To be honest, I’m still in a bit of a daze from the borderline cinematic conclusion to last night’s Blackhawks and Avalanche game. I’ve sort of just been sitting here, in the same spot on my couch from which I watched the action unfold for the betterment of the past 12 hours motionless, partially comatose and shell-shocked – you could call it – wondering just what the hell happened – how last night’s whirlwind of frustrating and anger-fueled emotions somehow concluded on such an explosive and positive note.
How is it that the Blackhawks’ worst performance of the 2016/2017 season was coincidentally their proclamation of preeminence to the rest of the league? How did the Blackhawks, during a game in which they trailed the NHL’s version of the Cleveland Browns – who some describe as being one of the worst hockey teams of our generation – for the betterment 3 periods, weave such a burlesque and embarrassing performance into a declaration of might?
Well, for one, if you followed me live tweeting the action you’d know I sold my tickets to last night’s game. Let’s call it divine intervention from the Hockey Gods sticking it in my ear for choosing greed over loyalty. But on a more serious note, it’s almost as if the Blackhawks went into last night’s game with the same, stubborn mindset I did – one that figured the Blackhawks could play on their knees with mini sticks and still come out victorious over a team that hardly qualifies as NHL competition.
It seemed that everyone aside from rookie sparkplug Ryan Hartman and starting netminder Scott Darling shared this mindset and subsequently learned the hard way that even the worst NHL team since the 2014 Edmonton Oilers is still very much an NHL team.
After taking a quick and easy 1-0 lead over household name Jeremy Smith and the Colorado Avalanche just 4:33 into the opening period, the Blackhawks – seemingly doing their best impression of me coming home from work on a hot Friday afternoon – kicked up their feet, grabbed a beer and set their tempo to cruise control.
The ensuing two periods were among the more frustrating sequences I have experienced in my days covering the team. “Inexcusable” was the reoccurring word bouncing through my head. Tonight is the night the Blackhawks could become the first team in the Western Conference to clinch a playoff spot while simultaneously taking a commanding 7 point lead over the floundering Minnesota Wild, I thought, rather they’re clinging to the finger tips of lady luck on home ice under the boot heel of a team 54 points below them in the standings. And fortunate the Blackhawks were. If not for the exploits of Scott Darling, you’d need a mathematician specializing in chaos theory to calculate just how ugly the game could have gotten.
Exacerbating the situation was the Blackhawks refusal to shoot the freakin’ puck. Now it’s only fair I go on record to declare my absolute, undying loathing for fans who continuously yell “shoot!” when their favorite team has offensive zone control. I honestly detest these individuals with every fiber of my being as much as I abhor grownups who block-out children in order to get on television during Chevy Blackhawks Pregame Live segments.
Last night’s performance was so frustratingly despicable for the better part of two periods it reduced me into what I hate most in this world, a loathsome and obnoxious “shoot the puck!” person. Only, in this rare instance was there rationality behind my, what likely sounded like, banshee-esque pleas. The Blackhawks, in particular Nick Schmaltz, were being too cute and passing up far too many high quality, grade-A scoring chances.
In net for Colorado was Jeremy Smith, a 27-year old rookie who started the season third on the Avs depth chart and was only flung into action after a season-ending injury to starter Semyon Varlamov. If the generically underwhelming name Jeremy Smith wasn’t enough to send tremors of terror crawling down your spine, perhaps his numbers this season will. In 7 games played, including last night’s, Smith has posted a 1-5 record, a save percentage of .890 and a goals against average of 3.44. In other words, Jeremy Smith is the archetype of someone you’d want to bombard with shots – something that took the cutsie, pass-happy, through-the-motions Blackhawks 2 1/2 periods to figure out.
The moment the Blackhawks collectively settled on the reality that their counterparts were indeed Jeremy Smith and the 2016-2017 Colorado Avalanche and not Dominik Hasek and the 2002 Detroit Red Wings is when the bombardment and ensuing carnage commenced.
Trading in the extra pass and cute play for the simple, when-in-doubt, good ole-fashioned strategy of just getting the puck on net is what ultimately opened the flood gates for the five goal, third period explosion that announced to the rest of the NHL that there exists an extra, previously unknown gear the already dangerous Blackhawks can kick into when desperate and cornered.