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SportsMonday: Central Playoff Time

By Jim Coffman

How cool is it that tonight's Bulls and Blackhawks playoff games are a potentially perfect doubleheader? The former tips off at 6 p.m. and, barring double overtime this time, should wrap up shortly before the puck drops on the latter (8:30 p.m.). And it isn't because of TV scheduling ridiculousness (most recently seen in these parts when the Cubs' first home playoff game began before 6 p.m. last fall and their second didn't start until after 8).

Beachwood Baseball:
  • The Cub Factor
  • The White Sox Report
  • This is where the oddity that is the Bulls competing in the Eastern Conference of the NBA while the Hawks reside in the NHL's West pays off. The one headed over and up to Boston to begin its playoff run in the East while the other headed west to the Mountains (or at least the Mountains' time zone) when it came time to take its playoff show on the road to Calgary. So even though the games start at 7 and 7:30 p.m. where they are, they spread out perfectly for us. Now all the Bulls and Hawks have to do is win. Neither is favored to do so (although the Hawks have to be favored to win their overall series at this point) but considering how things have been going lately, we're not counting them out.

    In previous years, this sort of happy happenstance would have qualified as a surprise. Sports don't work out like this for our town. This is the home of the Cubs, after all, and a hockey team that hasn't won in almost 50 years. There are Bears who have won all of once in the last 45 and White Sox who went more than 80 years without a title. But now the playoff doubleheader is just the latest chapter in the 2009 Chicago sports spring spectacular.

    If it wasn't the Hawks bringing home a great, turnaround regular season with the fourth spot in the conference and home-ice advantage in the first round of the NHL playoffs, it was the Bulls surging into the post-season by rallying from 10 games under the .500 mark to finish break-even. The Cubs and the White Sox haven't lost a weekend game yet (a combined 4-0 last Saturday and Sunday and 3-0 yesterday and the day before) and are either a game off the lead or tied atop their divisions.

    And then the hockey and basketball playoffs started and things got even better. Not once but twice the Blackhawks came out flat as a puck against the Flames, falling behind 1-0 in the playoff opener and 2-0 in Game II. But both times they found a way to rally to 3-2 wins. In the opener, a soft-as-Luol-Deng goal somehow found its way from Cam Barker's stick well out beyond the left circle past Flame goalie Miikka (that's right, two 'i's' and two 'k's') Kiprusoff (only one 's') to start the rally. Then Marty Havlat's individual brilliance (he scored on the rebound of his own shot to tie the game at 2 and then fired a pinpoint shot into the lower right-hand corner of the net 12 seconds into overtime for the win) finished the deal. The second comeback was even better, and it had a feature that was the most promising part of the playoffs so far for the Hawks.

    In the first minute of the second period, Jonathan Toews took a perfect pass from Patrick Sharp and went top shelf to cut the Flames lead in half. Later in the period it was Sharp's turn to score a slick-as-silicone goal off a sweet feed from Patrick Kane.to tie it up. Kane stretched out to get his stick on a pass well out in front of him as he came down the right side of the Flames end and then with one quick move sent a perfect backhand pass across to an onrushing Sharp just outside the crease. Somehow Sharp managed to use his backhand to pull the puck back right in front of Kiprusoff and then deposit it into the empty net on his forehand side. Finally Toews, who has played so well the past month and a half (after not scoring in the Hawks' first about a dozen games he came all the way back to lead them in goal-scoring), charged the net as Dave Bolland fired a shot from the left side. Toews corralled the rebound and fired a shot just inside the far post.

    A quick review revealed the fact that Sharp, Kane and Toews were back together again generating offense. That's the way they were when the Hawks were at their best in 2007-08 and then in the first half of 08-09. But then Kane suffered a high ankle sprain and never quite, completely recovered and Sharp also missed significant time twice due to injury in the regular season's last 24 games or so.

    But there they were on Saturday, making magic happen again. That song the Hawks play after they score . . . the one featured prominently in that Amstel Light commercial . . . it's bouncing around in my head again.

    Oh, and the Bulls won a slightly exciting playoff opener on Saturday against the Celtics (Chicago's record the last two Saturdays? 4-0 and 4-0). Derrick Rose might not just be a superstar, he might be a super-duper star. He was outrageously good (this fact has been sited many times the past few days but it must be again - Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the only other player in the history of the NBA to score as many as 36 points as a rookie in his playoff opener - and Rose added 11 - 11! - assists), Ray Allen was outrageously bad and the Bulls stole one in overtime thanks in large part to three stellar Tyrus Thomas jumpers in the extra period. Bulls fans and announcers have been cringing all year when Tyrus tossed up those shots, which he has never hit with any kind of frequency. But ludicrously, he shot them better that he ever has before when it mattered way more than it ever had before. And the Bulls defeated the Celtics in a playoff game for the first time in team history. Don't look now but John Paxson trading Thomas for LaMarcus Aldridge (last seen scuffling mightily in Portland's embarrassing blowout loss at home against Houston in its playoff opener) may not have been so stupid after all.

    Let's go ahead and take this recent run of sports success (the Bears also made a decent trade in the last month didn't they?) to the next level. Let's go ahead and suggest that this spring is a precursor and that the Teens are going to be Chicago's sports decade. The Oughts (that's the best name I can come up with for '00 through '09) definitely have belonged to Boston.

    The Patriots won three Super Bowls, the Red Sox finally broke through in 2004 and then posted an encore in 2007, and last year, the Celtics pulled out their 17th title overall after a long (for them) drought. In case that wasn't enough, the Bruins led the NHL's Eastern Conference in points this season and have blown out Les Habitants de Montreal (aka the Canadiens) in the first two games of the NHL playoffs.

    But the Hawks and the Bulls have the sorts of talented, young cores that (if they continue to develop - a huge 'if') championship contenders are made of. The Cubs and White Sox have made commitments to consistent contention and there are plenty of reasons to believe they'll both be in the running for years to come. And the Bears have a young, franchise quarterback - more than enough said.

    I certainly can draw a pretty little picture when I want to, can't I? Next week perhaps I'll write an even longer column listing the first dozen or so of the 1,000-and-some reasons why this won't happen. But for the next couple days at least, let's bask in the possibilities

    -

    Jim Coffman brings you the city's best sports roundup every Monday. And he does it because he loves you. He welcomes your comments.

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    Posted on Nov 26, 2021