the Fifth Line: Second City Triumphant

When shall we three meet again?
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?
Macbeth, Act I, Scene I

Those were the exact words I thought as we skipped down Addison Street the moment Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final concluded. Two years ago, a trio of us celebrated the Blackhawks’ second Stanley Cup win this decade by running down to Wrigley Field to celebrate. Monday night, we re-enacted that ritual for Cup #3.

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We even happened upon the Recorder’s editor-in-chief, already celebrating (despite the fact that he’s wild for the Wild).

Monday was a day of hurly-burly in Chicago. Tornado warnings blanketed the city and its suburbs, sirens blared as rain pelted the area, flooding side streets and major thoroughfares alike. Amidst the meteorological chaos was the excitement and hope for Chicago sports fans: our team had a chance to clinch the Cup on ice for the first time in almost a century.

Oh, and the team they were facing seemed way too apropos for the weather. Amidst the raging storms, the Blackhawks strove to defeat the Lightning — the fates were asking for the purplest of prose. The perfect encapsulation of Chicago’s excitement could be found in the channeling of Snoopy / World Famous Author.

Since the Fifth Line is hanging up the skates until the start of next season, permit me this victory lap around the rink before I do. [Read more…]

the Fifth Line: the Final Week

I’m still breathing, at least.

Fandom makes critical analysis something that tends to fly out the window. Fandom often gives rational thought the what-for, so my words are a bit more limited this time around. It’s tough sometimes to be deeper than, “winning is good,” at this point in the season.

Also, scoring goals is good. Chicago should do more of that. And they might have that opportunity…

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Has anyone tried poking the body with a stick?

What’s the Deal With Bishop?

NHL teams and coaches are notorious for only describing injuries as “upper-body” or “lower-body,” and then moving onto the next question. I’m not saying that coaches are circumspect, but even Bill Belicheck seems straightforward and transparent in comparison.

When Ben Bishop left Game 2 for unknown reasons, the speculation exploded. Twitter was rife with jokes of Bishop succumbing to the brown note, including a toilet joke from a goalie who’s been in such an awkward situation:

But even in Game 3, Bishop looked a little creaky and in pain for two periods before he turned in a stellar third. Yet he was scratched in Game 4, elevating the bane of Team Canada, Kristers Gudlevskis, as a Stanley Cup backup goalie. John Cooper and the Lightning have not been forthcoming, because that’s what hockey teams do. The Lightning defense did what it could in front of Andrei Vasileskiy, holding Chicago to an impossible two shots on goal in the first period of Game 4. But putting Vasileskiy in this situation is disadvantages Tampa Bay, as Saad illuminated on the game-winning goal.

What happened to Bishop? Your guess is as good as mine, so have at it. Not like the Lightning are going to correct you.

Being the Bottom

While Bishop is scratched on the Lightning side, Chicago has a carousel going every night when it comes to the bottom two defensemen. Coach Q finally scratched Kimmo Timonen, and the Blackhawks did okay… until they didn’t. Rundblad has been replacement-level, an Cumiskey has had some mental lapses, and Timonen returned to play his scant minutes in Game 4. He did… okay?

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Sure, why not?

Added to this mix is Trevor van Riemsdyk, who had started the year with Chicago and looked good. But after a serious injury last fall, he was kept down in the minors until this series. He looked good. At least, he looked energetic, busted his ass on the ice, and didn’t make me hold my breath when he touched the puck. I’m guessing we’ll watch Coach Q ride the kid and the old veteran around the carousel for at least the next game.

Pulling Out of the Dive

The Blackhawks of the Coach Q era remind me of Picasso, as depicted in Steve Martin’s play, Picasso at the Lapin Agile. They are brilliant, brash, a team whose success is matched by few teams this decade. They are creative, they adapt, and they succeed.

But they’re also stubborn. Aside from the strike-shortened season, they’ve not dominated the regular season — or even the post-season. They’re the genius student who turns in amazing work, but often has to stay up all night and do it all at the last second just to complete it.

This is why they remind me of Martin’s piece of theatre. Early in the show, someone describes an encounter where Picasso lulls a pigeon to sleep, and drops the pigeon from the second story window:

Then just seconds before it would have hit the ground, the pigeon turned itself over and started flapping like mad, and it took off flying, straight up past us, above the buildings and just away into the night. Then Picasso turned to me and said, “That‘s like me.” And he was gone.

The ‘Hawks have made a reputation of always pulling out of a dive at the last second to fly majestically into the night. Whether it’s against the Red Wings or Ducks in the playoffs, or just turning in a third-place showing in the regular season, Chicago has a habit of figuring it all out in the nick of time. You almost expect it, at this point.

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Coach Q agrees. Everything is a-okay. Or maybe he’s getting beers for all the healthy scratches on defense.

The worry is that, despite the reputation, they don’t always pull out of the dive. Think of last year, when Chicago faced L.A. in the conference finals. In overtime of Game 7, the Kings iced the puck. Coach Q sent out his scrub line with Hanzus and Versteeg. What should have been a chance to put the game away ended up going the other way courtesy of an Alec Martinez goal.

