Monday, April 25, 2011
Check out my examination of the 10 predictions I see for the Blackhawks coming up in the off-season.
I as many of you are gearing up for what will be one of the biggest non-title series games in Chicago sports history. Can you name a game that seemed bigger in recent memory? The Bears/Packers and White Sox +1 game come to mind. This Canucks/Hawks game seems up there.
Along with the Bulls game that may send them to the 2nd round, it should be an interesting Tuesday night.
Any predictions for tomorrow night?
I say Bulls by 11.
BULLS 98 PACERS 87
And, the Blackhawks win in what would be one of the great sports comebacks of all-time.
BLACKHAWKS 3 CANUCKS 1
Saturday, April 16, 2011
Many players have played between the pipes for the storied Chicago Blackhawks. Some have shined under the bright lights; while others have faltered and crumbled.
But, when it truly counts is the post-season where a goalies legacy is made one way or the other. The Blackhawks have won the Stanley Cup four times since they broke into the league in the 1920's, and all four times they had a different netminder.
Some goalies came and went; while others have their banners hanging in the rafters at the United Center. The good ones are still revered in Chicago to this day, and celebrated for their numerous accomplishments in net.
Young Corey Crawford has yet to fully set his playoff legacy down in his first experience as the Blackhawks starting goalie. Perhaps in a short amount of time he can grace the list, and prove himself to be one of the greats.
This is a list of the top playoff net-minders for the Blackhawks through the years in playoff time.
10. "The Dominator" Dominik Hasek
The list of goalies that had legitimate time in net for the Blackhawks during the playoffs is not that long as you may think. Since 1930, around 19 goalies have started the majority of playoff games for the Blackhawks in the post-season.
So, naturally one of the greats of all-time barely gets on the list despite not having alot of time starting in a Blackhawks uniform.
"The Dominator" who is a future Hall of Famer got his start in the NHL with the Blackhawks, but spent much of three seasons backing up Ed Belfour. Hasek would show signs of his future brilliance in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals in 1992 against the Penguins in a losing effort.
9. Jocelyn Thibault
Widely popular during his five seasons as the Blackhawks goalie, Jocelyn Thibault was the starter when the Blackhawks made the playoffs in 2002. They would be bounced out quickly in the opening round, but it still was a nice change of pace during a dry spell in Blackhawks history.
He did not have alot of success in that playoff run, but he would carry his success that season into an All-Star year the following season.
8. Denis DeJordy
Denis DeJordy holds the distinction of being the man who was around in between the two great goalies in Blackhawk history in Glenn Hall and Tony Esposito. He was the back-up when they won the Cup in 1961, and handed the starting spot to Esposito when it was time.
Along the way he shared the Vezina Trophy with teammate Glenn Hall in 1967. The best run that he had in the playoffs was in 1968 when he started in net when the Blackhawks made it all the way to the Conference Finals.
7. Nikolai Khabibulin
If this was a list of the Lightning all time playoff goalies, Nikolai Khabibulin would for sure be atop the list. But, it is not, and Khabibulin only had one run in the playoffs with the Hawks, and it was quite successful.
The prized free agent signing after the NHL Lockout was this Russian goalie. He was coming off the Stanley Cup victory with Tampa Bay, and alot of Blackhawks fans were expecting good things right away.
It took Khabibulin and the Blackhawks a few seasons to reach the playoffs, and when they did; they went all the way to the Conference Finals. Khabibulin played his best hockey against the likes of Calgary, Vancouver, and Detroit before an injury, and was a key reason that team went on a run.
6. Ed Belfour
Eddie "The Eagle" Belfour emerged on the scene in the late 1980's, and quickly became one of the most popular and best goaltenders in the NHL.
Belfour saw alot of time in seven different playoff appearances for the Blackhawks. His best run was in 1992 when he was the starting goalie when the Blackhawks made it to the Stanley Cup.
He was a two-time Vezina winner with the Blackhawks, and would go onto winning a Cup with Dallas in his illustrious career.
5. Antti Niemi
In the hearts of Blackhawk fans everywhere, Antti Niemi will forever mean alot to them, and will not be seen as being a 'one-hit wonder'.
