As Marian Hossa
was saying, every visiting team gets excited about playing in the United Center. It is therefore incumbent on the incumbent Stanley Cup champions to respond accordingly, which the Blackhawks did Friday night.
They beat the Anaheim Ducks, the mighty Anaheim Ducks, 4-2. The Ducks had lost just one game since an early December conquest here, and this is their only defeat thus far in January, so it is understandable why even a grizzled veteran who has witnessed thousands of moods sensed a certain atmosphere within the sanctity of the room.
“You could feel intensity,” said Hossa, ubiquitous and useful before a pumped standing-room-only crowd of 22,064. He scored a shorthanded goal midway through the first period, then allowed regular breathing rhythms to resume with an empty-net tally after the Ducks had turned a 3-0 deficit into a one-goal game.
“Oh, they’re good,” continued Hossa. Indeed, Bob Murray, a former star defenseman with the Blackhawks, has constructed an estimable roster as general manager of the Ducks, coached by Bruce Boudreau, who also played here.
Anaheim had won eight in a row, and 18 of 19—enough of a splurge to get the attention of the Blackhawks, who put forth a thorough effort. After Hossa made it 1-0, Kris Versteeg (later wounded) doubled it, and Bryan Bickell’s speed burst effected a third marker against goalie Jonas Hiller, who has been on fire.
The Ducks, however, do not succumb easily. Corey Crawford foiled several shots before Bickell’s slump-breaker should have silenced the guests. Instead, Anaheim threw fear into the building with quick tallies by Ryan Getzlaf, a real handful, and Kyle Palmieri. Even when the Ducks lose, they leave you with heartburn and a lump in your throat.
We will take a guess that the Blackhawks did not weep when Anaheim was eliminated from the playoffs last spring, even if their conquerors, Detroit, were a problem requiring seven-plus games to dismiss. This year, the Blackhawks and Ducks seem destined to meet again, when the snow is gone, if not the potholes.
How important was Friday night? Of utmost importance, at least until Sunday, when it’s breakfast with the Boston Bruins at the United Center. The date: Jan. 19, exactly one year after the Blackhawks embarked on their short yet spectacular season in 2013.
In summary, it’s been a frenetic week for the Blackhawks. Despite Crawford’s acrobatic double stickless saves in Montreal, they lost in overtime, but only after Midnight Hawk, a Kentucky Derby candidate co-owned by Head Coach Joel Quenneville and his assistant Mike Kitchen, won another race. (If you keep track of such things, Midnight Hawk is 2-0 when the Blackhawks are in Canada.)
On Tuesday night, the Blackhawks fell at home to Colorado in sudden death, 3-2. For all their skill and ammunition, the Blackhawks have been underwhelming in overtime, having not won in an extra period since Brent Seabrook ended a classic Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final last June. The defending champions are 0-5 in overtime this season, no less an aberration than the millstone of 0-for-9 in shootouts worn by offensive prodigy Patrick Kane.
But Kane did create a minor headline when he directed a puck into his own cage during a victory here over Edmonton last Sunday. While on a power play, Kane fired the puck off the boards, and it meandered 200 plus-feet, nothing but net. Boyd Gordon, the last Oiler to have possession, was credited with the goal while he sat on the bench after a change. Antti Raanta, pulled for a sixth skater, watched helplessly, but was spared the statistical damage. The tally is recorded as an empty-net shorthanded goal and does not count against his average.
Observing this oddity was Steve Smith, a former Blackhawks defenseman and an assistant coach with the Oilers. With Edmonton in 1986, Smith infamously banked a puck off Oilers goalie Grant Fuhr in Game 7 of a playoff series against archrival Calgary. The Flames won the game and advanced. Smith, on his 23rd birthday, was crushed. He cried a river. The Oilers had won two straight Stanley Cups and proceeded to win the next two. In 1987, when they clinched, Wayne Gretzky’s first Cup handoff went to Smith.
Speaking of giveaways, Sunday’s late morning national telecast against the Bruins will mean Brandon Saad bobbleheads for the first 10,000 spectators. The Blackhawks’ talented “Man-Child” thus follows his pal, Andrew Shaw, whose bobblehead was the featured souvenir Friday night. Even before he saw his likeness, “The Mutt” braced for intramural backlash.
“I’ve got no chance,” sighed Shaw. “If my bobblehead doesn’t look anything like me, guys in the room are going to let me have it. If my bobblehead looks exactly like me, if it’s the spitting image, they’ll still give me grief. Then they’ll just say it’s ugly.”