Sunday, Nov. 21, 2010
By Chris Boden
After what happened 24 hours earlier in Calgary, Blackhawks fans needed a chuckle, and the team probably needed some affirmation. Leave it to the Canucks to provide just that. While we in Chicago might still wonder just what we have in these Blackhawks, the loyalists in the beautiful town in B.C. are probably wondering the same thing, just when they thought they made moves that would end in an ultimate celebration in that franchise's 40th anniversary.
6-0-1 at home. Seventeen points for the Sedins the previous four games. Newly acquired depth and skill on defense and some sandpaper and grit to stack behind two talented top lines. Result? Blackhawks 7, Canucks 1.
First Alain Vigneault had to pull Roberto Luongo (again) before the second period was out. He had to watch Sharp, Toews, and Kane score, and Hossa set up three of the four that chased his goaltender. Then he had to watch the Hawks' depth guys he thought they could neutralize this season light it up, too. It got to the point of frustration afterward that he mistakenly tried to call out Joel Quenneville for trying to run up the score further on a 5-on-3 while his Nuck-leheads were marching to the penalty box. Sorry, Alain, but double-check who actually was on the ice, and what the real top two Hawks power play units look like. You have our respect as a coach for just reaching 300 wins, but still, none of them have come against the Hawks in your two meetings this season. The season you didn't have to worry about Dustin Byfuglien four (or more) times and Ladd and Versteeg joining Dave Bolland to torment your top line.
Now, the Hawks move on on this trip to face the other Western contender who's been under their thumb the last couple of seasons. San Jose so far is, well, still San Jose. 9-6-4. Just when a convincing third straight win at home over Los Angeles last weekend gets people thinking they might be ready to get it together, they blow a 3-1 lead at Colorado to lose in overtime, then a 4-2 lead with three minutes left in Dallas to lose in overtime. They returned home Saturday night and got blanked 3-0 by a Columbus team that's believing more and more in itself, courtesy of Rick Nash's three goals and Mathieu Garon's third shutout.
Coach Todd McLellan never got a veteran, skilled replacement for Rob Blake following his retirement, though GM Doug Wilson made a bid for Niklas Hjlamarsson. Now these front offices, teams, Hjalmarsson, and, potentially, Antti Niemi cross paths for the first time since the Hawks swept the Sharks last May to punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals. McLellan has an interesting decision to make in goal. Antero Niittymaki was in net Saturday night, Niemi for the late collapse in Dallas. Niittymaki's been much better, and the team has played better in front of him, than Niemi. But does he hope to get Niemi on track by starting him versus his ex-teammates? It would certainly fire the Hawks up. But if they happen to light up Niemi like they did Luongo and the Canucks, the opposite could happen and Niemi might never get on track this season.
On the other hand, will Quenneville decide a second straight start could be in order for Corey Crawford, who's been getting better with each spot start and seems unfazed by what's generally been once-a-week playing time? If Niemi starts, it provides an appetizing storyline either way. He'd be facing the man who was signed to replace him in Marty Turco, or the goalie he barely edged out in backup competition to Cristobal Huet in training camp a year ago.
Chris Boden is the host of Blackhawks Pre- and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet.