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Jonathan Toews Won’t Touch Trophy Yet

On Sunday, the Chicago Blackhawks punched their ticket to the Stanley Cup for the first time in 18 years.  After the Blackhawks became the Western Conference champions, 22-year-old captain Jonathan Toews was presented with the Clarence Campbell Bowl for winning the Western Conference, and he stayed the heck away from that thing.

Good move, Captain Serious. When it comes to my sports, I am extremely superstitious. I believe in growing playoff beards , always watching the game at the same bar, and wearing my favorite jersey for games. Back when the Chicago White Sox won the World Series, it was because of my lucky black and white socks. But to see the Hawks captain be as superstitious as me is pretty awesome.

The best thing about Toews not touching the trophy is the meaning behind the action. For him not to touch that trophy means that he won’t settle for less than the Stanley Cup. Toews wants it so bad apparently he loses sleep over it:

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Blackhawks Return to Stanley Cup Finals for First Time Since 1992

The Chicago Blackhawks wrapped up the Western Conference by sweeping the San Jose Sharks in their best of seven series, winning 4-2 on Sunday. The win sends Chicago to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1992.

Dustin Byfuglien became the game’s hero once again scoring on a power play in the third period to give the Blackhawks a 3-2 lead. Kris Versteeg scored the empty net goal with 42 seconds left to seal up the win for Chicago. Now that the Blackhawks have gotten past the Sharks, they await the winner of the Eastern Conference. The Flyers have a 3-1 series lead on the Canadiens with Game 5 set for Monday night.

If the Flyers advance the Blackhawks will face one of the toughest defenses in the NHL. If the Habs pull of the comeback, they will have a huge amount of momentum behind them heading into the finals. Plus, a Montreal win would produce a will be a true Original Six showdown — you can’t get much better than that.

Personally, I see the Flyers winning the East and going up against the Hawks for the Cup. As I said at the start of the playoffs, I see the Blackhawks taking the Stanley Cup back to Chicago because they are a young, hungry team. But for right now, Chicago is celebrating their sweep of the Sharks and a trip to the Cup.

Photo Credit: Maxx Wolfson/Getty Images

Chicago Blackhawks: Don’t Rest Easy Yet

On Friday night, the Chicago Blackhawks finally came home after an extended road trip from Vancouver to San Jose.  The San Jose Sharks were looking to win their first game of the series and avoid going down 3-0 in the Western Conference Finals. Well that’s exactly what happened.

The Sharks tied the game with about four minutes left in the third period and both teams failed to score before the clock wound down. It was time for some overtime hockey and at 12:24 in OT, Dustin Byfuglien scored his seventh playoff goal to win it for the Hawks. It was a good feeling to know that the Blackhawks could win a game at home.

Now, I didn’t see any looting Friday night like the fans of Montreal do after a win, but I did hear a lot of “We’ve got the Cup” talk.  No, we don’t. If the 2010 NHL playoffs have taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected. Who would have expected the Washington Capitals to be knocked out in the first round? Who would have expected it to be by the eighth seeded Montreal Canadiens? Who would expect those same Canadiens to knock out the defending Stanley Cup champs — the Pittsburgh Penguins? And who would expect it to be so hard for teams to win on their home ice during the playoffs?

All I can say is that it’s not over yet. The Blackhawks are within reach of their first shot at the Stanley Cup since ’92 and the Sharks are on the brink of being eliminated earlier than expected once again. Still, nothing has been finalized yet. The Boston Bruins have already proven that a 3-0 series lead can disappear in the blink of an eye.

Photo Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Caps Make Long-Term and Expensive Investment in Nicklas Backstrom

Even though the Washington Capitals were eliminated in the first round of the 2010 NHL Playoffs they have still given us something to talk about. The Caps announced Monday that they would be making another long-term investment by signing center Nicklas Backstrom to a 10-year, $67 million contact.

Hockey salaries rarely make the list for being pricey, but the Caps are already carrying Alexander Ovechkin’s salary of $124 million over 13 years, so what’s another $67 mil to them? The Caps are locking up one of the players who led them to their amazing regular season (maybe next year they won’t lose to an eight seed).

This is a good investment for the Caps. Backstrom and Ovechkin are now guaranteed to play together for a long time, which I’m sure makes other teams around the NHL cringe. Backstrom had a great year for the Caps with 100 points — 33 goals and 68 assists on the season. He also had an impressive seven multi-goal games in 2010. Another perk about Backstrom is that he has never missed a game.  Hopefully saying that won’t jinx his perfect attendance. Overall, the Caps are making a great investment in this young player that will prove to pay off in the long-term.

Sources:
Caps Signs Nicklas Backstrom to 10-year, $67 M Deal [Washington Post]

Habs Fans Need to Calm Down

The Cinderella story of the 2010 NHL playoffs has been the Montreal Canadiens. So far, they have forced two Game 7s and eliminated the Washington Capitals in the quarterfinals and the Pittsburgh Penguins in the semifinals. On Wednesday night, they had to go on the road to knock out the Penguins, a trend that continues throughout these playoffs.  But the celebrations in Montreal turned into havoc after some fans got a little too excited.

Immediately following the game, fans poured out onto the streets of Montreal. Most of them went to the police designated “festive zone” but there were a few hundred whose excitement turned violent.  Montreal police said that some of these fans attacked them and threw bottles at them injuring a policewoman and a horse. Others decided to loot a Foot Locker store among other places.

I know it’s exciting for the underdog to not only defeat the Caps but also the defending Stanley Cup champs but was this really necessary? I mean looting, attacking police, starting fires and who knows what else just because your team advanced to the finals? Montreal, you have not won anything just yet. And even if you did, what is the point of destroying the city that you are supposed to be celebrating for? You’re embarrassing yourselves and your team. So for the sake of the city of Montreal, leave the lighters and bottles at home next time.

Here’s a video of the Montreal riots after the Canadiens’ Game 7 win:

Sources:
Habs post-game Violence Blamed on Minority [CBC News]

Home Ice Disadvantage in Playoffs

Whenever the playoffs come around in any sport, we always here about the “home advantage.” Well, in these 2010 NHL Playoffs, we are seeing exactly the opposite. Every team in the playoffs, aside from the Sharks, has faced difficulty winning at home. For some reason the Sharks have been amazing no matter where they are.

Let’s start with the Chicago Blackhawks and the Vancouver Canucks. Game One of their Western Conference semifinals series resulted in an embarrassing home loss for the Blackhawks as the Canucks came into the United Center and just took over. The Blackhawks fell 5-1 that night, but came back for three straight dominate performances, two of which were on the road in Vancouver (where the Hawks seemed to enjoy taunting the fans).  Sunday night, the Canucks came into Chicago facing elimination, and they walked away with 4-1 road victory over the Blackhawks. Game Six will take place Tuesday night in Vancouver. So, why are these two teams so much better when they don’t have their home crowd behind them? There might not be an answer, but these teams are hardly an isolated case.

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal Canadiens have shown a similar pattern of losing at home in their Eastern Conference semifinals series. The Penguins dominated in their first home game of this series, but then fell to the Canadiens in the second home game. The Canadiens fell to the Penguins when they returned to Montreal, but won their second home game too. They have forced Game Six in Montreal Monday night.

I think the home struggles of these teams has a lot to do with the goals of the road teams. It seems that all of these road teams are feeding off the energy of quieting the crowd and embarrassing the home town team in front of them. Hey, the fans love taunting the visiting teams — just check out the green men in Vancouver, who have been taunting all season.  My guess is that the players love taunting on the road as much as the fans do, only they do it by winning. That’s somewhat strange because in my opinion, there’s nothing better than a win in front of your home town fans.

Sources:
Five Things We Learned From Sunday [ESPN]

Penalties Indicate Blackhawks are Getting in Canucks’ Heads

Friday night the Vancouver Canucks and Chicago Blackhawks faced off again for Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals. It was apparent by the amount of times the Canucks players went skating to the penalty box that the Blackhawks were getting to them.

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews came up with his first career playoff hat trick. This was a nice compliment to the hat trick that defensemen Dustin Byfuglien had on Wednesday night. Can they make it three in a row? If the Canucks keep trying to play dirty, it’s more than possible. Alexandre Burrows got a couple shots in on Big Buff when he was down, but it did nothing but hurt his team. The Canucks were trying to match the physicality of the Hawks, but instead it just kept landing them in the box instead.

So how are the Hawks doing it? Is it the back-to-back hat trick games? Is it Byfuglien’s cockiness towards Vancouver fans? Or maybe it’s Adam Burish calling Burrows a clown and telling him to come find him or Ben Eager on the ice?

Whatever it is, it’s working. Roberto Luongo has even shaved off his playoff beard as his way of  “Changing things up a bit.” The Canucks will head into Chicago Sunday night trailing by two games in the series, but they aren’t giving up yet. Canucks head coach Alain Vigneaultis trying to remain confident in Luongo:

The goaltender has been a big part of it and he’s been in this situation before. He was in this situation just a couple months ago with Team Canada where they couldn’t lose and he won three straight, so I’ve got a lot of faith him, I’ve got a lot of confidence in him and I know he’s going to do the job for us. … The series is not over.

He’s right, it isn’t over. But the Blackhawks certainly have momentum on their side as they return home having won three games in a row. I said from the start that this was going to be a very exciting series and so far I haven’t been disappointed.

Sources:
Blackhawks Shoot for the Series Win [NHL.com]
Cheap Shots on Dustin Byfuglien [YouTube]
Burish calls out Canucks ‘Clowns’ [Calgary Herald]
Photo Credit: Getty Images