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Posts Tagged ‘Stanley Cup playoffs’

Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank, NBC Chicago Street Team One of the weirdest aspects of a rivalry is when a player changes teams, and goes to his former team’s bitterest of rivals. 

Even though he’s been wearing a Detroit Red Wings(who currently lead the Stanley Cup Finals 2-1)  sweater now for 9 years when Chris Chelios was in town last week you just had to root for him. Even despite  his  contributing to the Blackhawks demise. If you didn’t then you fit in to Jerry Seinfeld’s “sports fans are rooting for clothes” routine.

(We’re currently seeing the same thing with Joe Crede leaving the Sox for the Twins) Rivalries are all about black-versus-white, but when it comes to situations like this, it’s actually a shade of grey. With an injury to all-world defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, as well as his back-up Ericcson, Chelios got his chance to contribute during the Western Conference Finals. Doing the ceremonial puck drop that game was Bob Probert another guy who played for both the Red Wings and Hawks. Chelios spoke about the playoff atmosphere:

“I had a good feeling when it was Proby, because he played for the Wings and the Hawks, everything they’ve done from the marketing to the bringing back the veterans Bobby Hull, Mikita. It’s good to see them back in the building, I’m playing hockey for one reason: because I grew up watching the Hawks,” the Evergreen Park native said.

Chelios commented after the game about how the roar has been restored in Chicago hockey. “It reminded me of being in the old stadium. It’s different when you’re on the other team, but I feed off of that and I think our team likes the atmosphere,” Chelly said.

The 47 year old University of Wisconsin-Madison alum is the second oldest player in league history (he’s older than his coach Mike Babcock) to Gordie Howe. Is this finally it for him?

“Everybody’s trying to get rid of me, it’s crazy, but they’ll miss me when I’m gone, so I’ll stay around as long as someone wants me, I love playing,” Chelios said.

See more of Paul M. Banks’ work at the Washington Times, Walter Football.com and The Sports Bank

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank, NBC Chicago Street Team

In Kane and Sharp, the Chicago Blackhawks possess two young star forwards named Patrick. “Sharpie” the lesser known of the two, is having a much better Western Conference Finals than “Kaner.” Down 3-1 to the Detroit Red Wings, the Hawks will need both of them, (and more reinforcements) to be on their A game if Chicago is going to stand any chance of advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals. Sharp is often overshadowed by Kane, the 2008 Calder Memorial Trophy winner and face-of-the-franchise, but it was Sharpie who was on pace to lead the team in goals this season before being sidelined by injury down the stretch.
Kaner is having a rough series, sporting an ugly -7 in the +/- department, and he didn’t even make it onto the score sheet until notching a game 4 assist. Red Wings Coach Mike Babcock talked about how his team shut down Kane.

“Till today we always played Nick (All-Star defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom) against him. Today, we didn’t have that option so we just try to play a really good five man unit and limit their touches the best we can. I think Osgood did a good job, but you’re never going to shut a guy like that down totally with the amount of skill level he has. I thought the other night in game three even though he didn’t get on the sheet, I thought that line with Byufglien and Toews dominated the shifts territorally- just couldn’t get the puck in the net,” Babcock saidkane_8x10

As ugly as the 6-1 game four home loss to Detroit was, both young stars have breakout game performances in their recent memory.
Before entering this current slump, Kane recorded his first career hat trick in game 6 of the Western Conference Seminfinals, in eliminating the Vancouver Canucks. After the exciting 7-5 win, Kane told the media the criticisms from Canucks defenceman Willie Mitchell fired him up. “I got a wake-up call from old Willie Mitchell over there. He made some comments saying I couldn’t play five on five, I don’t know if you want to fire up a player like that. I scored three goals five-on-five, so you’ll have to ask him about that one,” Kane said.
Friday night, Sharp was the number one star of the conference finals’ game three with two goals, including the overtime game winner. That was pretty exciting to be in the building at that point, I’ve had some double overtime ones in the minors but, it was pretty loud when the puck went in and it was exciting,” Sharp said in describing perhaps the biggest night of his career. Both Patricks will need to have more games like that as Chicago faces elimination.

