Thoughts from the Dugout: A Royal Occasion

gordon home run

I may or may not need to write about Games Six and Seven on Monday. The way the Kansas City Royals are playing baseball, this series could be wrapped up by Saturday night. Or I could be back here on Monday talking about the resurgent New York Mets, their ability to overcome the odds, and their triumph in the face of a growing cultural consensus that this year is KC’s year.

Instead, let’s talk about the despondency of being a fan, and of what it means to be a sports fan.

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Thoughts From The Dugout: World Series Preview

Image of Eric Hosmer

At this time last year, I was alternating between performances of a show at Second City (I was one of six co-writers in the Advanced Writing program) and running to the nearby Old Town Social or catching the Clark bus to walk to Murphy’s Bleachers to catch the tail ends of a thrilling postseason. It was a fantastic time to be writing, and a splendid time to write about baseball – and like many other Americans, I fell in love with the Royals. Which made the climax of the World Series that much harder, as they were stifled by the heroics of Madison Bumgarner (still the best postseason pitching performance I’d seen since probably Josh Beckett in ’03 and ’07.

I didn’t think the Royals could come back. Too many things worked against them. Their success was a fluke, a combination of momentum and luck that couldn’t be equaled.

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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…

BESTPIX - 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Three

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.
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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:
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