Just think. If the Blackhawks win Monday night, they are done with the Nashville Predators until October at the earliest. What greater incentive could a team possibly have?
“They’re everywhere, like bad mosquitos,” said Marian Hossa, who scored 4:07 into overtime at the United Center to provide the Blackhawks a crazed 5-4 victory Saturday.
“It’s like they always have too many men on the ice,” added Kris Versteeg moments after the Blackhawks assumed a 3-2 lead in this best-of-seven Stanley Cup playoff series that cannot be compared with root canal surgery for one reason: At least you get a needle when you’re in the chair. The Predators don’t come with an anesthetic, nor do they offer one. They just cling to you, like a sweater that’s two sizes too small. When you play against Nashville, you not only feel you’re being checked. You feel like you’re being audited.
I asked Hossa, a creative sort, whether playing for the Predators would be even more frustrating than playing against them.
“Oh, that is a tough question,” said Hossa, who was serving a five-minute boarding major when Patrick Kane tied the game 4-4 late, very late, in the third period. The Blackhawks killed Nashville’s extended powerplay to begin overtime, and then along came Hossa, whom several Predators thought should have been in civilian clothes at that point after he pushed Dan Hamhuis into the boards—not unlike, claimed the visitors, Alex Ovechkin drilled Brian Campbell onto the disabled list last month.
The Blackhawks might have taken control Saturday after Tomas Kopecky tallied to make it 3-1, but then they embarked on what was a poor excuse for a power play. The Predators—who aren’t much with the man advantage in this series, either—scored while shorthanded. The time was 17:31 of the second period and it was on Nashville’s seventh shot of the game. That’s all you need to know about why the Blackhawks should be motivated to close this series in six, then spray themselves.
The Blackhawks were perilously close to being 60 minutes away from summer. But they rallied, and only then could they find humor in an odd circumstance that occurred with 3:33 to go in the first period. After a rush on Antti Niemi, the rookie goalie could not produce the puck for a faceoff. It was not in his net, and he did not swallow it. Was it an upper body disappearing act, or a lower body disappearing act?
“I never felt anything and I think it got stuck here,” said Niemi, pointing to a contraption that protects his collarbone. Before the puck reappared, officials searched the masked man’s equipment in every discreet way shy of requiring Niemi to undress before 22,115 fans, many of them women and children. Perhaps the striped shirts remembered the infamous game at Wrigley Field in 1959 when two baseballs were alive, even if the Cubs weren’t.
Stan Musial drew at walk on a wild pitch and tried to take second. Alvin Dark, the Cub third baseman, threw the original ball toward second while pitcher Bob Anderson did likewise with a new ball issued by the plate umpire. Harry Caray, broadcasting for the St. Louis Cardinals, must have thought he’d had one too many. Naturally, the Cardinals won 4-1.
Whatever, as explained by Mick McGeough, the former NHL referee who was the supervisor at the United Center Saturday, the puck had to be located because if another had been put into play, the first one could have popped out and caused massive confusion. Officials on the ice frisked Niemi and eventually called upstairs to McGeough, who basically acts as a conduit between the rink and mission control in Toronto. It’s conceivable a call would have been placed to Canada for assistance finding the puck in Chicago—and on national TV, no less—but after a short period of time, the puck fell from Niemi’s garments.
If you’ve ever studied goalie’s equipment, you understand you can lose a puck in all that stuff. Heck, you can lose a small pet in all that gear.
Now, can the Blackhawks play a complete Game 6 and lose the Predators?