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…
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?
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.
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…