One of my dream Ideal match-up scenarios would be a Stanley Cup series between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Montreal Canadians. These Original Six teams have long proud histories. The Canadians are perhaps the most successful franchise of all time, winning 24 Stanley Cups, and becoming the gold standard of hockey teams. The Hawks, meanwhile, are perhaps the most successful franchise of the modern era. Since the introduction of the Salary Cap no team has won more Cups, and with one of the most talented rosters in the league and a sure-fire Hall of Fame coach in Joel Quenneville(689 Victories) they look to be one of the best teams in the league for the remaining part of the decade. However, it’s not the juicy historical storylines that make me pine for this matchup. It’s the two immensely suspenseful and enjoyable games that I’ve witnessed between these two teams.
Of course, if you are thinking of the same two games I am, you’re probably scratching your head. Aren’t you a Blackhawks fan? You are aware Montreal WON both of those games, right?
As a hockey fan, as a sports fan, as a Blackhawks fan, winning isn’t enough. I want to beat the best. The Montreal Canadians have given other teams the blueprint to beat us: Play fast, up tempo hockey. Interfere and slow down the Hawks by knocking them off their game. Stellar goal tending.
All night I watched small plays that made a huge difference. P.K. Subban sandwiching Toews next to the boards physically preventing him from pursuing the puck. Canadians skating right in front of Saad and Kane just to slow their progress to the puck. These little moves work dividends stifling the Hawks attack and disrupting their chemistry.
You may think I’m a masochist to enjoy such a game, but there’s a reason the best games of the past few years have been against the Red Wings.
Superior opposition brings out the best in the Hawks.
That’s why I want a Cup series against Montreal.
Let’s recap why I have enjoyed the last two battles at the Forum.
When: Tuesday April 5, 2011
The Set-up: Coming off of their first Stanley Cup in 49 years, the 2010-11 Hawks suffered a tough season. Restrained by the salary Cap they traded away a good core of their roster. Meanwhile, those that remained were dealing with not just the lack of rest after a short but busy off season full of celebration, but also the lack of hunger and interest that can curse young men who have obtained the apex of their sport. Toward the end of their season they were battling just to make the Playoffs.
The Main Characters: Marty Turco- long time starter for Dallas Stars signed on cheap to replace Anti Niemi after the young Stanely Cup winning goalie was not offered a contract after an arbitration ruling. His failure to truly take the reigns of the starting job is what leads to the emergence of long time prospect Corey Crawford.
Patrick Kane- Chicago’s dynamic young superstar still searching for consistency and respect.
P.K. Subban- Rookie defenseman. Casual hockey fans are often surprised by his skin color. Actual hockey fans are shocked by his athletic ability and scoring prowess despite being green. Divisive, controversial player.
Where I was watching: at my apartment in Champaign that I shared with my girlfriend of the time and another couple on a terribly fuzzy 20 inch television my mother plucked from the garbage several summers before.
The game: Fast. All year, the Hawks had been plagued by inconsistency. It was clear this was still a talented roster, but it didn’t always play as a cohesive team. The Canadians brought their A game. The fast back and forth pace challenged the Hawks but brought out the best in them. It was zero-zero and I was on the edge of my seat when the Canadians struck first blood in the 2nd period. Andrei Kostitsyn chased the puck down behind Crawford then found speedy sniper Mike Cammalleri all alone in the middle of the ice who buried the shot. It was a quick boom boom play. Up to that point Crawford had been sensational. It was a tough goal, by with Crow standing tall, my optimism was high.
Less 5 minutes later, my optimism was rewarded. Kane skates behind the net and comes up the boards. He makes a little move as he goes past Brian Campbell but skate parallel to the blue line and then cuts right in toward the goalie. As he approaches the circle, he unleashes a sick wrist shot. Kaner had been having an up and down year. Despite being named an all star some were still criticizing his game and his maturity. He was still only 22 years old and well on his way to becoming one of the very best players in the game. Still, the goal was his 300th point in only his 314th game.This was a fantastic individual effort by Kane. Such a talented player, many forgot just how young Kane was.
The same could be said of P.K. Subban. Still a couple years before winning his first Norris trophy for best defenseman in the league, P.K. was a controversial player. Criticized for being too physical and for making poor defensive plays, he had a knack of big goals. As the tight Hawks-Habs went into overtime, it was a call P.K. drew that would prove to be the biggest moment of the game. Toews was called to the box on a questionable tripping call. Some felt Subban embellished the call. Quennevile said. “I 100 percent disagreed with that call at the end. He wasn’t calling it, and Jonathan didn’t touch his feet.”
