Message received: Blackhawks need to be physical

167241861_slideI’ve been saying it all season, and I’ll say it again. The Blackhawks are not a tough team, and they are not a physical team. Last night’s game in Vancouver proved just that. The Canucks were on a mission to hit anyone wearing a white sweater, regardless of the name on the back. The result? A 3-1 pounding of the Blackhawks. If anyone out there was looking for a prelude to what the playoffs may be like, or how to beat the Blackhawks, just go back and watch a recording of last night’s game and focus on the blue team.

About a week and a half ago, the Blackhawks won a big game on a Sunday afternoon in St. Louis. At the time, it looked as though the Hawks were capable of playing through intense physicality from the other team. The Blues were taking runs at the Hawks the entire first period of that game, but the Blackhawks were able to work through it and come away with a good win. Last night, however, proved that the Blackhawks can’t always rely on their skill and speed to get them through tough, physical games.

The Canucks outhit the Hawks 37-23, and in the process sent a clear message: “If you guys (the Hawks) want to make it through the playoffs, you need to be physical.” Well Vancouver, the message was received. The NHL playoffs take physicality to an entirely new level compared to the regular season. Teams who can play physically and with skill tend to do very well. Just look at the 2010 Blackhawks for proof.

This year’s Hawks team was not built to be physical. They were not constructed to outhit their opponents on a nightly basis. However, that doesn’t mean that they should just sit back and let their opponents obliterate them all night long with hard, bone-crushing hits. 167232269_slideLast night, the Canucks destroyed the Hawks with their physicality, and there was virtually no response from the visitors. Sure, about half way through the third period and down 3-0 some Blackhawks players started hitting, but that was way too little, way too late. So my question is this. Why did it take the Hawks two and a half periods to start hitting? Also, why didn’t anyone step up and respond to guys like Ryan Kesler who were taking runs at the Hawks’ star players all game long? When you see someone taking borderline cheap shots at your captain, it’s time to go out there and respond by either doing the same thing to their stars, or go after the guy(s) delivering those shots. Pat Foley and Eddie Olczyk mentioned this a few times as the game went on.

With the playoffs starting in about a week, the Blackhawks need to figure out how to handle teams like Vancouver who can combine skill and toughness to win games. The first round will be physical for the Hawks, but none of their potential first round opponents are nearly as physical as Vancouver. At some point, however (if the Hawks advance in the playoffs), they are going to meet a team like Vancouver, L.A., or St. Louis who will use their toughness as a primary weapon, and the Hawks are going to need to respond.

The Blackhawks and us fans cannot rely on Brandon Bollig, Daniel Carcillo, and Jamal Mayers to be our “big hitters” for the playoffs. Those guys see little ice time each game, and at least one is a healthy scratch each game. This means that guys like Bickell, Stalberg, Shaw, Handzus, Seabrook, Rozsival, Keith, and maybe even Saad or Toews need to become more physical to counter their opponents. It needs to be a team effort, not just one or two guys.

Maybe last night was a good thing for the Hawks in that they are now fully aware that they need to alter their game in order to beat a very physical team in the postseason. At least one thing is for sure, however, and that is the Blackhawks received a very stern message from one of the league’s better teams. If this team is going to go on any type of run in the playoffs, they need to step up and respond to other teams’ physicality. That’s a fact.

Jannik Hansen gets 1-game suspension

After a hearing with the NHL’s disciplinary office this afternoon, Canucks forward Jannik Hansen and head coach Alain Vigneault both seemed optimistic about the hearing. Vigneault even stated, “I don’t know why we had that conference.”

Well, apparently Brendan Shanahan saw things differently and as a result handed Hansen a 1-game suspension for his elbow to Marian Hossa’s head. Shanahan pointed out that once Hansen realized Hossa had the inside position on the play, Hansen clenched his fist and “carelessly” extended his forearm to the back of Hossa’s head with no intention of playing the puck. The fact the Hossa was injured and did not return to the game, along with Hansen’s clean history in the league, led to the 1-game ban. Had Hansen been previously penalized by the league, he may have been looking at a 2-3 game suspension.

I said it earlier this week in my blog that it wouldn’t take much of a spark to re-ignite the rivalry and hatred between the Hawks and Canucks. After what happened in Tuesday night’s game, it is safe to say that the rivalry and hatred between the two sides is back in full swing.

