VANCOUVER—After orchestrating yet another Closing Ceremony in this fine city, the Blackhawks adjourned to their locker room Tuesday night, single file. You expected to hear corks being popped, backs being slapped and voices being strained. You listened hard, but you heard none of the above.
“What will we do tonight?” pondered Brent Seabrook, who was brilliant on defense along with Duncan Keith throughout the series. “Probably go back to the hotel and play video games.”
Video games? This is a Blackhawk team that just waxed the Vancouver Canucks, 5-1, to go to the Western Conference final, 4-2, for the second consecutive May 11th. In a General Motors Place where the Canucks won 30 times during the regular season, the Blackhawks staged a three-peat of beatdowns. By the third period, seats were empty and fans were growling.
One customer flung a Vancouver jersey on the ice, and Brent Sopel, who once played here, reached for it with the end of his stick, hoisting the garment as though it were a dead fish. He did everything but hold his nose. I mean, the Blackhawks wiped those playoff beards off those faces of the hated Canucks in every which way, and to the victors go video games?
“If we get where we want to go,” continued Seabrook, “we will have all summer to celebrate. And we aren’t where we want to go yet.”
But the Blackhawks are going to San Jose, where they might not see the Sharks in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals until Sunday. And it’s only Tuesday night. Is there no statute of limitations on the Blackhawks maintaining a thoroughly restrained and professional approach to the marathon that is the Stanley Cup post-season? Can’t somebody in these visitors’ quarters start a food fight or something? Not even a pie-throwing contest?
“Last season, after getting this far, maybe we got a little too excited for the next round against Detroit,” recalled Kris Versteeg, who drilled Tuesday night’s unassisted winner past goalie Roberto Luongo only 36 seconds after Troy Brouwer—inserted into the lineup for Tomas Kopecky—redirected Patrick Sharp’s feed for the night’s first score early in the middle period. “I don’t think that will happen again.”
Not unless you get excited about video games, which apparently the Blackhawks do. Of course, they also get excited about drubbing a visceral rival by exhibiting energy and discipline against an opponent that welcomed Sami Salo back to its lineup after his upper lower middle body injury in Game 5, only to lose another blue liner when Dustin Byfuglien conspired to stencil Alex Edler into the end boards.
The Blackhawks got excited about Dave Bolland’s shorthander to make it 3-0, and after coach Joel Quenneville called for a time out in the third period, Patrick Kane and the Big Buff tallied so quickly—25 seconds apart—that it felt like…well…you were witnessing a video game.
“Yeah, that’s probably what we’ll do,” confirmed captain Jonathan Toews. “We have a couple big screens in our lounge back at the hotel. Whatever we do, we’ll do it together…as a team.”
That is not news. The Blackhawks stick together like blood brothers, even in a series that was supposed to become nasty but never really did. What characterized this Sybil of a series was a litany of rapid mood swings. The Canucks rolled in Game 1 at Chicago, where they mounted a 2-0 lead early in Game 2. The Blackhawks arose the best way they know how, as a unit, and seized control of this tournament. But they did that a year ago. Exactly a year ago. Why isn’t everybody going nuts and bolts?
“We are, yeah, but it’s a different feel this time,” mentioned Sharp. “Maybe last year, it was a little new to us and maybe we were overwhelmed or happy to be there. Not this time.”
“Is that why it’s so quiet in here?” he was asked. “Or are you guys waiting to let your hair down during the video games?”
“I don’t think,” concluded Sharp, “this would be a good night for us to go out in this town, anyway.”
It would not have been a good night for the Canucks to hit the streets either, because the streets might hit back at a team that promised it had learned a lot after last year, yet got schooled again by the same foe in similar fashion. The Blackhawks don’t go into a funk when they play a bad game, which might explain why they almost always respond with a strong effort.
That attitude certainly applies to goalie Antti Niemi, a proponent of selective amnesia who will be a terrific relief pitcher in his next life. The frugal Finn is not likely to develop an ulcer from his insane line of work. Blow a save here and there? What, me worry?
But that’s the Blackhawks. I don’t mean to say their locker room or their team bus was like a library Tuesday night. And to depict them as business-like is not to diminish them as boring. On the contrary. It’s just that after shaking hands with a bunch of Canucks who were shaking their heads, the Blackhawks resembled young men at their office, closing one deal, preparing for another.
Cool and calm. Those are admirable character traits, not easily taught or acquired, but invaluable if you might have to play 82 regular season games and 28 post season games.
Not counting, of course, the ever-present video games.