains Dale Talon did a great deal of damage to the long term plan. Buffalo and San Jose brass would tell you Campbell is a solid defenseman, but way overrated. Bottom line, he's absolutely undeserving of the massive contract, which resulted in a huge cap hit. Hossa is an incredible talent, but is unable to take over a series - ask Detroit and Pittsburgh. Acquiring the player was a good move; but a 12 year contract and corresponding cap hit is obscene. The UFA debacle was embarassing, incredibly costly, and likely the straw that broke the camel's back, but I don't think anyone would disagree Talon's legacy lies between the pipes. Throwing that kind of cash and long term deal at an unproven, and quite honestly shakey goaltender was naive. Refusing to admit the mistake after it was made and correct it was unforgiveable.

    The Hawks on-ice performance and front office PR blitz have done wonders in distracting the league experts from the cap issues, but the reality is the cap issues are not going away, and Talon made them worse. This, combined with the acquisition setbacks created by the cap cash crunch made the Hawks' long term plans longer term. Thus, Talon was shown the door.

    So, let's gear up for a decent playoff run. But, let's not get ahead of ourselves and buy into Stanley Cup hype - we're not there yet, and we're likely a couple years off. Just keep buying tickets and selling out games...and make sure you eat a hot dog or two while you're at it - we need to cash to buy out of a couple contracts.

  • In reply to JonL62:

    Hossa's cap hit isn't that high precisely due to the length of his contract.

    Hossa was hurt in last year's finals, skating with a shoulder that needed surgery, yet the Wings nearly won the Cup anyway. He had 26 points in 20 playoffs games with Pittsburgh in '08 including 10 multiple-point games.

    Complain about the cap all you like, but the reality is Dale Tallon filled this roster with an abundance of talent, much of it quite young.

  • In reply to matto:

    "What the Blackhawks brass knows that many Hawk fans don

  • In reply to borg:

    Being a Wings fan and having already lived through a "Scotty Bowman Experiment" for ten years, I would think that my educated guess would carry validity. Sure its a guess, but having lived it for the last two decades, I guess its easy for me to see when things started looking awfully familiar in Chicago.

  • In reply to matto:

    If the Hawks are so content to just win a round, how come they were so quick to can Savard and Tallon?

  • In reply to borg:

    Because they could actually do something about Savard and Tallon. They didnt have anything to do with salary cap and they didnt have 6 million a year contracts they had to sell to another team.

    But I think you're missing the point- Im not suggesting that they arent trying to put themselves in position to win with what they have- Im saying that they have realistic expectations about how much they can actually win with what they have-

    The reason that the Bowman's didnt make some foolish decision to give up a draft pick and role player just to pick up a goalie at the deadline is a perfect example of this thought process- It was better to see what they could get out of this squad and not give up the next two years (by giving away draft picks or role players)just to take a last minute chance on ANOTHER unproven playoff goalie like Vokoun. Finding money wasnt an issue-If they wanted to do it they could have made the sales (of players and picks) to aquire him. But this is all part of a larger more invested plan. I dont understand how you disagree with that. Even if the Hawks make a good run or win it all, I would bet that they (Rocky, Stan and Scotty) would be the first to admit that it happened MUCH sooner than they had planned and that it was a pleasant suprise.

    This year, the Bowman's (due to contract sins of previous management) knew they were forced to make lemonade out of a lemon but it was Huet that left them sour! (you like that?-I thought it was good) They had to play the cards that were already on the table. The next few years they will have their turn to fully stack the deck and they didnt have to give it all away last month to get there.

  • In reply to matto:

    Whether the Hawks' success has come earlier than expected, I'd bet the Bowman's and Wirtz have every intention of winning this year. The only top ten teams in the league with a goalie who's won a Cup are Pittsburgh and Jersey, so why you think a lack of one disqualifies a team only you know.

  • In reply to borg:

    I dont. I said:
    "A veteran/experienced playoff goalie (with or without a previous Cup)" That leaves the door open to lots of different options.

    For example: Would you like your chances more, less or the same if you had Marty Turco in net going into the playoffs this year?

  • In reply to matto:

    Turco would not instill supreme confidence in me.

    BTW, which goalies in the West would qualify as veteran/experienced playoff goalies? (Nabakov, Rinne, Luongo, Niemi, Anderson, Howard, Bryzgalov, Quick)

  • In reply to borg:

    I don

  • In reply to matto:

    Quit being obtuse. You keep claiming the Blackhawks are in trouble because they lack a "veteran/experienced" playoff goalie. I gave the list of the 8 goalies who will start the playoffs in the West. That's not an "interesting" list, it's a factual one and you don't want to answer my question for obvious reasons.

