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SportsMonday: The Hawks' Spread Formation

All they had to do was spread out the scorers. That will be the primary storyline. In a couple nights it will be something different but on Sunday, the Hawks put their best forwards forward on several different lines and Chris Pronger couldn't cover everyone.

(And when Pronger tried to cover Dustin Byfuglien early in the second period, the big Hawk forward knocked him off his skates (with a quick detour into the boards along the way) with one of the most impressive hits in the history of Chicago's proud professional hockey organ-i-zation.)

Of course, in the Western Conference Finals all they had to do was put the scorers together. That was when Byfuglien, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane first (in this postseason) came together on the top line and worked well enough in unison to lead the Hawks to a sweep. The Hawks made adjustments then, they made them on Sunday evening, and they'll try to make them on the fly during Game 6 in Philly on Wednesday.

If that doesn't work, at least they'll have the last game at home. One thing that has been simplified, after early NHL playoff rounds that featured road teams winning just about as many games as home teams, is that the home-ice advantage is important. Five straight victories by the home team forces that sort of an acknowledgement. But it shouldn't lead to overconfidence. Last year the Red Wings and the Penguins both won the first three games they hosted in the Cup Finals. But then the Penguins rose up on the road to take Game 7.

The Flyers will have an extra day to think about how to combat the latest Hawk strategy - after playing every other day for the last week-and-a-half, the teams take two days off before Game 6. It should be enough to devise a difficult plan to overcome.

Whatever adjustments may arrive in Game 6 and, if necessary, Game 7, the Hawk offense will have to carry them to one final win. And that's because the defense is running on Zamboni fumes. So many breakdowns in the final two periods on Sunday, but there was so much offense to more than offset it. Fortunately, the Hawk forwards are good enough to do it. After all, Game 5 was another wonderful display of just how many talented and determined wingers and centermen the Hawks have.

Game Notes
* My line after the Game 4 setback was that the good news about the Flyers winning was that it ensured the series would go at least another couple days beyond Game 5. And that would give us at least a couple more days before we had to completely focus on the abysmal local baseball season. A Game 7 wouldn't be such a bad outcome in that regard.

* On Sunday it was certainly nice to see the officiating start to even up a bit. The Flyers were hot about a missed high stick that caused a gash on Daniel Briere's cheek and could have led to the offender, Duncan Keith, being assessed a double-minor for high-sticking (no way they were calling a major penalty even with blood flowing). Their complaints would have had more of an impact if it hadn't been obvious to everyone watching that several penalties against the Flyers had gone uncalled earlier in the game. Pronger continues to get away with near-murder and wasn't it odd that when he was finally sent to the box it was for a "so minor you could barely even see it" hooking infraction.

* Kris Versteeg is maddening. He scored the biggest goal of the game late in the first period, giving the Hawks enough of a cushion that in the event of a defensive breakdown, and there were many in the second and third periods, the Hawks still had breathing room. Sure enough, despite giving up four goals in the final 40 minutes, the Hawks never led by less than two. Of course, the fact that the Hawks kept scoring during that time was slightly helpful as well.

And while Versteeg's tally started with a nice outlet pass, it was mostly an awesome individual effort. All of young forward's strengths were on display: smooth, speedy skating, slick stickhandling and rare amounts of dexterity, patience and skill.

On the other hand, there was Versteeg holding the puck and holding the puck and holding the puck on that 2-on-1 late in the second period. He didn't try to pass or shoot until he had drifted below the goal line and the Hawks didn't even get a shot out of the play.


Not Exactly A Work Of Art


Three Stars


Jim Coffman rounds up the sports weekend every Monday in this space. He welcomes your comments.

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