Chicago’s been here before. They’ve pulled out of the dive. A lot of us expect them to do so, and fly majestically. But last year saw a dead pigeon splatted on the ground instead of a Stanley Cup. We’re wary.

The Final Games

The series is tied up 2-2. Tampa Bay would seem to have an advantage with home ice, but both these teams won their conference on the road, so you can throw that out the window. If Bishop isn’t 100%, that would be a lucky break for Chicago (no offense to the Lightning backups). If van Riemsdyk is simply adequate and hustles, that might plug a hole in Chicago’s defense. If Bickell and Versteeg can be non-liabilities, that plugs up the only other real hole.

Each team’s magic and tragic numbers are two. I still think the ‘Hawks pull it out and soar to a third Stanley Cup since 2010. Is that the rational me, or the fan in me speaking? Yes.

See you on the other side…

the Fifth Line: FLASH! AHH AHH!

Unfortunately, demands of the day job have precluded this week’s Fifth Line.

In the interim, here is the summation of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, in meme form:

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Flash! Ahh ahh! Savior of the Windy City!

Teuvo Teräväinen, a.k.a. the Finnish Flash, a.k.a. #FinnishCold, scored the game-tying goal in the 3rd period. Shortly thereafter, Teuvo assisted on the game-winning goal. Chicago won 2-1. (Image from the Twitter feed of @JenLC, a ‘Hawks fan, blogger, and stats nerd who everyone should already follow.)

In case you now have “Flash” stuck in your head, Queen is here to help you.

the Fifth Line: You Get a Game 7, and You Get a Game 7…

These conference finals have been great for hockey fans, but bad for my blood pressure. If you’ve still got a team in the running, how’s your hypertension?

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This is pretty much how I’ve felt all series. Not always in a good way.

While four fanbases are preparing to celebrate or fall into despair, a couple of teams have added new coaches. The “New Coach Sweepstakes” is like the playoffs, but for teams that didn’t do so well. San Jose has given the reigns of their unhappy roster to Peter DeBoer, which… is a decision. The Buffalo Sabres, meanwhile, have brought in BGSU alumnus and snappy dresser Dan Bylsma to coach Jack Eichel and Evander Kane. It’s no Crosby and Malkin, but it seems like a good challenge for the former Penguins coach.

But we’re not here for coach news. We’re here for playoff hockey, which leaves us hyperventilating and lacking in sleep.
[Read more…]

the Fifth Line: Conference Finals, 2015 Edition

While we were all watching playoff hockey, another spectator added chum to the shark tank of off-season coaching vacancies.

Mike Babcock, whose Detroit Red Wings spent another postseason extending a record yet coming up way short of the Cup, has been given permission to shop his coaching talents to other teams.

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Babcock’s glare is so withering, it actually put out that terrifying AHL Flames mascot.

 

But for the moment, the courtship of Babcock takes a back seat to the four teams who’ve survived to the Conference Finals, including the new ‘comeback kids’ of the playoffs, the New York Rangers. Before we get to them, let’s look at the West:
[Read more…]

the Fifth Line: Who Needs OT?

Remember all those tense, amazing overtime games in round one?

Yeah, me too. Whatever happened to those? Or to series that went more than four or five games? Instead, playoff teams seem rather keen to make sure that NBC Sports Network gets us to Men in Blazers (relatively) on time.

Thankfully, Calgary and Anaheim gave us only our second OT game of round two, but even that was hockey gods deciding that Calgary didn’t deserve to get jobbed on that controversial no-goal call:

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No goal!

Aside from Calgary, though, all the other series are already one win away from being over. If New York, Minnesota, and Montreal can’t course-correct quickly, the second round may be one of the briefest playoff rounds in recent history. [Read more…]

the Fifth Line: Round Two

Welcome to the second round of the NHL playoffs!

It was a brilliant first round, and I surprised myself by getting seven out of eight series correct. Naturally, the only series I whiffed on involved the Flames, because of reasons not fully understood but easily summed up with this GIF:

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Anyway, time to prognosticate round two of the playoffs: [Read more…]

the Fifth Line: Jets Are the First Casualty

I am a Blackhawks fan, and therefore I am a very tired person.

The Blackhawks / Predators series is four games in, and their double-overtime game last week was eclipsed by a triple-overtime gem this week. The playoffs have also been a strain on my attention span because I’m constantly flipping between games. There have been few blowouts, which means trying not to miss a big event when flipping to the other game.

Before we get to the playoff recaps, though, let’s talk about the oil-covered elephant in the draft room.

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Balls.

[Read more…]

the Fifth Line: Bracket Time!

Woo-hoo! The NHL playoffs have begun! Someone find my blood pressure medicine and hide my tequila!

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Scott Darling made how many saves in relief of Corey Crawford?!

I kid. My blood pressure issues are completely untreated, and even if you hid my tequila, I have plenty of whiskey. Whatever your drink of choice, you probably needed it last night if you were a fan of any of the Western teams that played.

Before we dive into the playoff brackets, though, a few words on a recently-fired tank commander. [Read more…]