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Between The Dots: Turco comes up big again

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks

What’s with Marty Turco? He couldn’t have No. 35 because it belonged to Tony Esposito, a Hall of Famer. So Turco took No. 30, and now he wants that sweater to wind up on the retired list too?

“Whoa, not so fast,” said the Blackhawks’ new masked man, who came up big again Wednesday night during a 2-1 shootout victory over the Vancouver Canucks at the United Center. It sort of felt like a playoff game between two visceral rivals — except, of course, that it was resolved in regular season fashion. All three snipers — Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane — converted against Roberto Luongo, who seemed oddly uncomfortable during the tiebreaking mechanism after an otherwise steady performance that included an overtime stop on Marian Hossa’s solo dash.

Turco, selected the No. 1 star of the Blackhawks’ fourth straight victory, faced eight shots during the overtime, yielded to Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler on wicked blasts in the shootout, but never did quite have to foil Vancouver’s third gunner. Mikael Samuelsson came in on net, put a move on Turco, who put a move on Samuelsson, who never managed to pull the trigger.

“I’m not sure what happened there,” said Turco, who is settling into his new role, as predicted by his idol. Turco will play behind a better defense than he did in Dallas, "Tony 0" foreceast, and it’s a defense that includes an “underrated” Nick Boynton. That’s Esposito’s word, and he appears to be onto something as it pertains to the blue liner who did not arrive in Chicago from Anaheim until last March.


Team historian Bob Verdi has covered sports for five decades, including more than 40 years as a columnist and contributor for the Chicago Tribune. Verdi authored "Chicago Blackhawks: Seventy-Five Years" in 2001.

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Wednesday night’s tilt started later than usual (8 p.m.) to accommodate fans in Vancouver, who no doubt are already wondering why the Canucks — a popular pick to dethrone the Blackhawks as Stanley Cup champions — are struggling. (Some of us are old enough to remember back in the stone ages, when hockey games at the Stadium began at 8:30 p.m.) After being flogged in Minnesota Tuesday night, the Canucks were motivated if not magnificent. Luongo held them in it for two periods, yielding only to Viktor Stalberg late in the first on a nice pattern arranged generated by Jake Dowell and Jack Skille.                

A thoroughly involved gathering of 20,859 — the 107th straight sellout at the UC — was anxious to vent, and had an opportunity midway in the second period when Tanner Glass honed in quite alone on Turco. The mobile masked man dashed out between the circles to separate Glass from the puck,  but the Vancouver forward tumbled in the process. Turco was whistled for tripping, much to the dismay of fans.

Tomas Kopecky served the two minutes, which the Blackhawks survived. Soon Kopecky was called for interference (it was not served by Turco), and the Blackhawks killed that penalty too with a snug defensive posture. The Canucks appeared to be hurrying a fair number of their shots, and it’s not because they were rushing for their plane to get back home and read the local newspapers about how they’ve snagged one of eight possible points on the road thus far.

Then again, if you allow them to linger and bang away repeatedly, you’re asking for trouble. On a power play with Duncan Keith sitting early in the third, the Canucks did just that with Daniel Sedin finally clicking from just in front of Turco and behind Brent Seabrook, whose back was to the play. That made it 1-1, which is how it stood until the shootout. The Blackhawks ran the table on Luongo without even using Hossa. Maybe that’s coach Joel Quenneville’s way of messaging the Canucks that the Chicago team, despite a summer of considerable roster upheaval, remains formidable.    

Wednesday’s game will add grist to recent taffy pulls between these sqauds.  In one memorable regular season tiff, the Canucks visited the United Center last March 5, a Friday night shortly after the Olympic break. Luongo, Canada’s gold medal goalie, was in the nets for Vancouver, and the Blackhawks — with three gold medalists of their own — showed Luongo no respect whatsoever, shelling him for five first period goals in a 6-3 triumph. The Canucks had won an earlier game at the UC, 3-2, and the Blackhawks replied with a 1-0 conquest in Vancouver during their long November “circus trip.” They also lost there, 5-1, during another marathon road trip in January.

Come playoffs, the Blackhawks won all three games in Vancouver, which is where discussions about mutual distaste reached a crescendo. A lot of names have changed, but apparently the status has not veered from quo. The Blackhawks don’t like the Canucks, and the Canucks don’t like the Blackhawks. There wasn’t much chippy evidence in support of that Wednesday night, but it’s only October, folks.

Besides, this is a good thing. The Blackhawks were liked for a long time throughout the National Hockey League. Opposing teams liked to play against them and opposing fans liked to have the Blackhawks in town. Everybody liked the Blackhawks, except maybe their fans.

That era is over.

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