Blackhawks tie record; Canucks and their fans never change

162159760_slideThe Blackhawks’ win on Tuesday night over their rival Vancouver Canucks marked their 16th straight game to start the season with at least one point. That ties the all time NHL record set by the Anaheim Ducks in the ’06-’07 season. While most people would assume that the Blackhawks would be celebrating this accomplishment, the general attitude of the Hawks and their fans following last night’s game was pretty subdued. This was due to the fact that not only did the Hawks blow a 2-goal lead in the last 4 minutes of regulation, but Marian Hossa had to be helped off the ice after a blow to the back of his head.

The game started off with a very fast pace. Within the first 10 minutes of play, a total of 5 breakaways had already taken place; 3 for the Hawks and 2 for the Canucks. Incredibly, no goals were scored. Then with just over 13 minutes gone in the first, Daniel Sedin lit the lamp with a soft backhander that somehow found its way through Ray Emery’s legs, giving Vancouver a 1-0 lead. The score would stay that way heading into the second period.

Again, the second period started off with a fast pace just like the first, but with no breakaways for either side. After generating a few good scoring chances, the Hawks finally beat Corey Schneider to tie the game. Patrick Sharp scored his 4th goal of the season after a nice feed by Kane left Sharp open to Schneider’s right for a wide open slap shot. The puck found its way right through the five-hole and into the back of the net.

About 7 minutes later and on the powerplay, Marian Hossa scored on another slapshot from the opposite side of the zone to give the Hawks a 2-1 lead.

Then, only about 4 minutes after Hossa scored, he scored again for his second of the game. In typical Marian Hossa fashion, he won the puck battle along the boards in the corner to Schneider’s right, fought his way to the front of the net, and somehow was able to sneak the puck into the net between Schenider and the post. He literally had maybe only 3-4 inches between Schneider and the post, but he was able to get the goal. This increased the Hawks’ lead to 3-1. It would stay that score until late in the third.

With a little under 3 minutes remaining in regulation and the Canucks on the powerplay, Alex Edler beat Ray Emery with a slap shot from just inside the blue line to bring Vancouver within 1 goal. Then, a little over a minute and a half later and with Canucks’ net empty, Kevin Bieksa’s slap shot beat Emery again to tie the game and send it to overtime.

No one was able to score in OT, even though the Hawks outshot the Canucks 5-1.

In the shootout, Patrick Kane and Andrew Shaw (yes, Andrew Shaw) both scored for the Hawks, and only Chris Higgins scored for the Canucks giving the Blackhawks the W.

However, aside from the Blackhawks record-tying start to the season, the biggest story from last night’s victory was Jannik Hansen’s hit on Marian Hossa. With only 1:10 gone in the third period, the puck was deflected high into the air around center ice, and both Marian Hossa and Jannik Hansen went to try and “grab” it.

620-hossa-blog-thumb-620xauto-275678Hossa, with his head looking up at the puck and his hand ready to catch it, was elbowed in the back of the head by Hansen and fell face first to the ice. He would remain on his stomach for a good 2-3 minutes before getting helped to the dressing room. He would not return. After seeing the replay, it is clear that Hansen was not going for the puck and that he intentionally hit Hossa in the back of the head (he has a hearing with the NHL at 2:30 CT today). Whether or not he actually tried to injure him, we’ll never know. But it is clear that Hansen was not going for the puck. I happened to be at the game last night, and when the replay of this was shown on the scoreboard, there was not a fan in that stadium who didn’t want to personally “greet” Hansen after the game.

Following the game, Joel Quenneville stated that Hossa seemed “okay,” and that they’ll know more today on his condition. Coach Q also declined to comment in any detail about Hansen’s elbow to Hossa’s head.

As for the Vancouver side, their head coach, Alain Vigneault, tried to argue that the play did not deserve a penalty (Hansen was assessed a 2-minute minor for roughing) and that only when Toews went out to talk to the refs did they call the penalty. When asked if he thought Hansen would receive any discipline from the NHL, Vigneault answered “No chance.” Hansen told reporters after the game that “it was a hockey play,” and that he didn’t even realize he hit Hossa until the refs told him. He also said that he was “just going for the puck.” Yeah right…

Over the past 4 years, I along with every Hawks fan, has grown to hate the Canucks for their non-stop, cheap-hitting, dirty play. Whether it is Burrows pulling Keith’s hair, Daniel Sedin elbowing Duncan Keith in the head, Torres launching himself at Seabrook’s head, or now Hansen elbowing Hossa in the head, it is always something else with those low-lifes. Their head coach might be the biggest reason for it, too.