See more of Paul M. Banks’ work at the Washington Times, Walter Football.com and The Sports Bank

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank, NBC Chicago Street Team

Heading into 2008-09, the season of Chicago Blackhawks renaissance, it was thought in certain circles that Hawks General Manager Dale Tallon could be on the way out. Tallon was more Bill Wirtz’s guy than he was Rocky Wirtz’s guy. After NHL coaching legend Scotty Bowman joined the Hawks organization (pronounced “organ-I-zation” in Canadian English) as Senior Advisor of Hockey Operations, rumors swirled that Tallon might be replaced by Bowman’s son, assistant GM of Hockey Operations, Stan Bowman.
Today however, Tallon is sitting pretty as the blueprint for success he drafted has guided the Hawks much further along the postseason path than anyone expected. After advancing to their first Conference Final since 1995, (where they’re currently down 2-1 to the Red Wings), Tallon spoke about his team, the youngest in the league, climbing the ladder much faster than expectedtallon

“The sooner the better is fine with me. I don’t want to wait any longer, it’s been fun and I’m proud of these kids, this is the greatest group of kids I’ve been around; on and off the ice,” Tallon said.

Tallon’s first season as GM was tumultuous. After the 2004–05 NHL season was canceled due to labor issues, a new collective bargaining agreement was signed. This created a new financial structure and many rule changes intended to yield higher scoring games. In response, Tallon reshaped the team, but most of his free agents never panned out and the Hawks finished 14th in the 15-team Western Conference.

However, since then he turned the Blackhawk franchise around (the Hawks are the only team in the NHL to improve their win total each of the past four years) by drafting young talents Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and also acquiring stars Patrick Sharp and Kris Versteeg. Tallon recently spoke about the traits possessed by his young nucleus. “Their impeccable character- they’re beyond their years as far as composure and intelligence…they’re way ahead of their time as far the mental aspect of it, their maturity impresses me,” Tallon said before later commenting on his team’s versatility:

“This is a team that can play any style, it you want to play it tough, we’ll play it tough, if you want to play speed, up-tempo, we’ll do that too. I think people underestimate how strong and resilient these kids are.” Chicago’s deep playoff run has been great for hockey ratings on television, and the NHL could certainly use this boost. Perhaps the Blackhawks’ rebirth, led in part by the young stars Dale Tallon drafted, will help improve the league’s damaged Q rating. Tallon spoke about the plethora of current young NHL stars.

“As hockey fans we’re in a great era right now. You see Crosby perform and Ovechkin and Malkin, and you see Backstrom in Washington and everyday we get to see Kane and Toews and don’t forget we’ve got some other young guys in Bolland, Brouwer, and Byfuglien, you can go down the list…we’re very fortunate in this era to be able to witness such young players excel at such a young age,” Tallon stated.

See more of Paul M. Banks’ work at the Washington Times, Walter Football.com and The Sports Bank

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank, NBC Chicago Street Team During the Bill Wirtz era, it was not uncommon for the Chicago Blackhawks to draw less than 5,000 fans for a game. Earlier this decade, they finished dead last in the NHL in attendance. This season however, the Blackhawks set a National Hockey League club record by attracting an average of 21,783 to their 40 home dates at United Center (also, 40,818 filled Wrigley Field for the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day). It’s fashionable now to be “committed to the Indian.” Supporting the Blackhawks is the new black. On Monday night the Hawks, for the first time in franchise history, welcomed their one millionth fan in a single season (including playoffs) and they did it in style defeating the Vancouver Canucks 7-5 in Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals.

Face of the franchise Patrick Kane (or should I say “Hat trick Kane”) commented on the fanbase. “They’ve been there for us all year, whether it’s the show we’re putting on, they just keep coming back. We put on a good performance on for them. They say Bruce Springsteen’s up next tomorrow, so they say he’ll have trouble putting on the same show we did (chuckles), so it should be pretty fun and we look forward to the next series,” the star winger said. Chicago advances to their first Conference Final since 1995 where they’ll face the winner of Detroit/Anaheim.blackhawksshowEarlier this season, Chicago established a single-season attendance record, hosting 871, 337. The previous high set in 935, 971. GM Dale Tallon spoke about the journey. “It’s been a long time coming for these fans and they’ve been supportive and to do it here in this packed house rocking like this is quite special, so I’m very happy for our players and fans,” Tallon said.
The Blackhawks led the league in attendance and merchandise sales. They have one of the most recognized logos in all of sports. In the 90s, we saw Clark W. Griswold from the National Lampoon’s Vacation movies sporting the Hawks jersey, so did Wayne and Garth from “Wayne’s World.” Now it seems like everyone is, and with the Bulls eliminated from the postseason, both baseball teams struggling through mediocre injury-filled starts to the season and months until the Bears commence, don’t expect this bandwagon to lose any momentum.

