Blackhawks Confidential

Starting Sunday, Blackhawks have to make NBC stand for Nothing But Chicago

jesus_hockey.jpgI imagine this country can never get enough of Blackhawks-Red Wings. So we should see them face the nation on 3 of the next 13 Sundays on NBC, beginning this Sunday with the game at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.

First, a head bow at church to loosen the torso. Then a cross-check to the neck for an even stricter bendover to the all-mighty pacifier. What better matchup than that? Lessons for the soul and body.

Although NBC has flex scheduling, where officials can choose the most appealing game to try to awaken an indifferent nation to hockey 13 days ahead of time, I have no doubts that they won't pass up an opportunity to feature United Center's made-for-TV environment March 7 for that Red Wings' encounter.

Be the perfect post-Olympics carryover, hopefully when some Blackhawks stars hold sway on a world stage with their respective teams and make a lasting impression they can bring to the glittering footlights of Chicago.

Patriotic anthem. Smiling light-bulb Bobby Hull. Passionate fans on both sides of the UC aisle. Owner Rocky Wirtz with his common man's seat among the fans and not lording it over them from a skybox. Regional rivalry. Celebrity magnet for those in-game cotton-candy shots that TV loves.

Wings-Hawks or Carolina-Atlanta, one of NBC's other choices March 7? Yeah, filet mignon or dogshit? Which one would you choose? They also have Boston-Pittsburgh as an alternate game that day, but Chicago is the destination of choice for the NHL, especially when we seek to capture a balky national audience, who would rather be waterboarding for fun in some cases you have to believe, and the defending champion Penguins have to live with Chicago as the boob tube's No. 1 draw.

While Hawks' ratings are understandably up on Comcast and WGN telecasts this year, the big question now is whether the Hawks can move the needle forward nationally in NBC ratings. I tend to doubt it, since the nation has always treated hockey like an extra portion of peas and broccoli.

But if anyone has the built-in formula to broaden the NHL's appeal, it's a club that can almost match the three Jonas Brothers with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews and...what the hell, let's throw Kris Versteeg into the smoking pot for fun, and we'll take on the Jonas Bros. any time they want, those damn sissies. Nothing better than a good smoking pot.

Plus, like it or not, the Hawks also offer the nation the same intriguing elements that are working like a gold mine every year for the Cubs. Even though they have lost the history of Chicago Stadium and can't quite match Wrigley Field, they are intriguing to outsiders after being losers for so long and some Stadium memories are best lost to the past, since I still smell of that history and puke.

While it's true everybody loves a winner, they also are drawn to teams that have lost for so long it's ingrained in their nature. You really can't expect them to be a champion, knowing the past is always prologue for every season's shortfall. Unfortunately, the Hawks are in that same lifeboat with the Cubs, where sinking year after year makes them celebrities.

But there is also an interest in keeping an eye out just in case the impossible happens and the Blackhawks are champions for the fourth time in their existence. Comets and miracles occur a lot more often that you see the Hawks streaking to the top of the heap.

So I also have to think the Wings-Hawks will also be featured fare on NBC April 11 at the unheard-of start time of 11 a. m. in Chicago. As a public service, I ask Chicago bars to send home Hawks fan at midnight Saturday, so they will be awake if not sober. At the bewitching 11th hour on April 11, before the playoffs beckon, where will Detroit and Chicago be?

Right now, confident Hawks fans will tell you they are better than the Wings, who dominated them in the Western Conference finals last year to stop their Cinderella season one slipper shy of stepping into the Stanley Cup championship round.

Right now, the Wings are 14 points behind the Hawks in the conference standings. Right now, the Hawks are better on the power play (21.08 to 16.76 success ratio) and also the penalty killing (85.90 to 81.70).

Heading into Tuesday night's game on Long Island, the Wings were on a roll, however, after their impressive trip west. Detroit may have even discovered its goalie of the future with Jimmy Howard making 51 saves against the Los Angeles Kings in a recent win and once again turning veteran Chris Osgood (a Hawks nemesis) into an afterthought.

"This is the kind of room you want to be in when you're faced with adversity," Detroit's Todd Bertuzzi told the Free Press. "They've won before and they know what it takes. When push comes to shove the guys step up here. That's what we're counting on now."