Alain Vigneault doesn’t seem to think that anything his players do warrants a penalty or any discipline. Whether it was Torres’ hit on Seabrook, Sedin’s elbow to Keith, or Hansen’s elbow to Hossa, every time he says that his players did nothing wrong. There is a theory in the sports world that states “a team plays the way they are coached.” That might not be anymore evident than in the case of the Canucks.

It is extremely hard for me to not let my emotions fly on here when talking about the Canucks. I absolutely despise everything about that team and their coach, and I feel that I am being polite when saying that. Even their fans are some of the worst in sports.

1297188843628_ORIGINALRemember when the Bruins won the Cup 2 years ago, in Game 7, in Vanvouver, and the Canucks’ fans lit the city on fire? Remember when Zdeno Chara was handed the Stanley Cup by Gary Bettman and Canucks’ fans proceeded to throw cups of beer in Chara’s direction? After Hansen’s hit on Hossa last night, the Vancouver fans used Twitter to express their pleasure with the hit, calling Hossa a “wimp,” an “actor,” and saying that they were “glad” Hossa got hurt on the play. It’s a good thing those people live 2,000 miles away from Chicago and in a different country, because I don’t think I could handle it if they lived any closer, and I would be embarrassed to call myself an American along with them.

I could go on for hours about the Canucks and their fans, but I won’t.

All in all, the Blackhawks again blew a late lead and ended up in overtime. They have got to  step up their late-game play and win these games in regulation. At the same time, I won’t complain about their historic start.

Let’s all cross our fingers and hope that Hossa is okay. Here’s the replay of Hansen’s hit:

Penguins, Canucks Eliminated

Who did you all have winning the Stanley Cup this year heading into the playoffs? I’m guessing most of you had either Vancouver or Pittsburgh. I know I had the Penguins going all the way. Well, we’re all wrong. In what has been one of the most unpredictable first rounds in recent NHL history, both the Penguins and Canucks were eliminated from the playoffs today.

The Penguins-Flyers series was a great one. Lots of physical play (sometimes too much), and tons of scoring. We all knew that the Flyers would be a tough out, but I don’t think too many people had them eliminating the Penguins. With Crosby back and healthy, the Penguins seemed like they would be too deep of a team to knock out. Also, I know that I for sure didn’t think Bryzgalov would be good enough to beat the Penguins 4 times, but he did. The Penguins lost an absolute heart-breaker in Game 1, and never really seemed to recover. Marc-Andre Fleury was nowhere near his regular self for the first 3 games of this series, and his lack of confidence really hurt him and his team. Also, the Penguins as a whole appeared to have lost all hope after going down 2-0 in the series. Yes they physically showed up in Philadelphia for games 3 and 4, but I’m not so sure that they showed up mentally. For a team with as much experience as the Penguins, I never saw this bad of a series coming for them.

Out west, the Kings just scored in overtime to beat the Canucks and eliminate them from the postseason. Even though I predicted the Canucks would win this series in 6 games before the playoffs started, I did say that Jonathan Quick has the ability to change the outcome of this series. Well, he did just that. This guy is one of the top 5 goalies in the game, easily, and he definitely proved that in this series. The Canucks goalie situation, on the other hand, is the exact opposite of the Kings’. Roberto Luongo lost the starting job to Corey Schneider after Game 3, thus bringing up the question of who the starting goalie will be for the Canucks to start next season. Many people are already talking about the possibility of Vancouver trying to trade Luongo and his huge salary, but I don’t see that happening. Sure someone would gladly take his talent, but no one is going to want his enormous contract. Throughout this series, most, if not all, of the Canucks’ weaknesses were exposed by the Kings. The Vancouver front office is going to have a lot of decisions to make this off-season, and they will have plenty of time to do it.

I am as stunned as every other hockey fan that both Pittsburgh, and the President’s Trophy-winning Canucks were both eliminated in the first round. That just goes to show you that the NHL salary cap really is a good thing. Unlike the NBA, you really can’t confidently predict a Stanley Cup Finals matchup, let alone a Stanley Cup winner. The talent is so spread out in the NHL due to the salary cap, which is exactly what the league wants.

With the Flyers’ victory in the first round, they have to be a top candidate to make it to the Finals out of the east. As for the Kings, they will need Quick to continue to dominate if they want a chance at the Cup.

Thanks for reading.