Niemi was in net for all 16 playoff wins last season as the Blackhawks cruised through the playoffs to the title win. He was the first Blackhawk goalie to get a shutout since Ed Belfour, and the first to have two shutouts in one series since Tony Esposito.
Though he was one of the many casualties of the salary cap purge of the off-season, he still created alot of classic memories in the city of Chicago.
4. Murray Bannerman
Following a legend in net in Tony Esposito, Murray Bannerman ended up carving his own place in Blackhawks history serving in net for many seasons throughout the 1980's.
He got things going in his starting career in the playoffs in 1982. He led the Blackhawks to big wins on the road that led to a series win over the North Stars. His best year with the Hawks was in 1985 when he brought them to the Conference Finals. He would go on to play 40 games in net in the playoffs for the Blackhawks, and become a fan favorite.
3. Chuck Gardiner
The goalie for the first Blackhawks team to capture the Stanley Cup was one of the game's all-time greats Chuck Gardiner.
Gardiner was a two-time Vezina winner who was the only goalie to be named captain, and lead his team to the Stanley Cup. He was terrific in the 1931 playoffs, but his greatness will always be remembered for his '34 campaign. He went 6-1-1 in 8 games with a 1.33 goals against average. This was all while not revealing an illness.
He was playing with a tonsillar infection that would weaken him during games, but he didn't allow it to affect his play. He would play with terrible illness throughout the playoffs.
He ended up dying that year at the age of 29 from a brain hemorrage brought on by the infection.
He is still regarded as one of the great's to ever play, and is the first great Blackhawk.
2. 'Tony O' Tony Esposito
Hall of Famer and legend Tony Esposito was a pioneer and terrific goalie throughout his oustanding career. He was in net for the Blackhawks during the playoffs in 14 different seasons.
He was a catalyst in bringing the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup twice in 1971 and 1973. He also was a three-time Vezina winner while wearing the Blackhawk uniform.
His accomplishments are long and many, and his impact on the Blackhawks is still being felt to this day, but it is clear that 'Tony O' was one of a kind.
1. 'Mr. Goalie' Glenn Hall
Let the debate rage on who is the top goalie in franchise history when it comes to the playoffs. You can't go wrong when you are talking about 'Tony O' and 'Mr. Goalie' Glenn Hall. Both are Hall of Famers and have their names and numbers hanging high and proud in the United Center ceiling.
But, Glenn Hall takes the top spot on this list because he revolutionized many aspects of the game in net. With his butterfky style he brought the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup in 1961, and got the victory. His consistency and dominance for not only the Blackhawks, but several other teams is admired to this day.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
After a bye week in which the Hawkeyes will get a chance rest up and prepare for the always daunting Big Ten Schedule; they will have to be ready to take on the Penn State Nittany Lions.
If the Hawkeyes are in fact coming in at 4-0 as I have them pegged in to be, this could really be a game that defines alot of what is at stake in the conference.
The Nittany Lions are on the other side of the tracks in the conference as a member of the Leaders division. Many had the Buckeyes of the Ohio State as the clear favorite to win that conference, and be the representative in the inaugural bowl game December 3rd in Indianapolis.
Alot has changed in the past few months. With the swirling stench of scandals surrounding Jim Tressel and his team, the leaders could be anyone's division to win. Wisconsin has lost alot in the form of graduation, and players testing their medal in the NFL.
Indiana and Purdue don't seem to have the talent to represent their home state in the title game next year, and Illinois may be a sleeper, but will be very few people's picks to win the leaders in 2011.
That leaves Joe Paterno and the Nittany Lions as a team hat could give a fight to sit atop the conference. Penn State will have a more matured Matt McGloin at quarterback next season as he looked more and more comfortable as the season went on save the Outback Bowl against the Florida Gators.
PSU will learn early in the year if they have something special. They will be taking on the Crimson Tide of Alabama in the second week of the season. They were troused on the road last year when they traveled to Tuscaloosa, but this one will be in Beaver Stadium.
"Zombie Nation" and 110,000 will be looking forward to a possible upset against a team that is getting alot of hype to bring home the National Championship. Besides Alabama, the Nittany Lions do not face a difficult non-conference schedule before taking on the Hoosiers to open things up.