Hawks fans are going to be hearing a lot of that for the next four months. We've pulled it out before, you haven't in Chicago. Nah, nah, nah. Suck an egg. Or Bobby Hull's head.

Detroit has so far survived a rash of injuries this season, just as the Hawks have had to overcome key injuries. Henrik Zetterberg and Dan Cleary are playing again, but the Wings await the returns that will swell their strength with Johan Franzen, Nik Kronwall and a recently-injured Tomas Holmstrom now sidelined.

Will the returns from injury of Dave Bolland and Adam Burish for the Hawks be bigger moves than those three in Detroit? Those are stories yet to be written down the road. But they're worth considering now. What must the Hawks do to keep Detroit from bouncing back from their death march and reasserting their past superiority in their matchups?

The Hawks have thumped the Wings 3-0 in their last two meetings in December, making up for an early season 3-2 loss. But while the Hawks offense has outscored the Wings 148-112 for the season, Detroit's defense has allowed just 107 goals in two fewer games, just 9 less than Chicago's smothering defense.

No matter how many times the Hawks kill off the Wings, it will never be enough to be sure Detroit is dead. Life after death is an idea that appeals to NBC and its viewers. Osgood simply sits and waits like a vulture, awaiting his turn to feast.

In fact, some NBC officials proudly will be rooting for Detroit to jump with Jimmy Howard out of their coffins (Jimmy was declared officially dead earlier this season) and scare the hell out of the Hawks and their fans this Sunday.

NBC has Detroit listed five times as a possible prime Sunday matchup, compared with four for Chicago.

The Hawks need to show the nation repeatedly that times have changed before anybody believes it. Washington and the superstar Alex Ovechkin at Chicago are another possible NBC matchup March 14.

I have to think NBC isn't going to pass up that showcase showdown, either So how many times do the Hawks have to convince a nation they are for real and hockey is worth watching?

Yep, all four. Let's ratchet up the pressure.

Going 4-0 Sundays on NBC won't win a Stanley Cup or the President's Trophy for being the best NHL team, but it could be a start in changing the landscape and earning a much-needed dose of credibility for a sport that has a difficult time historically winning viewers who otherwise wouldn't spend time with the sport.

The Blackhawks have a lot of responsibility in their hands. Lovable losers is an oxymoron and nonsensical doesn't work for them.

Destroying Detroit, Lifting Up The NHL, Capturing A Nation's Interest, Staying Consistent, Being Playoff Ready. Those are the five capitalized goals before them from now until the finish.

Should keep them busy. And it beats arguing about health care reform.

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5 Comments

FearlessFreep said:

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Nice picture. Ken Yaremchuk could have used help like that to prevent him from his propensity of skating with his head down all the way to Western Avenue before realizing where he was.

Dave Morris said:

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Father Kiley, you've now confirmed my hypothesis that sports fandom is akin to religious fanaticism.

As long as McD--who one assumes is a good Irish Catholic boy like yerself--doesn't read this column and decide to change the babelicious "Shoot the Puck" competition to "Bless The Puck", I'm OK with your metaphysical meandering.

So if I read you correctly, the Hawks winning the Cup this year would be a miracle to eclipse the fish and loaves trick.

In other words, not impossible, but not exactly something you can plan for.

fattybeef said:

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How bout that khabby out indefinately due to herniated disk... To bad we didnt keep him.

Dave Bolland on track, according to TSN skated yesterday and may be ready before olympics. Hopefully not suffering from Joe Crede syndrome.

Dave you must really be from Canada if youre under the illusion that irish catholic boys are good... irish girls on the other hand, well just take a trip to the tilted kilt and let me know what you think.

Not miracle for Hawks to win. They have the best player for player roster in the NHL, a solid D and good-enough goaltending most of the time. 7 game series Ill flip a coin between the net minders and trust the 50 shots/game plus rolling 4 solid lines will wear down the other team and crush anyone in their path any day of the week, every other saturday and most sundays.

Dave Morris said:

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Fatty, as a good French-Canadian Catholic boy, I would never question the noble intentions and hard-earned wisdom of Father Kiley.

I might disagree with him, but that's half the fun.

Jerry Kayne said:

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The Hawks don't only have to win. They have to keep their collective feet on the necks of the Wings and drive a stake through their hockey hearts. That's what great teams do. Make sure they're dead and dismember them to be sure.

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