Twenty minutes into Saturday night’s game two at the United Center, it seemed as though the Blackhawks would take a split into Calgary for game three. And, with the way the Flames played at times during the series’ first four periods, a Chicago split was not a bad outcome.
Just don’t tell that to Captain Serious. When the Flames came out for the second period content on knocking the ‘Hawks off their game with continued physical play, Calgary took themselves out of the game in the process, seemingly focusing on punishing checks and after-the-whistle pushing and shoving. They were happy to win the battles in front of each goaltender following the whistle rather than, ya know, the game, and Jonathan Toews wasted no time sending out a big, fat second period ‘thank you.’
With the ‘Hawks down 2-0 after one, the results came early in the second for Chicago when Toews received a cross-ice pass from Patrick Sharp on the power play and quickly shoveled it past Mikka Kipprusoff for his first of the playoffs. From there, the momentum swung wildly, as the ‘Hawks applied pressure to the Flames and Calgary was unable to keep up the physical play and the pace. Just over 10 minutes later, Patrick Kane found himself chasing a puck into the Calgary zone on a possible 2-on-1, with Sharp streaking down the center of the ice. Kane controlled the puck and flung a backhand pass to the middle in one motion. Sharp corralled and shot quickly, and the ‘Hawks had battled back to tie it.
Oh, but they weren’t done there. With less than 30 seconds to play in the second, the ‘Hawks scored what would be the game winner when Toews went screaching to the front of the net on a Dave Bolland slap shot from the outside. Adrian Aucoin showed all in attendance exactly why he’ll forever be known as one of the worst signings in Blackhawk history when he practically escorted Toews to the doorstep. Toews smacked home the rebound, and the United Center went wild with postseason glea.
From there, the ‘Hawks had to put out a few fires as the Flames tried to tie the game. The most important came during a 4-on-4 after minors were called on Jim Vandermeer and Martin Havlat almost midway through the third. (The penalty was announced at the United Center on “James” Vandermeer; apparently, he’s done some post-graduate work in Alberta.) The Flames took advantage of the ‘Hawks’ best 4-on-4 player being in the box and applied good pressure. Of course, Nikolai Khabibulin made a couple big saves, but immediately after both teams were back at full strength, Joel Quenneville tapped the shoulders of Ben Eager, Adam Burish and the one man wrecking crew named Dustin Byfuglien. The three put together one of the most important shifts of the game, getting the fans right back into the game and recapturing the momentum. It was all academic after that.
— I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Jonathan Toews will win a Stanley Cup. Just a day after Barry Rozner called every ‘Hawk but Martin Havlat and Khabibulin “nervous,” “scared,” and “not very good,” Toews responded with an effort that won’t soon be forgotten. Toews was the only ‘Hawk at +2 with two goals. (Then, today Rozner pens an article praising Bulls’ rookie point guard Derrick Rose. If you or anyone you know has information as to how this is all possible, please email immediately.)
— Dustin Byfuglien had seven hits for the second straight game on Saturday. He’s been the ‘Hawks best player no one’s talking about – probably because they’ve spent the entire year trashing him. Listen, he can’t play with top-six forwards; he just doesn’t skate or receive passes well enough. But, given the appropriate circumstances, as the series’ first two games have shown, he can be a great difference maker. Yes, $3 million is a lot of money for his offensive production during the regular season, but it’s time to give credit where credit’s due.
— And, again, Patrick Kane will be just fine. Here’s the truth about Kane: not only is he incredibly young, but he lacks the speed and size most great playoff performers have. That will never change. With that said, if the ‘Hawks can get him some time and room at a couple points in each game, he will absolutely make the opposition pay. He’s one of the world’s most talented players, and he’ll show it.
— When the ‘Hawks struggled in March, we spoke about the importance of goaltending. Khabibulin has been brilliant, but more importantly, he’s been better than Kipprusoff during the first two games. Problem solved.
— Think Patrick Sharp is feeling better? That sound you heard was the NHL’s collective gasp, realizing the ‘Hawks may have one of their best offensive weapons back and strong.
— The ‘Hawks are in Calgary Monday and Wednesday. All I’ll say is plan on being available next Saturday for game five. The ‘Hawks will face an incredible challenge in Alberta: finishing what they’ve started. Calgary has shown an ability to play great, great hockey at times, but they’ve yet to do it for more than 45 minutes. Count on them doing just that at least once north of the border.