Blackhawks Confidential

Blackhawks, Ladd debate meaning of cowardice with Vancouver and dole out a spanking 6-3

All those people who tuned in and turned on to the Olympic goal medal game should have been watching Friday night's first period at United Center. The Blackhawks deserved their attention.

It was really better than Team Canada-Team USA for my money. There was classic hockey and flashy hockey and griity hockey and smart hockey and bad goals and good goals and old-time hate and modern-day courage.

Andrew Ladd was your master of ceremonies. He laughed off being called a coward weeks back by Vancouver's Ryan Kesler, fallout from their personal run-ins.

But he wasn't laughing when he made sure to pay Mr. Kesler a visit just shortly after the game began, deciding the Canucks needed to know it's not exactly true only sticks and stones can break your bones, while names will never hurt you.

Ladd and Kesler didn't have much of a tussle, because officials were ready for the pair to square off and quickly jumped in to seperate them, but I think we have to thank Ladd for refusing to beat around the bush. He set the combative, surly tone and his teammates eagerly followed, turning a physical first period into a 5-1 lead after 20 minutes.

The rest was bookkeeping as the Hawks put a 6-3 licking on Vancouver that showed one thing after some spotty play in the first two games after the Olympics. When the Hawks really want to turn it on, they can go from trickle to flood in the wink of an eye.

These guys aren't just a hockey team. They are entertainers. They are so entertaining we dearly miss it when they aren't, which is sometimes why so much pressure falls on these guys to play at their peak all the time rather than just some of the time.

I consider that healthy pressure with fans demanding the best, because they have seen it repeatedly and will settle for nothing less.

We can all pick our favorite moment from the first period. There are quite a few from which to choose.

Personally, I'm going to select my own favorite as Roberto Luongo going unhinged at the end of the first-period onslaught. Luongo left the ice trying to bash his stick and show the fans he was mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.

The fans loved seeing his frustration and I bet the Hawks did, too. One of the biggest mistakes that any pro athlete can make is to show the other team your anger. That simply tells them they got you by the short hairs and they're going to squeeze a little tighter. They have won as soon as you lose control of your emotions.

If the Hawks and Canucks meet again in the postseason, like last playoffs, the Hawks have the advantage of gotten into Luongo's head last season and this season and should be able to use that mind-game edge to help them at crunch time. Luongo never returned from being hammered for five first-period goals, watching the last two periods from a safer distance on the bench.

Although Brent Seabrook had been taking his share of criticism of late, he showed again why he is so valuable in my second favorite moment. His smashing slamdown of Mason Raymond convinced defenseman Andrew Alberts he had to retaliate.

Alberts drew the extra penalty after his fight with Seabrook, a bad decision by him, and the Hawks turned it into a 2-0 lead on Duncan Keith's power-play score. The fights here were a matter of necessity, not bogus adds-ons. This is where fighting belongs in hockey, as one way that teams blow off their steam while still playing hard and clean.

Just seconds after Keith's goal, Chicago was up 3-0 when defenseman Nik Hjalmarrson pressured deep into the offensive zone, put the puck on net and Luongo couldn't control it, leaving a rebound chance for Troy Brouwer on which he pounced and scored.

Luongo also saw the first Hawks goal get past him when the puck was simply thrown at the net by Ladd, who benefitted from a John Madden screen. The puck caromed off  Luongo's stick knob and the Hawks were off and running away fast, crawling into Luongo's skull like a mess of spiders.

It was certainly good to see Kris Versteeg rewarded on the Hawks' fourth goal. The Hawks turned a 3-on-2 rush into a pretty finish as Versteeg broke loose and had Luongo all to himself as he fired a shot past him.

Chicago's fifth goal was equally as beautiful. It started with Patrick Kane flashing his nifty backhanded pass to Jonathan Toews, who carried the play and was joined in progress by impressive Jordan Hendry, who has made the most of his limited play this season and he continued that form by punching in a goal here.

The second period was largely forgettable with the Hawks trying to run out the clock for a while. With Huet's help, the Hawks survived it and even finished strong when Marian Hossa scored on a power play.

The key miss in the second period was Jannik Hansen not being able to score into a wide-open right side of the net. That would have hacked the Hawks lead to 5-3.

And the Canucks would have had a lot of momentum. But the Hawks' intensity cane alive enough in the second period to hold the fort, because the battle had already been won in that first period and it was only a matter of staying on their feet to finish the fight.

You can never saw the Hawks shirk that duty. They have shown resilience time and again all season, clawing back from the few struggles they have had.

This is a quality that should serve them well in the postseason. Luongo can tell you all about it.

Last season, he left United Center in tears when it had ended for him and the Canucks in the playoffs. This season, he may start crying before the series if he has to face the Hawks.

What a crying shame, huh?

I have waited until the bitter end to mention goalie Cristobal Huet, because although he made some strong saves at times, especially early in the game when Vancouver could have taken charge during a 5-on-3 chance.

But when the Hawks are at their best, Huet is only a small part of the conversation. That's going to have to happen in the playoffs if a Stanley Cup is coming to Chicago.

Huet can be good in spots. The Hawks can be good in big swatches of time, making it fine that Huet is asked to do some things, but not everything.

The first goal against Huet was about as bad as a goalie can give up, beaten on a wrister taken from beyone one of the circles, so he did nothing to silence his detractors based only on that head-shaking letdown.

But, again, Huet needs to be just one of the guys. If the Hawks need him to THE GUY, he hasn't shown he can do that consistently. This team is good enough to make the goalies supplements to the action and not the star that must be ridden.

This game was a beautiful blueprint to roll up and carry into the days ahead. There seems just no way these entertainers will let us down. They got too much heart and fire.

