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So Do Our Minutes Hasten To Their End: Game 4 Tonight

We went into this series cautiously optimistic, perhaps even over-confident due to our record against the Canucks. We had faith in our team, we believed in them. Some of us will until the teams meet at center ice to shake hands. But I can’t hold out any more hope; the Canucks will beat us tonight, we’re getting swept.

The Blackhawks had to do two things to win this series: they needed to conceive of a plan to beat the Canucks; and they needed to execute that plan. Unfortunately they never got past step one, as whatever plan they came up with was either ill-conceived or ineffective. They never played their game, and the Canucks have (for the most part) manhandled them every step of the way. But make no mistake: this series wasn’t lost in the last week. They started losing this series the day after the parade on Michigan Avenue to celebrate the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup Championship.

So what the hell happened? How did we get here? How did we go from first to the first team ejected from the playoffs in one short year? Lots of answers here, not all of them within anyone’s control, none of them entirely responsible, but clearly all of them contributing.

The Atlanta trades happened. The Nick Boynton experiment happened. John Scott happened.  Marian Hossa ~didn’t~ happen. The Dave Bolland injury happened. Duncan Keith’s post-Norris trophy collapse happened. Marty Turco falling short of expectations happened. The feeble penalty kill happened. And the inability to coach a team to come from behind happened.

However: it is my contention that championship teams are built down the middle of the ice: goaltenders and centermen. Look back through the Stanley Cup’s history and you will see that there is a franchise goaltender and a team-leading center on nearly all of those clubs. To that end, the building blocks for next year are already in place in the form of Captain Jonathan Toews and goaltender Corey Crawford. Those two were responsible for keeping us in the playoff hunt, and to a large degree, for doing as well as we did against the Canucks. No matter the outcome of this series, we have the appearance of those two in their Blackhawks uniforms to look forward to in the years to come.

The hard decisions will be at wing. We have a lot of decisions to make at that position, not all of which are easy. Do we qualify Viktor Stalberg, Troy Brouwer, Jake Dowell and Michael Frolik? Or do we try to improve our draft position by moving them on or before the amateur draft? Do we hang on to Tomas Kopecky and Fernando Pisani? Or are those dollars best spent on more productive and consistent players on the free agent market?

And do we now have to look at the cost/benefit analysis on Marian Hossa, whose nearly $8 million salary was good for only 3 playoff goals last year and 0 goals this year? Or is that money better spent on Brad Richards, Ville Leino, or Curtis Glencross? The last name on that list is very appealing to me; let’s hope the Blackhawks’ front office feels the same way.

It is a regrettable epitaph for this 2010-11 Blackhawks squad to be swept by a Canucks team so clearly headed to be on the unpleasant end of a second-round blow-out; but that, I fear, is its destiny. The Blackhawks’ season ends tonight. So much the better that the Blackhawks’ hometown crowd will be able to salute their team’s efforts as they head to the locker room; so much the better that the starry-eyed Vancouver fans are denied the opportunity to celebrate their trifling victory.

I got a truck-load full of vindication on Monday in the form of a direct quote from Captain Serious:

…we’re not exposing them for what they really are… A lot of people outside of this locker room are giving them too much credit and maybe we are as well.

To my detractors in the Vancouver press: suck on that.

Administrative horse manure: lots of roster changes to report. Brent Seabrook’s fallout from the Raffi Torres hit appears to have taken a turn for the worse, as he is out of the lineup tonight. In what may be even worse news — for the man’s health and career — doctors have cleared Dave Bolland to play this evening and he will be suiting up. Another apparent casualty is Tomas Kopecky, listed as “day-to-day” for some unknown reason. Due to the lengthening list of the walking wounded, we will be seeing Ryan Johnson back in the lineup this evening, as well as Bryan Bickell following his hand/wrist injury suffered in game 2. Jake Dowell’s performance may find him on the “healthy scratch” list, and with a massive hole in our defense it is likely that utility pylon John Scott will move back to the blue line. Follow us on Twitter to get the latest as game time nears.

Those of you going to the game tonight may not feel like cheering your Chicago Blackhawks, but cheer you will. You will keep your yap shut during the Canadian national anthem, and raise the roof during the American one. No matter how bad the score gets or how early you have to climb out of bed tomorrow, you will stay until the final buzzer. You will bring honor to our city by applauding the winning team, no matter who that may be or how much we hate them between buzzers. And you will stand and clap, even if you’re watching the game at the bar or in your family room, to salute our Blackhawks as they leave the ice for the season.

And next week, somewhere in greater Chicagoland, I will be sitting at the end of my couch, arguing with the cat over whose roast beef sandwich that actually is, and watching as the Canucks fall to the Predators in the second round of the playoffs. When that happens, I will send a package to Gordon McIntyre at The Province containing a box of tampons.

7:00pm puck drop at the United Center tonight. TV is spread across the continent again: CBC and RDS up north, Versus and Comcast SportsNet in the U.S. We’re back on the flagship WGN AM-720 for the radio broadcast, as well as XM channel 205.

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