In my 28 years as a fan of the teams that call the city of Chicago home, I’ve learned that the Chicago sports fan base tends to be a cynical, pessimistic bunch. And can you blame us? Since the turn of the century it’s had to deal with the nightmare of the Bartman game as well as a fourth-and-eight in a regular season finale and DEAR GOD WHY ISN’T ANYONE COVERING RANDALL COBB?!
But I don’t bring up these painful memories to cause you more pain. I bring them up because you must not carry the weight of those burdens with you when following this Blackhawks team. They are a beast more like the Michael Jordan-led Bulls than like any of the depression-inducing teams we’ve been following in my lifetime.
This team is not dead and this series is not over.
Your first dose of optimism comes from a quick history lesson. Anaheim held a 3-2 series lead in its second-round matchup with the Los Angeles Kings last season. LA held home ice with a 2-1 win in Game 6 and then scored five unanswered goals in the first two periods to end the Ducks’ season. So, Anaheim’s been here before in the very recent past against a similar opponent and couldn’t get the job done.
And what else is left about this Anaheim team that the Blackhawks can’t solve? Early in the series it was goalie Frederik Andersen who seemed impenetrable in the Anaheim net, stopping 61 of 62 shots in Games 2 and 3. But in the last two nights, the Hawks have lit him up for nine goals, with several of those goals being generously surrendered by Andersen. The Ducks’ top line of Maroon-Getzlaf-Perry has not run wild, scoring just four goals in the five games of this series. Kesler’s line has had its moments (including the OT winner in Game 5) but they’ve been matched by the production of the Saad-Toews-Hossa line for Chicago.
Meanwhile, the Hawks scoring depth is picking up steam late in a series again, with the Sharp-Vermette-Teravainen line potting a pair of goals in Game 5 thanks to one blunder by Andersen and one nifty pass from Teravainen.
The Ducks still don’t have the scoring depth to match the Hawks. The Ducks still don’t have the defensive depth to keep up with the Hawks forward depth. Even in a game where the Hawks played as bad as they possibly could in the first period, the possession numbers turned in their favor well before the midpoint of the game and stayed that way.
Even if you account for score effects, the Hawks pulled ahead of the Ducks in possession by 4 minutes into the 2nd.
— Andrew Berkshire (@AndrewBerkshire) May 26, 2015
Those possession numbers have largely been in their favor for the most of this series, too.
Last, and definitely not least: there’s a certain player we haven’t heard from much in this series. A guy with only two points (both goals) in the first five games of this series. Let’s look at his numbers from the last eight playoff series that he’s finished.
6 Games Played, 2 goals + 5 assists = 7 points
4 GP, 5 G + 1 A = 6 P
6 GP, 3 G + 3 A = 6 P
6 GP, 3 G + 1 A = 4 P
7 GP, 2 G + 8 A = 10 P
5 GP, 0 G + 5 A = 5 P
7 GP, 2 G + 2 A = 4 P
5 GP, 4 G + 1 A = 5 P
These numbers belong to Patrick Kane. His two points in five games are, by far, the lowest number he’s had in the last three postseasons. In last year’s Western Conference Final, he had just five points in the first five games before doubling that output in the final two while pulling the Hawks to the brink of a Cup repeat. I have a hard time believing we won’t be hearing from him — and loudly — in Game 6 (and 7, if necessary, of course).
I’ll admit to underestimating the Ducks, as I was calling for this series to be over in four or five games at the absolute most. But unlike the Kings in last year’s postseason, I’m not as horrified of the prospect of winning the last two games — including a Game 7 on the road — to reach the Stanley Cup Final.
It won’t be easy. It won’t be fun. But I have a warning for those of you who are already making plans for what’s scheduled to be a Game 7 on Saturday night.
Proclaim the death of this Blackhawks team at your own peril.