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The best thing about taking a 2-0 lead in a best-of-seven series is the task that then faces your foe - four wins in five games or bust.
The smart bet is on bust.
The Kings must win four before the Hawks win two after Los Angeles suffered a 4-2 loss last night in the Madhouse. A far more likely potential outcome: the Blackhawks split in LA and return home for Game 5 with a great chance to put this series away quickly.
Of course, going to LA requires actual travel to the West Coast, an experience the Hawks had avoided until now in these Western Conference playoffs. This team caught a huge break with its travel schedule when its first-round showdown with Minnesota was followed by a match-up with the Red Wings, teams that are otherwise known as two of the eastern-most members of said conference.
In fact, while we will miss having the Red Wings in our conference (the league will re-align itself in the offseason), it is ridiculous that a team located in the Eastern Time Zone stayed in the Western Conference this long.
Usually (at least in the last five years or so) the Hawks have absorbed at least several endless trips to Vancouver or San Jose or Arizona in the first round or two of the playoffs. That has not been the case this year and the lack of travel miles has to help.
On the other hand, after fighting through seven grueling games against Detroit, there was plenty of concern the Hawks would be a bit depleted this past weekend, especially in the second game in as many days on Sunday.
The opposite was the case. The Hawks had the jump on Detroit starting from the opening few minutes and didn't let up until taking a 4-0 lead just past the halfway point of the game. Perhaps the best part? The team's depth was on full display yet again.
Viktor Stalberg got things started with a delightfully clever little backhand pass that sent fellow third-liner Andrew Shaw in on the goal with time and space only a few minutes into the game.
Marian Hossa got the Hawks' second goal started with a similarly delightful little backhand pass to Brent Seabrook, who cranked it past Jonathan Quick to give the hometown team a virtually insurmountable 2-0 lead to take into the locker room at the first break.
In the second period, it became clear that the best news of the day may was probably going to be that the kid is not only alright, he is thriving. Winger Brandon Saad, who won't turn 21 until October 27th for goodness sakes, played by far his best game of the playoffs after seeming a bit overwhelmed earlier in the postseason.
Having already notched the second assist on Shaw's goal - having passed the puck to Stalberg - Saad got his second assist of the game on the Hawks' third goal after picking up the puck behind the Kings' net on the power play, drawing a defenseman near and then sliding the puck to Patrick Sharp on the point. Sharp put the puck on net and Bryan Bickell was credited with scoring on the rebound, though it may have been a King who actually put the puck in his own net.
But the assists were only part of the story. Saad also made the best rush of the day earlier when he turned a Kings defender absolutely inside out with a couple moves from the inside to the outside and then back again. His resulting shot didn't go it but it was a breathtaking display of skill.
Michal Handzus scored the Hawks' fourth and final goal on a wrister to continue his nice run through the playoffs - and to, astonishingly, send Quick to the bench.
Handzus was a great mid-season pick-up by Hawk General Manager Stan Bowman a few months ago from San Jose for a fourth-round draft pick.
He was brought on mostly for his face-off skills - at that point all Hawk forwards not named Toews were struggling to win more than 50 percent of their draws - but he has given the team much more.
And the departure of Quick was one of the most exciting developments of the day for Hawks fans. The mockery of opposing goaltenders starts early in hockey. It isn't one of the best things about the game but it has been around for a while. At high school hockey games I used to cover on the North Shore, the "Insert goalie's last name here," repeat, repeat again, "You suck!" chants started early and continued throughout many a game. So when a home team knocks an opposing goalie out of a contest and the cheers that follow are absolutely the loudest of the night, well, those cheers have a whole lot of history behind them.
Speaking of history, the 2013 Kings are in danger of joining it rather quickly this week. And if that happens, the Hawks will be four more wins away from a historic second Stanley Cup in the last four years.
Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays. He welcomes your comments.
This is what progress looks like.Continue reading "Times Change" »
Posted on Jul 24, 2017