After the last two games in which the Chicago Blackhawks all but handed a tied series to the Minnesota Wild on a silver platter, this fan is channeling Slim Pickens from Blazing Saddles: “What in the wide wide world of sports is going on here?!”
That seems to be the exasperated question on the mind of many other Blackhawks fans as well. Questionable lines, sloppy defensive play, and a return to mid-season level of goal tending. One Wild shutout – at the hands of goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, no less – and the other might as well have been. Players fell to the ice left and right as if they had forgotten to tie their skates. Were it any other team, it would have been like some sort of surreal comedy (much like the photo above that looks more like the Wild congratulating Bryan Bickell for a goal rather than trying to instigate a fight).
Yes, there have been some bad calls and no-calls, but that does not account for something even a blind man (or ref) can see: our beloved Blackhawks have been slumping as of late. Andrew Shaw’s injury may have something to do with it; his absence was certainly felt, and seen, particularly in Game 4 where it seemed like the only players one saw in front of Bryzgalov were wearing green sweaters. But the Blackhawks have managed to win a playoff game without him, as well as other key players like Brent Seabrook in the series against the St. Louis Blues.
I also doubt that it is a matter of the Blackhawks taking the Wild too lightly. No doubt they followed the first round series between the Wild and the Colorado Avalanche with great interest, and got a taste for what that team could do in the first two games of this series, even though the Blackhawks ultimately won those contests in a commanding fashion.
So, what now? It seems that the Blackhawks will have to play yet another game without Shaw, and now without Brandon Bollig, who received a two-game suspension yesterday for boarding Keith Ballard during Game 4. Bollig has not seen much ice time during these playoffs, and he would not be missed as much as Shaw. But missing any player due to injury or suspension is something likely to deliver yet another psychological blow to an already ailing team.
Thankfully, and perhaps mercifully, the Blackhawks will return to home ice for Game 5, 8:00 p.m. CST tonight at the United Center. Fans who are attending will need to cheer louder than ever. Although there are still three more games left in the series, the last thing the Blackhawks need is to lose at home and then face an elimination game on the road. But as long as they return to playing their game – putting considerably more pucks on the net, tightening up defensively, and sealing some of the cracks in Corey Crawford’s wall – they should be able to regain confidence, pick up a win, and look to winning on the road (again) to move on to the Western Conference Finals against either the Anaheim Ducks or Los Angeles Kings.