Regardless of what Coach thought, on the ensuing 4 on 3, big P.K. Subban blasted home the game winner. The game secured the Habs a playoff berth, and left the Hawks still scrambling just to get the 8th spot.
Why this is one of my favorite games: The pace! I can’t say it enough but this was one hell of a back and forth up tempo game. Both goals in the 2nd periond were sick goals. The Hawks may have lost but they gave a great effort. They played solid Blackhawk hockey. Most importantly, this was a showcase for Corey Crawford. It was a performance that sealed him as the goalie of the future. Although the extra point would have been nice, things worked out. Sort of. Dallas lost on the last day of the season allowing the Hawks to win the 8th seed and avoid becoming the first Cup winner since the Hurricanes to not make it back to the playoffs the following season. The Blackhawks went on to play an epic 7 game series against hated rival the Canucks. After being down 3-0 the Hawks rallied before falling in overtime of game 7. Despite the loss the series was one of the most entertaining I’ve ever witnessed and would serve as a building block for the Hawks down the road.
But, it’s mostly awesome because back-up Marty Turco got caught gambling on the game, during the game! Now, to be fair, it sounds a lot worse than what really transpired. And, actually, what really happened is pretty awesome and shows that Marty has great sportsmanship. Following Cammalleri’s goal a fan bet Turco that the Hawks wouldn’t score a goal. Turco took that bet, and it paid off when Kaner tied things up. But Turco then put his winnings on the final outcome. Turco lost the bet, but this is what we as hockey fans gained:
The Battle at the Forum part II
When: January 11th, 2014
The Set-up: After their surprise run to the top of the Eastern standing the Canadians are looking for respect and some points in a new division and new conference. Meanwhile, the league leading Hawks find themselves in something of a mini-rut and are looking to avoid losing the 4th of the past 5 games. Combined, these two squads have 18 players who have been selected to make the trip to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.
Main Characters: Corey Crawford- recently returning from groin injury that kept him out for over a month. So far Crow’s play has been strong but not back up with tangible victories
Andrei Markov- Seasoned defenseman has spent his entire 14 year career with the Canadians.
Tomas Plekanec- Recently named captain of Czech national hockey team for 2014 Olympics. Talented, defensive center who would do a good job squaring off one of the most dangerous top lines in the league.
Marian Hossa- The original superstar, Hossa is one of the most complete players in the National Hockey League. With a proven track record of offensive excellence, Hossa has become a defensive stalwart over the past 6 seasons. He already was one of the hardest players to push off the puck and one of the most consistent players in the league. Now he regularly makes highlight defensive plays, like the stick lift he does later in this game to save a goal. He currently leads the league with 52 takeaways. No one ever mentions Selke when discussing Hossa. Is this the year that finally changes?
Where I watched the game: My buddy Ryan’s house on his new TV in the kitchen inbetween playoff football.
The game: Poor effort from Hawks leads to Herculien play by Crawford. He keeps us in this game. However, the line of Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp plays big minutes and generates big plays. Andrei Markov scores in the 2nd as Habs take 1-0 lead. However a highlight tic-tac-toe passing play culminates with Hossa goal to tie it up. Sadly however it’s Markov and the Habs who win it in OT.
Why this was such a great game: the two highlight plays. Yes, another 2-1 OT loss. No, this time there are no fun gamblies stories or immediate playoff ramifications. In fact, this wasn’t even one of my favorite games. It was a good taut game. But no where near the first battle. But still. Two amazing plays. The first was when Crawford lost his stick on a power in the 2nd period. The rush from the Hawks was quickly foiled and it left Brandon Prust to fire off a shot. Crow fought that off but looked dead to rights to when Lars Eller jumped on the rebound. Flopping like a fish from the previous save Crawford lifted his legs to deny Eller and make of the most astounding saves of his career. It was awesome.
The Canadians really played an excellent game. I was very impressed by how they slowed the Hawks attack with clever, subtle interference and by pushing pace against us. Tomas Plekanec and his linemates did a good job with the Hawks top line, but still played a good number of thier minutes in their own zone. And they looked helpless as the Hawks skated down at the 9:20 mark in the 3rd period. Toews skates past around Plekanec and passes to Keith over the Montreal Blue line. Keith fires it over to Sharpie who enters the zone then finds Toews streaking toward the net. Toews then slides the puck beautifully to Hossa dead in front of Price. Hossa buried it 5 hole. Game tied. Holy Fuck what a goal. Again the Hawks can’t prevail, but that’s not what’s important.
The Habs bring out the best in the Hawks. Much like the Red Wings, the Canadians can play our game, and just like the Red Wings, I hope we get the opportunity to fight them in a brutally challenging seven game series.