That is why a win over Bama' could possibly pit two undefeated teams against one another. Though this could be wishful thinking on one Hawkeye fans part. It might not be that unlikely. It would make a rivalry that has been in the spotlight over the last few years even bigger.
Kirk Ferentz has certainly had the upper hand in recent years against his homestate Nittany Lions. Two of the games in the last three years have been very compelling dog-fights that were decided on one big play.
I think that this will be the occasion for Broderick Binns to shine on the national spotlight as Ricky Stanzi, Adrian Clayborn, and Shonn Greene did in the previous installments.
The crowd will be the most hostile and intimidating that the Hawkeyes will have faced to that point. The schedule shelters them in that sense for the first month so Beaver Stadium may be alot to take in for some of the first time participants.
With both teams somewhat flying under the radar with no preseason ranking likely, it would not be shocking to see these two teams have another classic. And, let's hope that decent history comes through.
SUPER EARLY PREDICTION!
Hawkeyes 27 Nittany Lions 21
Sunday, April 10, 2011
Pins and needles.
That was what Blackhawk fans everywhere were on when following the action of the Minnesota Wild and Dallas game on Sunday evening.
In what was as stressful for some as watching a game seven of a playoff game; the Wild gave the Blackhawks the gift of post-season play. In the spirit of last season for Chicago, a player named Antti came up big for the Blackhawks when they needed it most.
But, it was not Antti Niemi this time as another Finnish player in Antti Miettinen scored the go-ahead goal for Minnesota that would lead to the eventual 5-3 victory.
The Blackhawks who were no doubt as distraught as they could be after the dejecting lose to the rival Red Wings earlier in the day; now have a second life as they have the opportunity to again march towards the Stanley Cup.
It was a relief for the team to get the final spot, and with a tied game going into the third period in Minnesota, it was anyone's game.
But, for the team that brought professional hockey back to the state of Minnesota, it was a small measure of redemption as they knocked out the Stars who were the former team in town; dropping the "North" after moving to Texas.
But, despite that being nice for the Minnesota fan contingent, it was not what the Blackhawks were cheering for.
That win took the Blackhawks out of the running of being a Stanley Cup champion team that did not make the playoffs in the next season. But, they will not join that group that only a handful of teams are apart of, and has not inducted a new member in five years.
It will be nice to celebrate getting into the playoffs for a brief period of time, but the most daunting of tasks lies ahead.
The Canucks are the team that the Blackhawks will be forced to play in the first round of the dance, and it will be very interesting if they can exorcise the demons that have been the Blackhawks in their playoff runs of the last two seasons.
The Canucks are the top dogs in the Western Conference, and the league for that matter with the President's Trophy already in hand. They will not have to deal with players like Dustin Byfuglien and Antti Niemi that have given them fits in the past are not going to be in the game.
Dave Bolland's status is still up in the air for the series. If he could come back and make any impact on stopping the Sedin's it would be an invaluable help in possibly winning the series.
Some feel as I do that the Canucks would be the best matchup for the Blackhawks in the first round. That will reveal itself soon, but it no doubt will be a fun series to see.
They say that good things come in three's. Let's hope that this is true, and the Blackhawks can knock out the Canucks in the playoffs for the third straight season.
Saturday, April 9, 2011
10/01 BYE WEEK
The Hawkeyes have a much needed bye week before the start of Big Ten play in the 2011 season at the beginning of October.
With the Spring game next weekend, it is fun to take a look at where the Hawks could be in seven months. From the previous previews/predictions that you might have read on here you may have learned that I feel this Hawkeyes team will in fact be 4-0 going into the bye week.
Tennessee Tech Fun Blowout Win
@Iowa State Close Rival Win
Pitt Sweat One Out Win
Louisiana-Monroe Trapgame Win
Why would I consider the ULM game a trap?
Simply because that is a team that has 20 starters returning, and they will already have played some top 15 teams before reaching Iowa City. Plus, the Hawkeyes could be looking ahead to a week off for R&R. But, I don't think Coach Ferentz will allow such a thing to happen.