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8 Comments

borg said:

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I'd agree with pretty much all of that.

The Hawks are phenomenal when everyone is amped an playing well. When the 2nd-tier guys like Versteeg, Brouwer, Bolland and Byfuglien are rolling and the 4th-line is crashing, they're nearly unbeatable. Too bad Huet is just so mediocre. His save percentage is going to fall under 900 in the next game or two. He did make some key, if not overly tough, saves early.

Not sure if I think the best case scenario for the Hawks is Detroit missing the playoffs, or making them and facing Vancouver in round one.

VegasHawksFan said:

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So if Luoooooooo shows his anger it's a sign that we have him by the short hairs, but if Huet shows it he will earn our respect? Hmmmm. If you were a team USA fan, let alone a Hawks fan that beatdown of Luongo was a near spiritual experience. Like you said of Huet in the last column Mike, that show of emotion by the rest of the Hawks was, to me, long long overdue. Starting with Ladd's instantaneous harassment of Kessler, this Hawks team finally showed me something that made me think they might actually last a few rounds in the playoffs.

As for Huet, he was as always, Huet. At times he made key saves and then gives up two really shit, soft goals. That second goal looked like he had ample time to square up to the shooter, who didn't pull any deke at all. After running up five goals, it did look like they again coasted a bit, but they at least kept up enough of a forecheck to keep the Sedin bitches silent. They badly needed to make a statement tonight against this Vancouver team an pulled it off. Can they and will they do it again on Sunday?

iplagitr said:

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Yeah, the Hawks are a scary bunch when they're inspired and firing on all cylinders. How sweet to see them light up the Canucks & Luongo, and chase him out of the game. After being owned by Luooooo in their previous meeting, this was huge to set the tone for a potential match-up in the post-season. As Nuckle mentioned, I also gained confidence in the team to see them really turn it on tonight when it counted.

The Hawks really finished their chances tonight, and proved they really could be scoring goals in bunches more often. As Mike stated above, and some of us mentioned in the past blogs, if the Hawks can just capitalize on their scoring opportunities like they did tonight, the infamous goaltending issue becomes less consequential. Versteeg may have made the play of the game tonight - coming up with the huge goal to regain the momentum after the first soft goal by Huet.

fattybeef said:

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At least with the goaltending thing we all know what were gonna get. 1 stinker, 3 average games, 1 good game and roll some dice for the other two (out of7). Huets law as I will call it from now on is 2 goals for every 20 shots and 1 every 5 after that.

He's not bad, not stellar, just grossly over paid which isnt really his fault. I dont think he will lose many games for the Hawks down the stretch, nor can you say hes given one away during the season (well maybe 1), he just wont steal one, thats Kane's, Tazer's and Hossa's job. Still super frustrating though.

Thank the J-Mack/Tallon/Bowman train for that.

Nice to see Brower, Buff and Seabs start to destroy people.

Dave Bolland has looked great the past two games. That guy is pure old time hockey. Cross checking, slashing and doing it all with a straight face when the refs arent looking. Him coming back and hitting his stride is starting to make a difference.

Any word on when Burish can please take Kopecky's spot? And can someone explain the upside to him in the lineup over fraser aside from the fact that hes Hossa's bff? You out there Steve? Haha... But seriously I dont get it.

VegasHawksFan said:

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I thought Kopecky actually had a pretty good game last night and I'll stick by my crazy logic that a guy like him becomes more valuable when the Hawks need to give up talent for cap space. He's not a fourth line agitator specialist like Burish or Fraser, but on this Hawks team, he is no where near gifted enough to play on either top two lines.

This year, he's probably just a place holder, but I think he has a little more usefulness then people give him credit for. Then again, I am a knucklehead.

Jerry Kayne said:

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I was wondering how long the Hawks could sustain the 1st period intensity. If they can do that for 60 minutes every game, they would roll over anyone.

I haven't watched the game yet on my DVR but I listened to the WGN coverage. It was invigorating as I was driving to my hockey game. I was stoked to play. Too bad my own skill limitations got in the way.

Maybe that's the lesson here. The Hawks have tremendous skill, including the healthy scratches, and it's the mental game that needs tweaking?

Burish tomorrow? Maybe they should give him another game off and let line 4 roll over the Wings?

Huet is our guy. Let's go to war!

Hostile Hawk said:

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I missed the game and had to rely on highlights to see what happened. From that and the stats it looks like Luongo lost this won for his team. The Hawks played well, tight defense, physical, and found ways to put the puck in the back of the net. Lesson learned here is that a win doesn't always have to be coupled with a plethora of shots. But, again Luongo often has his troubles with the Hawks. My favorite moment was watching Versteeg hopefully launch out of his slump. Bolland is getting better and Burish is on his way back. Plus, expect more goals from Hendry in the near future, this guy is damn good.

As always this year, my concerns are still geared towards goaltending. What is the administration saying by trying to trade Huet and then starting him 2 games in a row? Not much confidence for either goaltenders to have at the moment. I say give Huet a longer break, let him play some hockey in the minors and go with a Niemi, Crawford tandem for a while. Just kidding, I think. Is it just me, or do the Hawks play stronger defensively when Huet is in net and what does that say?

VegasHawksFan said:

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In all fairness, we really don't know if they tried to trade him or not. The fan base certainly wanted that, but the assumed goalies we would get in return, Vokoun or Turco, didn't go anywhere either. Q seems like he is going to let the goalie who wins stay in net regardless of whether or not that goalie is the reason they win. He doesn't really have the options that us fantasy GM's do.

I have wondered at times if the D picks it up when Huet is in net, but I don't anymore. The last game was a team effort that we have rarely seen this year; I don't think it had anything to do with Huet. If it did make the D play better, what does that say about our D corps?

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