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Between the Dots: Even-tempered Blackhawks focused on task at hand

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks
Bill Smith / Chicago Blackhawks

We’re in the winning locker room, not that you would know it.

Oh, there was a short burst of yelling as the Blackhawks entered their quarters at the United Center following a 3-1 victory Saturday night in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final, but you’ll hear more screaming in your dentist’s office.

The Blackhawks have been fairly even-tempered all season, and apparently they aren’t about to change, even though they are one victory away from another championship after their 15th victory this postseason. Now, they’re acting as though they’ve won one game and need 15 more, instead of vice-versa.

Like a pro golfer who knows he’s in good shape during a Sunday final round, but refuses to look at the scoreboard lest it be a distraction, the Blackhawks figure the best vision is tunnel. Patrick Kane’s two goals and Corey Crawford’s effort were nice to see, but it’s time to eat. Pass the salt, and when’s the next game again?

Monday in Boston would be Game 6. Whether Jonathan Toews or Patrice Bergeron will partake is unknown. Toews, who had a target on his back early and often, did not step onto the ice after the second period except to congratulate teammates following a workmanlike performance before 22,274.

Reporters who flooded the locker room—now, you talk about a high post-game emotion—asked Joel Quenneville to provide details of his captain’s absence. All that Coach Q could supply was, we hope he’s ready for Monday night in Boston.

Meanwhile, Bergeron disappeared after only 11 shifts and six or so minutes of activity. At least Toews stayed on the bench. Bergeron appeared to skate rather gingerly upon finishing his last turn. He’s the Bruins’ best faceoff man and penalty killer. Toews is similarly important to the Blackhawks. Having both hurt would not be a trade that helps either team.

When Toews played, he assisted on both goals by Kane, who is a big game hunter. After the Blackhawks lost Game 3 in Los Angeles during a series that feels like it occurred eons ago, Kane bemoaned his lack of production. He was watching films with his dad; he was in a funk. Stan Bowman, the Blackhawks’ Vice President/General Manager, is a mentor of sorts to Kane, who lived with Bowman’s family as a rookie. Bowman reminded Kane how special he is and implored him to forget “the sheet,” as in the scoresheet.

“Goal scorers like to score goals or they lose confidence, even if they are playing well and not getting the breaks or bounces,” philosophized Bowman. “Patrick was playing fine, but the puck wasn’t going in for him.”

Kane scored in Game 4 the next night. That was his third goal of the postseason. Saturday night he notched his 8th and 9th and almost had a pure hat trick, via a pass from Toews. Those two superstars just click, and when they hook up with Bryan Bickell as a third, results can be gaudy.

Kane’s first on Saturday night finished off a pattern that featured a drive by Johnny Oduya, a broken stick for defenseman Dennis Seidenberg and a scrambling goalie Tuukka Rask who thought he had the puck’s path on his radar. Commotion before him changed that, and it was 1-0.

Crashing the net again paid for the Blackhawks when a three-on-two quarterbacked by Bickell afforded Kane a juicy opportunity he exploited with a quick backhand over Rask. As advertised, the Toews-Kane-Bickell firm took it to the Bruins regular five-man unit that includes Seidenberg and Zdeno Chara. The Blackhawks all but broadcast they had discovered an idea to counter Chara that was even wiser than cowering in his extended shadow. He was minus-2 Saturday night; in the shooting gallery that was Game 4, Chara was minus-3.

This giant man did rifle a puck early in the third to halve Chicago’s lead to 2-1, and the shot was such a blur, only the most stubborn critics could fault Crawford. His glove was fine Saturday night, so was his blocker, and last but not least, his mind is clear.

“I’m not really listening to it,” said Crawford of those who do not trust him. “Doesn’t affect what I do.”

The Bruins did throw a scare into the red sea in the United Center, but Crawford stood strong and then Dave Bolland found an empty net. The Bruins outhit the Blackhawks, 53-22, but the Blackhawks had more possession time, partly because they are trending upward in faceoffs: 33-24 in Game 5.

“Our job is to create a Game 7,” said coach Claude Julien of the Bruins, who won the 2011 Cup despite trailing the Final, 3-2, and facing a Game 7 in Vancouver. Maybe that’s why the Blackhawks are saving their voices.

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