4-0 should put the Hawkeyes in the Top 25 in the Nation at that point, and would put a National spotlight on the Penn State game the following week. I will venture more into the PSU matchup; which could feature a real sleeper to win the conference next season in the Nittany Lions.
The other Legends division teams stack up in very interesting manners in that first month of the season.
Michigan plays the typical directional schools in a couple matchups, but also plays new coach Brady Hoke's old team. They also will be facing off with a potential BCS game contender in Notre Dame in their annual battle.
Michigan State is some pundits early selection to win the Big Ten next season after a magical season last year (besides the bowl game and trip to Kinnick). They do not play a rough schedule in the month of September except for the game against ND.
Minnesota is going to have to run through the hardest schedule that first month of any Legend members. This is not good for coach Kill &company. They travel to Southern Cal to take on Lane Kiffin and the Trojans to open the year. They also play Miami (OH) which will not be an easy game by any account.
New Big Ten member Nebraska will also be a team that alot of people see winning the conference in their inaugural season. They have three home games to open things up; including bouts with WAC power Fresno State and also with Jake Locker-less Washington. It will be interesting to see if they can rebound from the shocking bowl upset at the hands of the Huskies.
The NU Wildcats are hoping that Dan Persa is at full strength by the time they play at Boston College to open things up next season. They only have three games before their first bye of the season, but also have to travel to Army; which will be no gimme.
So, it could be very possible that the Hawkeyes could be in control of the division by the time they go to Happy Valley to try to beat JoePa again.
Not since the Twins-White Sox play-in game for the AL Central title a couple years ago has Chicago had such a meaningful regular season game come along for one of its sports teams.
The Blackhawks/Red Wings game on Sunday morning will see a capacity crowd at the United Center cheer on the defending champions in a game that could make or break their playoff chances.
The particulars and what-ifs are fairly simple when broken down.
The Blackhawks need a win or have to take the game into overtime against the veteran Red Wings. It will be a playoff atmosphere that will test the resolve of young goalie Corey Crawford who has been brilliant as of late when the team has needed him most.
The Red Wings do not have that much to play for in terms of dire need for a win. But, they will no doubt like to knock out their chief rival, and make them the 1st team in five years to not make the playoffs after raising the Cup the previous year.
The Red Wings have been outstanding on the road this season, and it has been a big reason that they won the division, and are looking at a 1st round matchup with the Los Angeles Kings already.
The Blackhawks have been decent at home, but have not defended the 'Madhouse' as well as they did last season when it was near impossible for visitors to walk out victorious.
Of course, the Blackhawks wouldn't mind some help from the Minnesota Wild who will be taking on the Dallas Stars who are the only team that can rip the 8th seed out of the Blackhawks hands. Though the Stars have had the Wilds' number this season; it could be much more interesting then some predict.
Minnesota-- which is known as a hotbed of hockey lost their team (North Stars) all those years ago to Dallas; which was thought of as an oblivious city when it game to the game.
The Wild fans surely would like nothing less then to eliminate the Stars from playoff contention. Even taking the Stars to overtime would get the job done for the Blackhawks.
If the Blackhawks do not perform as needed against Detroit on Sunday; many people will be watching the Wild/Stars in the evening with great interest in the league's final game before the playoffs.
But, with the way that Minnesota has played in the last part of the season; the Blackhawks cannot count on them for anything.
So, the Hawks' will need to play like they did in the Friday night victory in Detroit on Friday, and they will write their ticket to play in Vancouver sometime next week. And, I feel that playing the Canucks in the 1st round would be the best case scenario for this Blackhawks team.
The other options are not around anymore for Coach Quenneville and his team. Moving up to a possible 6th or 7th seed in the West is no longer available as the Kings and the Phoenix Coyotes did not falter down the stretch winning 6 and 7 respectively in their last 10 games.
With a win the Blackhawks will in fact bring about one of the great 1 vs 8 playoff matchups in recent memory. The different story lines for that series would be extremely interesting with the heated affairs of recent years in both regular season, and Blackhawk playoff wins.
