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The Hawks took advantage of home ice advantage and won Game 1 against the Kings 3-1 on Sunday in the Western Conference final. They couldn't be in better position at this point in the playoffs.
They haven't lost at the United Center since the end of the regular season (three home wins in the first round against the Blues and three in the second versus the Wild) and if they win the rest of their home games, they win the whole thing, plain and simple.
Given that the other two teams in the NHL Final Four, the Rangers and Canadiens, finished the regular season with fewer points than their counterparts from Chicago, the Hawks would also have home ice advantage in the Stanley Cup finals. Not that I want get ahead of myself and maybe even jinx the local squad. But a lowly local sports commentator can't do that, can he? If it turned out that I could by the way, I promise I would use my power for good.
Anyway . . . despite all of that good stuff, coach Joel Quenneville seems awfully worried about things, doesn't he?
Of course it is a coach's job to worry. Just as it is his job to make sure officials give his team a fair shake. And when hockey coaches try to make sure their team is getting a fair shake, they oftentimes bust out a remarkable amount of profanity. They are the reigning world champs in the F-bomb all-around (one of my daughters does a lot of gymnastics so I try to bust out a reference to that sport every once in a while).
So a fan watching Quenneville screaming "that's fucking bullshit!" again and again after the Hawks' first goal of the second period was disallowed yesterday could I suppose be reassured by the fact that hockey coaches do that all the time. And I can attest to the fact that it isn't just NHL coaches who do so. I used to cover a little high school hockey for Pioneer Press in the northern suburbs and it didn't take much to incite the participants and coaches to start screaming F-ing this and F-ing that either at each other or at a ref.
If high basketball coaches and players had done the same, there would have been a major scandal. But in hockey it was just accepted. And after the games, the coaches and players reverted to completely polite conversation, at least in the interviews I did. The professionals do the same.
Still, this was what, the third or fourth time we've watched Coach Q come completely unhinged during the playoffs? He didn't grab his crotch this time so he probably won't face a big fine but . . .
Look, I understand there is a long tradition in every major sport in America of coaches yelling at officials. And I suppose it isn't a complete disaster when they do so. But it isn't good if a coach loses his composure too frequently; surely we can agree on that.
Coach Q was also seen in the Wild series agitatedly changing lines all over the place and making strange decisions regarding which players were in the lineup and which were scratched. You would think that a coach who has already won a couple Cups would be a bit more serene but that has not occurred with Quenneville.
Could it be that he is so visibly concerned because he knows the Hawks have even more to worry about than the average team on the cusp of playing for a championship? There are now multiple advanced hockey metrics that can accurately measure the flow of puck possession and those metrics show that the Kings out-performed the Hawks in that category for much of Game 1. The same held true during long stretches of the Wild series.
Goaltender Corey Crawford stole a victory for the Hawks in Game 6 against the Wild. Game 1 yesterday wasn't quite as much of a goalie win, and the Hawks continue to have an amazing defensive corps in front of their netminder, but it was still a game that felt like it easily could have gone Los Angeles's way despite the final score.
So a fan certainly has cause for concern. Fortunately that fan can perhaps take comfort in the fact that Quenneville clearly has enough concern for just about everyone.
Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays. He welcomes your comments.
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