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Don't look now but the Hawks are finally hitting their stride, on skates . . . which means they are really, really striding and going really, really fast, on their way to big victory after big victory.
Patrick Kane is completely recovered from his broken collarbone and was delightfully opportunistic on Sunday on his way to a couple goals including the back-breaker that doubled the Hawks' lead (to 2-0) with only 20 seconds left in the second period.
The defense has hunkered down in front of Corey Crawford. Heck, even favorite fan scapegoat Michal Rozsival was strong on the back line as the Hawks pulled away from the Wild 4-1 last night for a 2-0 series lead.
The Wild not only hasn't found a way past the Hawks in playoff series' in 2013 and 2014, it hasn't found a way to win any of the games at the United Center during those times. Sure enough, the Hawks held home ice two more times against the team from Minnesota over the weekend to make it eight straight post-season victories at home in those series'.
And already, fans are forgetting just how close the Predators came to upsetting the Hawks in the first round of the playoffs. The local team prevailed in six games but they were oh so close to losing Game 6 and heading back to Nashville for a winner-take-all in a series featuring a pair of multi-overtime contests. And Nashville took the Hawks to the brink despite the absence of the team's best player, defenseman Shea Weber.
But all a team can do is take advantage of its breaks. The Hawks received plenty of them against the Predators and now they are taking advantage of a Wild team that just isn't special if goalie Devan Dubnyk doesn't stand on his head. And not only is the netminder not standing on his head, he is barely standing on his skates; a couple shaky performances has to have Wild coach Mike Yeo considering a change between the pipes.
Perhaps the best part of all of this is that Blackhawk ownership's willingness to take a chance and spend a whole lot of money on help after Kane's injury continues to pay off.
When Kane went down, the Hawks could have said "There is no way you replace one of the best young forwards in the sport. We will hunker down and wait for him to get back to the lineup as quickly as he can."
Instead, they took advantage of the fact that in the NHL, when a player suffers an injury like that, it creates space under the salary cap. And because the cap applies only to the regular season, the Hawks were able to trade for three real good players and pay them for the rest of the regular season with the cap space created by Kane's injury. Then in the playoffs, teams are allowed to bring back injured players and keep the ones they signed because the cap is no longer in effect.
Of course, the Hawks were trying to win when they did that. But the fact that home playoff games are pure profit for hockey teams (they aren't paying the players anymore and tickets often cost twice what regular season tickets cost) also has to be a factor. And now, because the Hawks jacked up their payroll for the final couple months of the regular season, they have more than made up for it in terms of revenues with a playoff run that will now feature at least six home games (three the last series and at least three this series).
Way to go Rocky! Just please stop telling us that this team isn't profitable.
Meanwhile, worst commissioner in sports, Gary Bettman (yes he is worse than Roger Goodell, who at least has steered his league to ridiculous profits despite his miscues) not only doesn't feel the need to apologize for the ridiculously late start times for numerous Hawk playoff games, he is glib about them.
Bettman, who was a great second banana to the NBA's David Stern before beginning his long and meandering NHL commissionership about a dozen years ago, was asked about the potential negative impact of late starts (the Hawks' Friday game began at 8:45 p.m. in the Midwest and so will Game 4 on Thursday) on NHL fans, especially the young ones.
His response? "Tape it."
The late starts would make sense if the NHL actually had any national viewership for its playoff games. It does not. So here's an idea: time the games for when they are most convenient for the fans of the participating teams. That way perhaps you can jack up regional viewership and maybe just maybe hook up a young fan or two who can't stay up past 11 to see how games end.
But hey, the next game starts at a delightfully reasonable 7 p.m. Tuesday night. Why do I feel like multiple overtimes are coming?
Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays. He welcomes your comments.
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