Blackhawks fans can hail and exhale
BY RICK MORRISSEY firstname.lastname@example.org | @MorrisseyCST January 19, 2014 8:48PM
Updated: January 20, 2014 9:56AM
All better now? Feeling more relaxed?
Didn’t think so.
But even the most neurotic Blackhawks fan has to admit that back-to-back victories over the Ducks and Bruins are a slight indication that the world is not on the verge of ending. At least for now.
The Hawks beat the Bruins 3-2 on Sunday at the United Center, and they did it in a shootout, a sore subject among the town’s hockey cognoscenti, who were, shall we say, very worried about the points the team had frittered away this season. Patrick Kane scored the game-winner, heading off 10 suicide attempts by fans concerned about his mini-slump. The Hawks did it against the team they beat for the Stanley Cup last season.
I’m not agitating for a victory parade. I’m not agitating for a blasé attitude toward winning, either. I’m suggesting everybody enjoy this ride, a ride very few people who follow the sport get to enjoy.
But in the same way that the Hawks’ recent “struggles’’ didn’t mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things, so the victories over the Ducks, who lead the NHL in points, and the Bruins (eighth) don’t carry huge meaning.
The Hawks were a great team before those two games, are a great team now and will be a great team going forward. Short of injury or a giant sinkhole forming inside the UC, not much is going to change that simple fact. They’re second in the league in points. It’s a long season, and if you want to attach importance to every single game, you’re going to find yourself with an aneurysm.
So, as much as some people wanted to say a playoff atmosphere permeated Sunday’s game, there really wasn’t one. Too many Hawks have been in too many big games over the last four years — playoffs, Olympics, etc. — for them to act like this was a repeat of Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final last June.
“[It] wasn’t the playoffs,’’ defenseman Duncan Keith said. “Those start in April. Regular season, boys. We’ve got a long way to go.’’
They do. And they’ll travel the way they’ve traveled through two Cups in four years — with speed, talent and good goaltending. And, if necessary, they’ll even do it without Jonathan Toews, who got a 10-minute misconduct after tossing his broken stick into the stands.
Toews was in the penalty box long enough to have cable installed and then have a technician stop by to see why it wasn’t working. Yeah, that long. And it didn’t matter. The Hawks scored with him sitting out his penalty in the second period.
If there’s a nit to pick, it’s that too often the Hawks are looking for the perfect shot. Sometimes you want to jump and scream, “Just shoot the puck!’’ Actually, a lot of times you want to scream it to the nearest unselfish Hawk, which is to say most of them.
Brandon Bollig’s second-period goal was a reminder of the importance of shooting, no matter how crazy the angle is, no matter how small the odds seem. Just shoot the puck. And so Bollig did, from a ridiculous spot to the left of Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask. Goal.
What’s the biggest cliché in the sport? It’s that the puck bounces funny. So don’t limit yourself to perfect shots. You don’t know where the puck will go next. Treat shots as opportunities, not fine crystal.
But, again, nitpicking. The Hawks are great. They were great even if their record said they were 4-11 in overtime going into this game.
“We’ve said all along we know what we have in here,’’ Keith said. “Even if we go through a patch, a stretch of games where we’re not at our best, it doesn’t mean we’re down in confidence or we’re not a good team.’’
It’s hard to ever see Kane’s confidence sinking below “supreme.’’ He hadn’t scored a shootout goal in nine previous attempts. No worries. The Hawks’ confidence in his confidence never wavered.
“The plays he makes sometimes just make you laugh on the bench,’’ defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “He’s so skilled. I wasn’t really worried about him. It was just a matter of time.’’
It was. And it’s just a matter of time before the playoffs start. A matter of three months.
In the meantime, the Hawks’ victories over the Ducks and Bruins should put everyone at ease. Should, probably won’t.
All is right with the world, sort of, until the next soft goal.