    Then you change the subject by naming two goalies who won't be in the playoffs in Kiprusoff and Turco, one goalie who is a backup in Osgood and a another who has only gotten to the Conference Finals one time.

    Nobody cares if Cam Ward won a Cup 6 years ago; it's irrelevant to the discussion. If Chicago can't win because it lacks a "veteran/experienced" playoff goalie, then nobody in the West can win. Might as well have Jersey and Pittsburgh play each other for the Cup right now.

  • In reply to borg:

    In response to your last post:

    "Quit being obtuse. You keep claiming the Blackhawks are in trouble because they lack a "veteran/expe
    rienced" playoff goalie. I gave the list of the 8 goalies who will start the playoffs in the West."

    Your list doesn

  • In reply to matto:

    "Sure those goalies are making the playoffs this year but that doesn

  • In reply to borg:

    Just so I have this straight:

    The Wings have a rookie goalie for the playoffs. He's had a terrific year, but can't help the Wings to the Cup since he's a rookie. But Detroit does have a shot. If Howard gets hurt and the lousy but experienced Osgood takes over, Stanley Cup here they come.

    Here's my question: Why doesn't Babcock just switch goalies as soon as the playoffs begin? Why wait?

  • In reply to borg:

    "That Is The Point. There are almost no playoff experienced goalies in the West, yet you absolutely refuse to acknowledge it because it would disqualify nearly if not all Western teams from the Finals under the rules you are pulling out of your rear-end."

    I did acknowledge that (in my quote you pasted) and it IS my point to say that it nearly disqualifies all the Western teams. First and foremost the rookie goalies. (yes, including the Wings)

    "Ward and Kiprusoff were never going to be traded"

    We'll see. Nabby could be on the block at some point in the near future too. You never know.

    "The Wings have a rookie goalie for the playoffs. He's had a terrific year, but can't help the Wings to the Cup since he's a rookie. But Detroit does have a shot."

    Technically EVERYONE has a

  • In reply to matto:

    You're hilarious.

    Osgood wasn't benched this year because he wasn't good? His GAA and save percentage are both worse than Huet's, that's how bad he's been.

    And teams can't compete for a Cup without an experienced goalie...except for-- ta-da!--the Red Wings due to their experienced skaters, of course. Amazing how those goal posts keep moving. It's magic.

    So, to wrap up, thank god, your original point would eliminate pretty much any team in the West save for perhaps San Jose, assuming Nabokov's one trip out of round 2 constitutes playoff experience. Experience getting beat perhaps.

    Oh, and Ward and Kiprusoff are relevant to this year's playoffs even though neither will be playing in them and neither were going to be traded.

    Whew, now that that's settled.

  • In reply to borg:

    Now answer this question: Do you think that a more experienced playoff veteran goalie would give the Hawks a better shot at winning the Cup this year and over the next few years to come?

  • In reply to matto:

    Should(a), Would(a), Could(a).....

    Should have traded for an NHL caliber goalie

    Would have made me feel better going into the playoffs

    Could have captured the Cup........... :(

  • In reply to matto:

    Yo Dead Wing guy take a hike, you opinions arent needed here. Take it somewhere else!

  • In reply to SouthSideHawkMan:

    Yeah I know- I should have known better than to use the RW's in my example- My bad. Ill be sure to observe that moving forward. But I cant help posting on this board as I think that Mike is a great writer and most everyone (including yourself)speak intelligently on the sport and their team. So with respect, Ill keep my alligence out of it but I am going to continue to share in the discussion.

    Ps- It is interesting that we share a lot of the same opinions SouthSideHawkMan! You wrote on Feb 10th "Huet is not good enough to lead the Hawks to a cup
    Campbell will never play up to his contract
    Byfuglien disappears for games at a time &
    Kris Versteeg commits way too many turnovers"

    I agree with all of that, although I am not an authority on Versteeg.

  • I like the Ken Dryden line- Good point!

    The best thing about the playoffs is that you just have to get hot right at that time. Any team that makes the post season has that compacity. Thats what makes it so difficult to negotiate the playoffs. You just never know when a team is gonna jump up and bite you!

    For my example: The Wings are hot right now- Got all our players back and playing well. We climbed into 6th place last night and could finish the year in 5th. (Pretty remarkable I might add) BUT- We have one of the same issues that the Hawks have... a rookie goalie in the net! While Jimmy Howard has made a great case for the Calder this year, he is still only a rookie. Having to go with a rookie isnt an ideal situation. Who knows what they;ll do?? Its a crap shoot for sure!

    Im looking forward to watching it all unfold- The West wont be decided until the very last game. Then, its a free-for-all!

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