Not since the series of 2009 in the Western Conference Finals that pitted the Blackhawks and Red Wings against each other has a game meant so much. Look for leaders like Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Lidstrom (they wont rest them will they?), Jonathan Toews, and Duncan Keith to be playing at a top level.
So, with it all on the line on Sunday and the hopes of a city lying on the outcome. Let us all hope that the Blackhawks show up.
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
9/24 Kinnick Stadium- Louisiana-Monroe
For a blog that talks about the two big hawks in the midwest in the Blackhawks and Hawkeyes; this matchup will face the Iowa Hawkeyes against the Warhawks.
This particular team does not hail from the midwest; nor do they get alot of attention out of the south, but they will be looking to knock off the Hawkeyes in Iowa City in the last non-conference affair for the Hawkeyes in the 2011 campaign not counting a hopeful bowl game appearance.
In my previous predictions I have Iowa winning their first three games. The first two should be games that the Hawks can control; while the third against a formidble Pitt Panthers team could be challenging, but I gave Iowa a three-point victory in my picks.
This Louisiana-Monroe team is not afraid to take on some good teams on their schedule despite being outmatched in most of those contests. Arkansas, LSU, and eventual BCS Champion Auburn all beat up on the Warhawks last season.
Despite those harsh beatings, ULM had big Sun Belt rival wins against Troy and North Texas. They also lost close ones against conference champs Florida International and heated enemies Louisiana-Lafayette.
Chicago fans can appreciate this program which has produced such Bears as former wideout Marty Booker, and current safety Chris Harris.
According to Phil Steele, ULM will have the 4th most starters from last season returning. Whether that ends up being a good or bad thing will be determined. Obviously, the experience will help, and the early season matchups will get Monroe ready to play in Iowa City.
They travel to Tallahassee to open the season against a Seminole team that some have pegged already to win the ACC and National Championship next season. And, to add to this gauntlet schedule early in the season they go to take on the Rose Bowl champions of last season the week before coming to Iowa.
The Hawkeyes could be catching a team that is hitting a groove at that point in the season after playing such dynamic talent in TCU and FSU.
Last year ULM had a very poor defense, especially against the good teams on their schedule. The Hawkeyes are going to have to establish the running game early. Look for Marcus Coker to have a big day that grabs some national attention in this one.
A letdown in this game could send Iowa into a funk for the rest of the season with the bye game following.
They do not want to enter Big Ten play on a sour note because the schedule is relentless from then on. 4-0 would put them in good position to enter Top 25 rankings, and put alot of attention on the Penn State game; which has become a national spotlight game over the last five years.
I see the Hawkeyes winning this one.
SUPER EARLY PREDICTION!
Hawkeyes 35 Warhawks 24
For those who were not old enough to enjoy the nostaglic and legendary era that was Chicago Stadium; it is hard to believe in some of what our elders tell us.
They say that in the 60's, 70's, and 80's the Blackhawks game was an event like no other. That is was far and beyond the other professional sporting events, and that getting a ticket was like winning a small lottery. For, my generation (born in late 80's) that was not our first impression of Blackhawk hockey.
My first memories were of a Bulls team that could not be stopped, and to go to one of the Bulls games was both an honor and a privilege. The Cubs and mainly Wrigley Field had already become the 'place to be' during the Summer, and the run Slammin' Sammy went on in 1998 only fueled that trend.
The White Sox were still trying to find what worked after the negative reviews in the first few seasons of what was known then as "new" Comiskey Park. And, the Bears were playing in the delapidated Soldier Field that would make way for the renovations we see today.
Fast forward the clocks more than a decade later and the landscape is much different in what is considered by many nationally as the top sports town in the country.
The Bulls are currently on top of the standings in their conference with the league's best player right now, who just happens to be from Chicago.
The White Sox have certainly put the effort forth in hopes of attracting a bigger flock of people to the Southside. With numerous stadium renovations, brilliant promotions, and a commitment to winning; the Sox have done more than any team in Chicago over the last ten years to bring people through the turn-gates.
Still, despite winning a championship in the last decade, and improving for the most part in attendance; the White Sox do not get the crowds that can be said as being tough to get into.
