Feb 24, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling (33) makes a save on Florida Panthers center Nick Bjugstad (27) during a shootout at the United Center. The Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Florida Panthers 3-2 in a shootout. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
I thought the hockey gods were smiling on me when I scored tickets to two Chicago Blackhawks games in February. Not only was I fortunate enough to attend the Blackhawks vs. Penguins game last week, but “Santa” bought the whole family tickets to last night’s Blackhawks vs. Panthers match up as well. Now that I was at the game where Patrick Kane got hurt (more on this later), you are probably all cursing my name. Ironically, the Hawks won both these matchups in a shootout, so I got my fill in that respect. In last night’s tilt, Chicago came out victorious by a score of 3-2, but at what price? The show must go on, so let’s talk some hockey.
Santa has elves everywhere, and one of them must have been paying close attention when they chose this specific match up for our family’s annual Blackhawks outing. Last night was Niklas Hjalmarsson Bobble Head night, and he is one of my favorite players.
When I first started really getting into hockey, my husband encouraged me to pick out a jersey (sweater) of one of the players. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t always like to go the way of the crowd, so it had to be a player that was a bit outside of the box. No Toews, Kane, Hossa, Sharp, or Keith for me.
As we watched games, the hubby and his friends took to calling out the name “Hjalmarsson!” whenever he was mentioned by one of the broadcasters. After all, it’s so fun to say. So Hjalmarsson it was. Not a forward, but a defenseman, and not one of the best known defensemen either. An underdog! This was before I started avidly watching player interviews, so I had no idea he could give Sharpie a run for his money in the looks department (I swear this had nothing to do with it)!
To this day, I still think my (at the time) naïve choice has turned out to be an excellent decision. Hjalmarsson is a “warrior”, as Coach Q likes to call him. He starts most of his shifts in the defensive zone, and is consistently put on the ice against the toughest competition. He is most well-known for sacrificing his body to block shots. In last year’s playoffs, Hjalmarsson took a puck to the throat. I’m sure it was very painful, and he wasn’t allowed to talk for over a week, but he still didn’t miss a shift. Scott Powers of ESPN Chicago recently wrote a great article about the attributes Niklas Hjalmarsson lends to the team.
It’s pretty ironic that after the 2010 Stanley Cup finals, “Hammer”, as he is called, was almost traded instead of goalie Antti Niemi. Now he is considered one of the core players on the team. This messes a bit with my non-conformist approach, so I’m just going to pretend it’s not the case and enjoy my bobble head.
It’s become a tradition for our family to eat dinner at The Palace Grille before our annual game. This diner style restaurant is located on 1408 W. Madison Street, right across from the Hawks’ practice facility, Johnny’s Ice House. It is set up like an old fashioned diner, and they have Blackhawks memorabilia EVERYWHERE. If you haven’t seen the Jonathan Toews Girl Scout video yet, give it a whirl here. In the video, Andrew Shaw meets Girl Scout Alexis at The Palace Grill.
As usual, owner George Lemperis and his daughter/partner Christina were walking around and socializing with the customers. When George came to our table, he shared that he’s been to too many losing Hawks games this year, so he was gonna sit this one out. He wished us a good time for the rest of the night, and for a win.
Now on to the game! We got there in plenty of time to see the pre-game warm-ups in the good seats. Let me tell you, at close range Scott Darling is merely huge! I like to refer to him as Chewbacca between the pipes. Even when we got up to the 300 level section, Darling stood out in comparison to the rest of the players and the net. He used his 6’6″ frame to stop 34 of 36 shots, for a .944 save percentage. He also stopped a penalty shot and 2 shots in the shootout. This is one place where Antti Raanta has struggled, so it was refreshing to see Darling stand tall in this area, as well as have a solid game.
One thing that might be missed on TV is the constant communication Scott Darling has with his teammates out on the ice. He is incessantly pointing, and gesturing, and using body language with the other players. It’s neat to see his energy and his focus, and I think his teammates get a spark out of it. He was very aggressive out there, and it paid off for him.
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Patrick Sharp scored the 500th point of his career when he earned the primary assist on Kris Versteeg’s goal in the second period, making the score 2-0. When asked about it after the game, Sharpie acted like he was already leaving the Blackhawks. “I’ve been here a long time, and I’m really proud to look back on my career as a Blackhawk. Hopefully there’s a lot more hockey to be played…It feels good to be part of a great organization”.
Well, with Kaner out, this is Sharp’s chance to step it up and help the team get some more wins. He got off to a good start with his assist and a shootout winner last night. Whether he remains with the team at the end of the season is yet to be determined. It’s very bittersweet that he is now needed so much, as well as being the best bargaining chip for a trade. I know I won’t be the only one that will be sad to see him go if he gets traded.
I mentioned in my last post that Chicago could start regrouping from their recent bad play by shoring up the penalty kill. They did just that last night. The Hawks looked strong in this area, making 3 important kills. I know, I know, the Panthers don’t have the strongest power play, but we have to start somewhere, don’t we? Perhaps this will give the boys some confidence.
And now on to the main event, the terrible news that Patrick Kane is out for 6-10 weeks, probably with a broken collarbone. He fell awkwardly into the boards in the first period after a cross check from Alex Petrovic. This is a huge blow to the Chicago Blackhawks. Kaner is not only leading the Hawks in points scored, he’s currently leading the league. Well not anymore.
The Hawks can’t give up, and we as fans shouldn’t give up either. As Patrick Sharp and Kris Versteeg both mentioned after the game, this is a team with incredible depth. They still have names like Toews, Hossa, Saad. Sharp, Versteeg, and Richards aren’t too shabby either, as long as we’re mentioning names. And the Hawks have a solid third and fourth line core that needs to step up and start contributing. Word now has it that Teuvo Teravainen has been called up, although as of this writing the Blackhawks haven’t made that official yet. Here we go; it sounds like it’s Teuvo time again!
Please, please, please don’t play Carcillo, especially when the Hawks rematch the Florida Panthers on Thursday! In my opinion, Petrovic’s hit wasn’t of the dirty kind that requires retribution. It was an unfortunate fall that came from a hit that required a penalty, which was called and which the Hawks capitalized on. Any further retribution should come in the way of renewed focus and another win.
It will be interesting to see how things unfold from here. Can the Chicago Blackhawks dig deep and use this set-back to build character for a play-off run? Stay tuned Blackhawks fans! Things are just getting started.
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