Major League Baseball managers love to trot out their “ace” pitcher every fifth day for a few different reasons; chief among them is the idea that, with a true ace, the team won’t lose five games in a row – not with the “ace” pitching in one of them.
And, while Antti Niemi may not be the Hawks’ “ace,” he certainly played the role last night in St. Louis during the Hawks’ first win in four games, stopping 34 of 35 Blues’ shots and “pitching a shut out” through the first 58 minutes of the game.
The game started out as most other games including the St. Louis Blues. Even after defeating the Hawks three evenings prior in a game that was noteworthy for what didn’t happen – the Blues toned down the physical play and beat the Hawks for the first time since last season – Scotty Bowman Davis Payne went back to the same old strategy, looking to physically pound a superior Hawks’ team into submission.
Case in point: Barrett Jackman, who turned down an invitation from fighter Ben Eager on Wednesday, grabbed Cam Barker – he of the one 2009-2010 fight – within the game’s first ten minutes. Steve Winchester and Cam Jannsen were doing their best UFC impressions, and late in the first, Eric Brewer challenged Andrew Ladd just before the two traded single hay-makers.
When the dust settled after the first period, it was Hawks – 2, Blues – nothing. The two Hawk goals came from the old classic Toews-Kane-Sharp line, with a Sharp special preceeding a Toews tally by ten minutes.
It wasn’t until the tenor of the game changed that St. Louis began flexing its hockey muscles, outshooting the Hawks during the second. After the Hawks were unable to take advantage of a couple dumb second period Blues’ penalties, St. Louis found itself on a two-man advantage late in the frame. On the power play, a loose puck bounced to Brad Boyes on the doorstep, but just before Boyes smashed it home, the whistle sounded, indicating that the near referee either lost sight of the puck or believed Niemi was on top of it. Alas, the Hawks maintained their two-goal lead entering the final frame, avoiding the late-period tallies that have haunted them throughout the past couple weeks.
The Blues notched a handful of good scoring chances during a frantic third, but were only able to register one – this one again coming in the same fashion as the disallowed goal during the second: after killer Brent Sopel took a penalty to make it a two-man advantage. This time Sopel received a late-game unsportsmanlike conduct.
He must’ve offered to give the referee’s mom a Canada’s History.
You Down for This?
– “For all you young hockey players out there,” we’ve seen the right way and the wrong way to hand a teammate a stick during the Hawks’ last two games. On Friday evening against the ‘Yotes, Phoenix defenseman Sami Lapisto – I believe – was retreating into his own zone without a stick when about four teammates reached their sticks out onto the ice from the bench for Lapisto to take. Problem was they handed out the butt-end of the stick rather than the blade.
Last night, on a penalty kill, Jonathan Toews handed the blade end of his stick to a defenseman who was without one – Sopel, maybe. The d-man cleanly grabbed the stick.
So, to recap: pass the blade end of the stick. It’s bigger and much easier to grab hold of.
– One has to assume Niemi will get the start on Tuesday against the Stars. We’ve seen this movie before, though, so don’t get too excited.
– Is Kris Versteeg’s recent poor play connected to the looming trade deadline? It doesn’t sound too far-fetched to me.
– Ben Eager was apparently a healthy scratch last night. Unfortunately for Ben, he’s likely cost himself some money this year. Last season, he played like the straw that stirred the fourth-line drink, and boy, was it yummy. This season, it seems like concussion concerns get the better of him most nights. But, with a possible $1 million price tag, it certainly seems that he won’t be back next year.
– I may have said it here before, but among the many great things about hockey is the fact that most players don’t call their coach “Coach.” Some of my co-viewers were surprised to hear Patrick Sharp refer to Q as “Joel” last night, and I explained to them my hatred with grown men calling other grown men “Coach,” most notably in college basketball and football, where guys like Steve Lavin get all horny talking about other “coaches.”
– Finally, from yesterday’s recap, it’s so important, I’ve printed it twice:
I said it a couple weeks ago, and I stand by it: There’s not a whole lot that I could see between now and playoff time that will change my opinion about this Hawk team.
Remember last March, when hundreds of people were threatening to launch themselves off a roof during the Hawks’ early spring struggles? Remember all the things people said were wrong with the Hawks at the time? From sloppy defensive play to a lack of offense to inconsistent goaltending, it was all well forgotten before the Hawks advanced to the Conference Finals.
Listen, this isn’t the early ’70s Bruins here, but the Hawks are really, really good by today’s NHL standards. What’s more, it’s a group that has proven it can adjust its game come playoff time.
So, until then, just trust me and relax. This is just a small bump in the road that even sports’ greatest teams hit.