The Bears will forever be "Chicago's Team". Chicago is a football town, and their Bears will sit supreme in many people's eyes for as long as they sit on the lake.
But, with the lockout looming, and the bad taste that some fans have in the team after the NFC Championship lose to the hated Packers things could change.
The Cubs are still prone to bring in great numbers during the Summer months, and despite the somewhat low expectations for this season with a young team, they will be just fine in that department.
But, after going to a day game yesterday in which it was Starlin Castro Bobblehead Day, and tickets could be had for a mere $8 at the stadium, and $2 on Stubhub; it is hard to believe it is as hard of a ticket to get as people say.
So, the Blackhawks may just have done what they set out to do under the transformation of the organization behind Rocky Wirtz. They certainly showed that Chicago is a hockey hotbed in the playoffs last season, and the championship parade was unlike anything that had come before it.
Like the film "Field of Dreams" where the famous line of 'If you build it, they will come' has become so iconic and memorized. Are the Blackhawks a product of this theory of building a champion, and the fans will come?
I do not think that the attendance will go down any if the Blackhawks are unable to bring back the Stanley Cup this season. The Blackhawks fan base was a 'sleeping giant' for years under Bill Wirtz, and as soon as the flood gates of hope were opened; the people made their way back in droves.
And now it is hard to get a standing room only ticket for a regular season game that does not cost over $100.
So perhaps the wagon has come full circle, and yet again the "Madhouse on Madison" is the epicenter for the Chicago Sports world.
Monday, April 4, 2011
9/17 Kinnick Stadium- Pittsburgh Panthers
After a whirlwind of an off-season for the storied Pitt Panthers it will be the first big test for new coach Todd Graham and his players when they make the venture west to Iowa City.
The Panthers will most likely be in the driver's seat early with home games against Buffalo and Maine. This match up very well could face two undefeated teams, and determine the direction each team will go after.
Kirk Ferentz will try to beat the team that he spent a season with as a graduate assistant all those years ago, and after the emotions that will be lingering from the in-state war game with Iowa State; this will be a true test for the Hawkeyes.
After a tumultuous ending to the season with the firing of Dave Wannestadt, and the embarrassing hire-and-fire of Mike Haywood; it is time for some good for the Panther faithful. Some could say that the stress they put on their fan base with all the off-season negativity can be related easily by the Hawkeye fans.
Both teams had some key departures after their bowl wins such as Tyler Sash, Ricky Stanzi, and Adrian Clayborn for the Hawkeyes. Unlike the Hawkeyes who only lost Sash to the draft early; Pitt took a huge hit on offense as WR Jon Baldwin, RB Dion Lewis, and FB Henry Hynoski all entered the draft later this month.
This will leave some big holes in the Panther offense, but thankfully for them the defense was the key last year. They finished in the top 10 in the country by the end of the year on that side of the ball, but this still was not enough to edge their way into the BCS game in the weak Big East.
Quarterback Tino Sunseri and now #1 running back Ray Graham will have to step up their game if they are to make up these large holes that have been left. And, with a younger Hawkeye defense chasing them down; it could be a good day for those two who have been around the block for awhile now.
The last time these two teams met was in Pittsburgh when the Panthers gave the Hawks their first loss of the season back in 2008. Jake Christensen didn't do enough at QB with the eventual Doak Walker Award winner Shonn Greene having a dominant day in the defeat.
Retribution could be the dish that is served for the Panthers in this game with the Hawkeyes possibly with the chance to hop into the top 25 with a win over a respected BCS program.
Iowa will need a big day from Marcus Coker along with a valiant effort by the defense who will face a new head coach of Pitt who was known for his offensive gameplan while he was the head man at Tulsa.
Perhaps this is chosen to be a mid-September night game under the imported lights of Kinnick Stadium, and that of course brings extra juice for the Hawkeyes and the thousands of fans in attendance.
A win against Pitt could put the Hawkeyes in a very nice position at 3-0 with Louisiana-Monroe and a bye week the following weeks. 4-0 going into the bye week could put the Hawkeyes in position to shock some people with some winnable Big Ten games after the bye.
SUPER EARLY PREDICTION!
Hawkeyes 27 Panthers 24