Am I the only one that has been dreaming all season of watching the Stanley Cup Finals at the United Center? Scratch that; What about my whole life? With their 4-2 win in Game 2, the Hawks are now two wins away from giving us that opportunity.
Don't mistake this for overconfidence; the Hawks still have work to do. I realize that.
But as the Daily Herald's Tim Sassone said via Twitter after the Hawks' Game 2 victory: "There's just this feeling coming out of the Hawks' dressing room, like nobody is going to beat this team."
I'm not in San Jose, and I certainly don't go inside the Hawks' dressing room, but their play on the ice tells the same story. For the second game in a row, the Hawks went into HP Pavillion and were able to fend off a solid effort by a good Sharks team, and now hold a 2-0 series lead heading home.
While Nashville simply didn't have the talent that the Hawks do, and Vancouver beat themselves with poor decisions and dumb penalties, this series has been a case of the Sharks throwing everything they have at the Hawks and still coming up short.
The Sharks outshot the Hawks once again on Tuesday night, but Antti Niemi was a rock for the second straight game.
In my mind, this game was won on Andrew Ladd's wrist shot goal 12:48 into the 1st period. The game was obviously far from over, but the life was sucked out of the Shark Tank and the Hawks took control of the game from that point forward.
Prior to Ladd's goal, the Sharks controlled most of the action and had many opportunities to get on the scoreboard first. Several big saves from Niemi and near-misses by Sharks shooters kept the game scoreless, and after Ladd fired his shot past Nabakov, it was the Hawks' game to win.
Jonathan Toews continues to prove that he is an elite player in this league regardless of regular season statistics. His playoff numbers will surely earn him consideration for the Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the NHL's Playoff MVP, and his line has been dominant throughout the entire postseason. In this series, he and linemates Dustin Byfuglien and Patrick Kane have been matched up mostly with the Joe Pavelski line, and they have been superior on almost every shift.
Dave Bolland, like he did last Spring, has elevated his game as the playoffs go on. I remember reading prior to last year's playoff run that Bolland was a clutch playoff performer when he played for the London Knights in Juniors, and that big-game ability has apparently come with him to the NHL. If you haven't already done so, start focusing on Bolland when he is on the ice against Thornton's line. He clearly has Jumbo Joe rattled, reminiscent of Daniel Sedin in the Vancouver series.
Bolland might not be the fastest or most skilled player on the ice, but he can play. Thornton's blatant slash on Bolland's wrist in the faceoff circle late in the 3rd period demonstrated just how frustrating it is to play against #36.
The objective going forward is simple: win at home.
The Hawks have yet to dominate a playoff game at the United Center. The two wins they got against Nashville at home could have very easily been losses, and the Game 2 victory vs. Vanouver was the same way. They need to play a simple game, and strategize like it is a road game. They need to play smart hockey, get pucks deep, stay calm in their own zone, and capitalize on the opponent's mistakes. That's the formula they've used to win seven straight road games, and they need to bring that same style home with them instead of trying to impress the raucous home crowd.
With home ice advantage locked up for the Stanley Cup Finals if they get there, the Hawks can now guarantee themselves a championship by taking care of business in their home barn.
If they start to turn their home fortunes around this weekend, we could be seeing a sweep on Sunday afternoon.
Six wins, people. It's ok to get excited.
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