Sunday, May 30, 2010
By Brett Ballantini
CHICAGO With six days to anticipate their first taste of Stanley Cup action, and five of them spent answering endless questions about their first taste of Stanley Cup action, you can forgive the Chicago Blackhawks if they spent much of Saturdays opener as if playing hopscotch on a minefield.
The excitement, and in most cases, jitters, hit immediately, well before first puck drop.
That was nuts! Blackhawks forward Kris Versteeg said after the game. I couldn't hear national anthem singer Jim Cornelison. I had chills. That was amazing. It beat even the Winter Classic."
We stepped out on the ice and it was the best feeling Ive ever had in my whole life, said Chicago defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, a week shy of his 23rd birthday and the Blackhawks third-youngest player. My whole body felt shellshocked.
Even the First Star of the game and author of a pair of goals, Troy Brouwer, couldnt escape the jitters.
It was a little nerve-wracking, thats for sure, he said. Some of the guys, its their first time in the Finals. Nerves might have had a little to do with it, Im not going to lie to you.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville last night called the first period jittery and mentioned that even in the second, we were a little bit more emotional than we normally are. On Sunday, his new term for last nights playing style was scrambly, clearly expecting improvement the next time out: I know we have to be better than we were off of those levels last night.
While no one is making the argument that Chicagos minty fresh experience in the Stanley Cup Finals is an excuse for the mostly sloppy play of Game 1after all, the Blackhawks boast three players whove previously skated over an iced Stanley Cup logo, the Philadelphia Flyers just onebut the inherently-overwhelming nature of the game did throw a number of Hawks off.
Dont count center Dave Bolland, defenseman Brent Seabrook, or forward Marian Hossa among them, however.
Bolland claimed before Game 1 that he would look at the Stanley Cup Finals as just another series of games, and the youngster has just enough of a genial poker face to believe him. And one day later, his tune hadnt changed.
Once that first faceoff was done, that was about it in terms of nerves, Bolland said matter-of-factly. Pretty much when the game started, just getting going was the main thing.
Last night, Hossa was cited for a phenomenal game by most any observer, including teammate Patrick Sharp, who tabbed the veteran as Chicagos best forward of the night. As a veteran of the last two Stanley Cup Finals, with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings, and as one of the most confident skaters on the ice to begin with, it should have come as no surprise.
Ive been in these kinds of games before, so you try to keep your composure, Hossa said. I try to keep on my game, not trying to run around and be somebody else. I tried to play the same way I always do.
Hossas remarks were in direct contrast of the range of emotions a younger and less experienced player, like Hjalmarsson, went through. The Babyfaced Gangster admitted yesterday that for he and his teammates, we have to control our emotions and not just run around, and thats what we were doing tonight.
In a game as crazy as Saturdays, Seabrook might have had the strangest range of experiences. He took nine stitches after falling to the ice in a pileup early on, had his chops busted with a blow to the teeth on a follow-through stick, but somehow survived to make play of the game midway through the third, keeping a puck in the offensive zone by skating backward and falling over, leading eventually to Tomas Kopeckys game-winning goal.
No, it wasnt what I expected, Seabrook said of the game as a whole, and the beginning in particular. I thought Id be a lot more nervous than I was.
I did have some jitters. Getting piled on top of, guys falling on me, and having my head bouncing off of the ice shook away all of my nerves right away, though.
Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Hawks information.