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SportsMonday: Way Out West

They pulled it off.

It was audacious and then some to pack for an extended stay on the West Coast when the Hawks traveled to Vancouver for Game 6 of their second-round NHL playoff series last week. By all accounts the local hockey organization made it clear to the team that they were to be prepared to stay in the Pacific time zone for far longer than it would take to play the potential deciding game of the series.

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  • In other words, they assumed they were going to beat Vancouver (and avoid Game 7 back in Chicago) and then settle in near San Jose. They already knew the Sharks would be hosting the first two games of the Western Conference final.

    I mean, I don't think I have to believe in superstitions to be confident that there is a fine line between being prepared and sure of yourself and . . . calling down the biggest jinx in hockey history.

    Also, the Hawks knew the next series wouldn't start for a handful of days after the one with the Canucks concluded. Especially considering how well they played after their two flights to Vancouver in the second series, why not come back to Chicago for a couple days and then head out to San Jose?

    Now, initially we didn't know about the trip to Alcatraz (two days before the series opener, the whole squad toured the former island prison in the San Francisco Bay that used to hold all sorts of delightful criminal characters). And apparently that was a historically good team-building exercise.

    Actually, what that was a masterstroke by coach Joel Quenneville. In this era of so many professional teams believing the only way to maximize performance is coaches spending ever more ludicrous amounts of hours at the office and athletes engaging in more and more offseason "voluntary" workout regimens, it was great to see a team go the other way.

    With the pressure on to finally start a series successfully (knowing it would be a lot tougher to win four of six games after an opening game loss against the ultra-talented Sharks than it had been against Nashville or Vancouver - against both of whom the Hawks concluded series' by winning four out of five), the Hawks took a break. And it was a refreshed team that pulled off a classic hockey playoff win Sunday afternoon.

    So now it is the Sharks who will have to win four of six, at minimum, to win this series .

    Oh by the way, from his teammates' comments, it seems pretty clear professional instigator and winger Adam Burish was fortunate to make it out of that Alcatraz place with his freedom intact.

    And given how well he played Sunday, netminder Antti Niemi must have been inspired by something out on the island. Perhaps he envisioned himself as a guard?

    There are some similarities there, although those guys were obviously more focused on keeping people in cages rather than keeping pucks out.

    Now, if ever a team was going to be confident about a result on the road, it was the Hawks going into that Game 6 against Vancouver. The Canucks didn't just lose Games 3 and 4 on home ice, they were defeated physically and mentally. They were psyched out early and eventually overwhelmed by so much Blackhawk talent.

    But still, this is hockey we're talking about. This is the sport where you don't just expect the unexpected, you bank on things happening like the Eastern Conference final, where the seventh-seeded Philadelphia Flyers actually have the home ice advantage (and used it on Sunday in a 6-0 series-opening victory over Montreal).

    So what happened? The Hawks went out and laid an even worse whuppin' on the Canucks than they had in either of the games in the middle of the series. The 5-1 triumph. Wow. It is hard not to be ultra-confident about this team heading forward. At least until they head back to home ice, where they have been almost as bad as they've been good on the road. But that's still way out in the future. First we will revel in Tuesday night.

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

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