See more of Paul M. Banks’ work at the Washington Times, Walter Football.com and The Sports Bank

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank, NBC Chicago Street Team In the Chicago Blackhawks-Vancouver Canucks Western Conference Semifinal series, most of the statistics are remarkably even. The one exception: shots on goal. The Hawks hold a decisive edge, accumulating a 31 shot advantage. Even though they’ve taken more shots than a college fraternity pledge during hazing week, the numbers of total goals scored in this series is a dead heat. Many of the Chicago slap shots are coming from beyond optimal range and often after a pass or two too many. It’s a true testament to the Vancouver defensemen, who have done a great job limiting Chicago’s prime scoring opportunities.

It also reaffirms the hype surrounding Canucks’ goaltender Roberto Luongo, one of the best in the business. By stopping 107/115 shots he’s faced (.930 save percentage), he’s clearly outplaying his Blackhawks counterpart Nikolai Khabibulin. The “Bulin Wall” has saved 72 of the 82 shots (.878 save percentage) coming his way. The Hawks scored very late in regulation and then again in overtime of Game 4 to win 2-1 and even the series at two games a piece.

After the road loss, Luongo spoke about the defense in front of him. “It was a pretty close game and we took the lead and we were doing what we needed to do in protecting that lead as far paying the price of blocking shots and stuff like that,” Luongo said.

In order to take control of this series, Chicago must do a better job converting more of their scoring opportunities. The optimal plan might be following Coach Joel Quenneville’s mantra of keep getting pucks on the net and eventually good things will happen.

“I think against him, shots at the net, traffic, second and third opportunities, tip screens, deflections, that’s how you have to beat him. The more we do that, the better chance we’ll have to put the puck behind him,” Quenneville stated. And like the greatest hockey player of all, Wayne Gretzky famously said: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

See more of Paul M. Banks’ work at the Washington Times, Walter Football.com and The Sports Bank

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank, NBC Chicago Street Team

With the Chicago Blackhawks capturing the city’s heart this season, numerous second city citizens who previously ignored hockey are now finding themselves to be experts on the sport’s terminology. “Even Strength” is the term used to describe the portion of the game when both teams have the same number of attackers on the ice. It’s also the perfect way to describe the Hawks match-up with the Vancouver Canucks in. The statistics for the best of seven series, which Vancouver now leads 2-1, are remarkably even. Vancouver has the edge in total goals by just one, Vancouver has committed only two more penalties than Chicago, and both teams have exactly 13 penalty kills in this series.

Each team even has a home venue (United Center and General Motors Place) named by a transportation corporation recently in or headed towards bankruptcy protectionchicago-blackhawks

Vancouver defenseman Ossi Vaananeen spoke highly regarding the fundamentals of the team currently battling his squad so tightly. “They’ve played well, in a tough division. They have good power play, good special teams, they scored a lot of even strength goals, they had more points than us this year,” Vaananeen said.

An even Steven series should have been expected when considering how the regular season went. Just 3 points and one win separated the two clubs in the 2008-09 standings. The two teams also tied for exactly 88 points in 2007-08. Even though the Hawks were the better team during the regular season, they now must win Thursday, if they are to have a realistic shot at winning the series. Hawks captain Jonathan Toews spoke about some things Chicago must improve. “I think we need to start chipping away and moving out feet to wearing them down next time,” Toews said in reference to the Hawks falling behind in each game of the series. The way things are going, it will likely take a 7th game (and probably and overtime shootout) to decide this Western Conference semifinal.

See more of Paul M. Banks’ work at the Washington Times, Walter Football.com and The Sports Bank

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank, NBC Chicago Street Team

The Blackhawks have ruled Canada like Prime Minister Stephen Harper this season, compiling a 15-5 record (including playoffs) versus Canadian teams this season.

But this round’s matchup against the Vancouver Canucks will provide a much bigger challenge than Calgary in the first round. Chicago and Vancouver split the four game regular-season series with each team winning a game at home and away.

Click here to read the rest of this post on NBCChicago.com.

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