steep postseason learning curves are steep

This was a post I’d intended to write during the first round series, when the so-often-touted-as-inexperienced-and-baby-faced Blackhawks were up against Iginla and the Flames, but somehow I never did get around to it.

The gist of it was this: before round 1, there was plenty of doubt about exactly what the Blackhawks could bring to the table. Their lack of playoff experience was cited as a huge factor, and while many agreed the Flames/Blackhawks series would be a hard-fought one, the majority seemed to favor the more experienced and playoff-tested (my adjectives are slightly more generous than the truth) Flames.

Don’t you know, Iginla is their Jesus Havlat?

True enough, in the first game of the playoffs, the Flames drew first blood. Coach Q had said the difference was night and day in terms of scoring first in the league, and it did not bode well for the ‘Hawks, but they scored to tie it up, and when Calgary scored again to pull up a point ahead, the ‘Hawks forced the game to overtime. (Martin Havlat won the game with the third shortest overtime goal in history, but that’s neither here nor there. Well, except to relive the moment. 12 seconds. Relish it. Enjoy it. Mm, yes. There, done? Good. Let’s move on.)

Calgary scored first again, and then they scored another. It wasn’t until after the first intermission that the boys came back, and how. Toews less than a minute in, on a power play, Sharp a few minutes past the halfway mark to tie the game, and then, with 24 seconds left in the second, Toews with his second for the night.

With barely any playoff experience to share among them, the Blackhawks have learned– in two games– how to erase 1- and 2-goal deficits and come out of those games victorious. They have learned how to come back from 3-goal deficits (last night was not the first postseason), though not how to win those. (I don’t mean to say they won’t– see Toronto, November 22, 2008– but I also wouldn’t like to have a head full of greying hair by the end of the playoffs, thanks.) In one night they have learned how to win both away from the United Center, and against a team fighting to stay alive.

Too young to know any better

This post begs to be written now because once again, the Blackhawks showed just how much they need to learn, but also how much they already have. The playoffs brought out the best in them, more than even I expected to see. Byfuglien finally learned to use his body, even to the extent of generating game-winning plays. Campbell has improved his game from a lackluster mid-season. Barker has started developing into a two-way player. Even Kane (RIP Goldie) has broken through from his I-have-a-gimpy-ankle-it’s-hard-okay? play, scoring four times now to lead the team in goals. Versteeg somehow decided to make a serious run for the Calder upon learning of his nomination, and Bolland last night finally netted himself a goal as well.

The secondary scoring has been incredible, and only 7 of the 20-man roster have yet to score a goal– of the 7, 3 are defensemen, 1 has played only in one game, and 1 other is the goalie. It seems only a matter of time before Brouwer and Eager dent the net too. (On a side note, even Q has been learning something– juggling lines to find the formula that works, and somehow, putting Eager out there sparked the third period into what it was.)

Bitter pills to swallow

It’s a new round, and there are new questions. Instead of inexperience overcoming experience, the first round against the Flames has turned instead into an issue of health over injury. Coming into round two, the Blackhawks are now pitted against a healthy, well-rested team that swept their first series and boasts of the best goalie this side of the League, and even discounting the last two regular season games against the Canucks, where one would hope for a certain kind of redemption, round two by itself already requires a much higher level of play for the Blackhawks.

The first game, of course, as I have now come to expect of this team, was filled with a lot of hard lessons: how not to spend nearly half the first period killing penalties, how to look for the other Sedin when one of them has the puck (Duncan Keith, have you not learned this from working with the Tower of Power?), how not to wait until the last period to play hockey (they’re procrastinators, these boys, isn’t it obvious?), and yes, how one mistake could end on a 4-on-1 breakaway goal that’ll end the game earlier than it should have.

But last night, they also took away an important lesson that I hope they apply consistently over the course of this series: how to score on Roberto Luongo– thrice— in the space of 13 shots.

And they’ll continue learning.


1 Comment

  1. Kick-ass article, good looking weblog, added it to my favorites!

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