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The Verdict: Sudden death still hurts, and still works

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks

PHILADELPHIA—It hurts, Blackhawk fans, but what occurred in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final Wednesday night was the best way. To ancient team historians, who remember when dinosaurs roamed the earth and tie games were allowed, it was the only way.

Now, the modern NHL insists on identifying a winning team during the regular season by instituting a four-on-four skater format after 60 minutes of indecision. Then, if that doesn’t work, it’s a shootout. But in the playoffs, it’s old-fashioned sudden death, hockey the way it ought to be, at least to these eyes.

From October to April, it just feels a bit quirky. The product is presented in one form for three periods. Then, if there is a stalemate, the presentation changes. And then, should fewer players and more ice fail to resolve the issue, yet another system is introduced. Three different games rolled into one, or two too many.

Question: if that policy is so excellent, why is it changed during the playoffs? The Stanley Cup is the most difficult championship to attain, and the drama that accompanies the marathon is without peer in professional or amateur sports. That is why, for all the agony it caused in Chicago, Claude Giroux applied the purest punctuation when he scored 5:59 into overtime to afford the Philadelphia Flyers a 4-3 triumph over the Blackhawks, who still lead the tournament as Game 4 beckons here Friday night. Can you fathom settling a meat grinder like Wednesday night’s with a glorified skills competition?


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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Is this bash the NHL day? On the contrary. Twice on Wednesday night officials bowed to technology for video reviews. Twice a temporary pause in the action yielded correct outcomes. Compare this with baseball, where on the same evening, umpire Jim Joyce bungled a rather simple call at first base to deprive Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga of a perfect game. Joyce later confessed to his egregious gaffe. Referees Bill McCreary and Dan O’Halloran did not need to apologize. Visual proof saved them, and the league, from explaining.

Meanwhile, back at the drawing board, the Blackhawks did not practice Thursday. A meeting sufficed, perhaps to dissect special teams. There have been three one-goal games in this series, so the Flyers’ harvest of four power play tallies to Chicago’s none cannot be overlooked, or, for that matter, tolerated. At home, the Blackhawks often are accused of trying to choreograph highlight patterns, even though artistic merit counts the same in June as it does in January.

The suspicion exists that Michael Leighton, Philadelphia’s masked man, might be as annoyed as Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo by the presence of Dustin Byfuglien in front of the net, parlaying his wide body and boarding house reach. But 'Big Buff' is not touching the puck all that often, and the Flyers are more than happy to drop hints that they think Chris Pronger is getting into Byfuglien’s head, even if the Blackhawks aren’t thinking what the Flyers want them to think.

One truism of Stanley Cup playoffs is still valid, at least thus far: the longer you play, the fewer whistles you hear. The Blackhawks appear to be past the notion that they aren’t team tough enough. They’ve proven otherwise. But the Flyers are the Flyers, and if, say, they are inclined to commit twice as many fouls as the opposition, penalties are not likely to be issued accordingly. As one former Chicago Bear noted, you can get away with more funny stuff in the Super Bowl than any other game because it’s the Super Bowl. The zebras don’t want the NFL’s biggest show to be remembered as flag football.

Also, as captain Jonathan Toews mentioned, you’re in trouble if you try to alter your style because officials are every bit as interested in detecting retaliation as they are initiation. Being smart is imperative. Also, if you score here and there while the other team is shorthanded, that antidote tends to leave an impression.

“We’re upbeat and have a lot to be optimistic about,” concluded Toews. He, too, was peppered with suggestions from the media that Pronger had somehow seized control of this tournament by clearing out the slot with whatever it takes, or by clearing his throat with whatever comes to mind. This popular theory might not have legs if the Blackhawks, upon taking a 3-2 lead on a Toews to Patrick Kane breakaway, had been able to hang on for more than 20 seconds. That’s how long the Wachovia Center felt oddly quiet before the Flyers went the other way for a 3-3 tie.

The Blackhawks had an old fan in the building Wednesday night. Dale Tallon, recently named general manager of the Florida Panthers, expressed excitement about the good fortune of the Chicago franchise for which he played and worked. League GMs met in Philadelphia to discuss rules and regulations, then mostly scattered for the airport.

Stan Bowman of the Blackhawks remained in town, of course, and Thursday afternoon he was seen eating an orange as he strolled by the Flyers’ locker room. Orange is the color you see everywhere in Philadelphia, but it’s doubtful Bowman was trying to counter Pronger hysteria with a symbolic act.

Besides, with all us media types around, those sweet rolls go first and fast.

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