I liked the Blackhawks' pace Sunday night. They played with their hair on fire starting from the first face-off. They took a page from the Philadelphia Flyers and even improved on it.
There weren't enough scoring opportunities to satisfy all the Chicago on-ice snipers who wanted a shot at Michael Leighton, who turned into his natural orange color -- as a pumpkin -- by the end of the first period.
Now, all the Hawks need to do is bottle that frantic pace for Game 6 in Philadelphia. Forget the crowd, forget the ghost of Kate Smith singing "God Bless America" before the game, forget the fact it's a road game.
Just win, baby. Because the Hawks cannot afford to let this go to Game 7. At all costs. Avoid it like the plague.
Ah, but you play all season to gain home-ice advantage. And the Hawks have a game in hand at the United Center Friday night for the winner-take-all, eh?
In all other cities, that's logical. But this is Chicago. Too much history. Too much hubris.
Those too young will have to look up the details. We're not rehashing them here, because they're too painful for those old enough to remember. It still hurts, to the core.
Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, Chicago Stadium, May 18, 1971. Hawks leading the Canadiens 2-0 midway through the second period...
Assorted Cubs postseason elimination contests where they were leading in games won or leading in mid-game...
Mothers Day 1975, Chicago Stadium. Bulls lead the Warriors 3-games-to-2 going into Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals...
The Flyers stink too much of a team of destiny. They're a '69 Mets-like team with a lot more physicality. Put them in a Game 7 after what they've been through, coming back from impossible odds, and goofy things can happen on Chicago soil...er, ice.
Somehow, some way, the Hawks have to bottle that frantic effort from Game 5, matching Flyers' fire with fire.
Glad to see the Hawks finding the motivation in themselves, in their own pride, not falling back on the "skills" team bragged about constantly by Jonathan Toews. The Flyers also have skills, with grit and hunger piled on top, too. The latter qualities go a long way in a championship round. The Hawks don't need Coach Q handling a hot poker on the bench to make sure the Hawks return to a hot seat if they become laggards.
They'll require the same hair-on-fire effort in Game 6. And continuing tightening the defense around Antti Niemi. He's starting to show cracks, fatigue, whatever, the longer the Finals go.
I liked Coach Q's line changes. Keep 'em fresh. Like a pair of local baseball teams' lineups, things go stale after awhile. I particularly am intrigued by Marian Hossa playing on Toews' line. The captain says anyone could score on his line. Hossa is overdue to score, big. To quote another Captain, Picard, "make it so," Jonny. The team's best-paid player needs someone to set him up properly. Hossa scoring at the right time in the right place can be a back-breaker for the opposition.
It was also fun to see Chris Pronger finally whistled in the Finals, and the penalty costing the Flyers as the crafty psych-out artist ended up a minus-5. But while Pronger is creating mayhem on the ice, let's hope his younger foes are taking notes. That's an invaluable education the Hawks are getting from Pronger, Chicago's Public Enemy No. 1. Ten years from now, wise and wizened, a Dustin Byfuglien could get away with the stuff Pronger does via reputation and seniority, after having learned from the master. It's the same concept as Greg Maddux calling your pitches.
Bottom line would be the site of Toews, Hossa, Big Buff, Patrick Kane, et. al. skating around Wachovia with the Cup Wednesday as the jaws drop and the epithets fly from the assembled orange crush of fans. I just cannot be confident of that same sight Friday night back home.
If the Hawks hurried their pace in Game 5, they have to jump to a higher warp to finish it off, fast, in Philly.