May Day, indeed. It’s never a real good sign when you send in your backup goalie to protect a five-goal deficit, but that’s the fix the Blackhawks were in Saturday night. You thought that horse blanket worn by Don Cherry, the great and colorful analyst for Hockey Night in Canada, was unsightly? At least we are guaranteed there is only one of those sports jackets; there can’t possibly be two.
Now if only the Blackhawks could promise their shellshocked fans that their 5-1 surrender to the Vancouver Canucks at the United Center will be the only one of its kind in this best-of-seven Stanley Cup playoff series. It’s a good thing the Blackhawks hate the Canucks, or the opener really would have gotten out of hand. The Blackhawks treated the Canucks like royalty instead of enemies. Considering the stakes, it will go down, way down, as perhaps the Blackhawks’ most disappointing effort during an otherwise brilliant season.
Where did the situation spin out of control? Was it when Patrick Kane failed to convert on a yawning net 12 minutes into a scoreless first period? Or was it when the Canucks nicked Antti Niemi for a second score at a completely unacceptable juncture, as in with 11 seconds remaining in the first period? By the end of the second period, it was 5-0, and the customers were booing. It was not Niemi’s finest hour, or even a real hour, because Cristobal Huet took over in the third.
Meanwhile, Roberto Luongo, who was supposed to be haunted by the Blackhawks and their building, didn’t look look too jumpy to these eyes. The Vancouver goalie stuffed a few early gestures, then witnessed a gradual takeover by his teammates, who appeared faster, stronger, and sharper. The Canucks dictated the tempo of the game and didn’t relent.
The Blackhawks, on their heels, couldn’t finish a sentence. It got so that Niemi trying to dish the puck off to defenseman Brent Seabrook, a few feet to the left, became an adventure. If only Niemi could be blamed totally, then cause and effect of the rout could be identified. But in post-game mortems, coach Joel Quenneville had the entire group in mind when he expressed unhappiness.
Home ice, thus far, has not been worth fighting for from October to April. In the first round of the playoffs, 49 games were played and the visitors won 27. In three series—Montreal vs. Washington, Ottawa vs. Pittsburgh and Detroit vs. Phoenix—there were five victories in each by the road team. This is an extraordinary pattern, and the Blackhawks chipped in by dropping their opener to Nashville at the United Center, 4-1.
One problem, not insignificant: the Canucks aren’t the Predators. As late as Game 3 in Nashville, also a 4-1 loss, the Blackhawks were dropping hints that they might have imagined the Predators would be easy, or at least disposed of without maximum effort. There is no way, if the Blackhawks thought this out clearly, that they could have figured the Canucks would be ripe.
Now the Blackhawks know for sure. Monday night could be the fork in the road.