Rivalry weekend takes Saturday off before the Chicago Blackhawks welcome the Detroit Red Wings for a brunch time affair on Sunday. The day between games gives a chance to reflect further on a wonderfully intense final regular season meeting between the Hawks and Vancouver Canucks.
I can’t figure Ryan Kesler out, not that I’m trying too hard. He jumps Andrew Ladd in the previous game in Vancouver, and then calls him a coward, but then states before and after this contest he wanted nothing to do with him. In fact, it’s what he told Ladd throughout that first shift. After the game he says his teammates “told him to leave him alone” and it wouldn’t be a “fair tradeoff” if they both had to sit in the box for five minutes. He used one word -- coward -- to call out Ladd. I’ll do the same to him: Lame.
Anybody that watched the game knows Cristobal Huet was more than on his game in the first period. After the Hawks failed to score on their 5-on-3, it was psychologically important for them to keep Vancouver off the board when they had their two man advantage. Huet made no less than six saves on that ensuing power play -- none better or flashier than his glove save on Mikael Samuelsson. I hate to say it like this, but it was Antti Niemi-like in terms of showing athleticism. And it made up for the whiff he had in New York on Richard Park’s goal. But it was arguably his best sequence of the season and certainly best in a long while. Alas, he didn’t have a great game because at least one of the goals he gave up was soft, and maybe one or two of the others were as well.
I made sure to ask both sides if this rivalry was actually real or just media-driven. No one hesitated. It’s real and growing. Remember, it wasn’t just Ladd and Kesler that went at it. Alexander Burrows isn’t exactly a Hawk favorite either. And we saw the Hawks who can get tough, actually do it. I’m talking about Dustin Byfuglien, Troy Brouwer and Brent Seabrook, for example. Don’t count Big Buff out. He can show a mean streak when he wants, and we’re getting close to the time of year where it might come in handy.
How about Jordan Hendry’s move to score his first of the season? This comes one game after Niklas Hjarmalsson’s big game-winning blast on Wednesday. It was his first in 49 contests. Secondary scoring and role players coming up big is still the sign of a great team, no matter what kind of stars you have. Don’t discount those roles. You don’t think it can be demoralizing for a team if they can stop the top two lines, but a secondary player beats you? It can be, and the Hawks have enough talent to do just that.
Despite the first period domination by the Blackhawks on Friday, the season series between these teams didn’t give much of a clue who would win in a playoff battle. On paper, the Hawks are a deeper team, but Vancouver has the better goaltending and there doesn’t seem to be a matchup edge. That’s not the case against the San Jose Sharks, for example, where the Hawks proved to be a quicker team in winning the season series.
The Canucks might simply be the toughest test for the Hawks come this spring, which will only add to the rivalry.