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GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 12: (L-R) Nick Leddy #8, Jonathan Toews #19 and Duncan Keith #2 of the Chicago Blackhawks skate up to a face off during the NHL game against the Phoenix Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena on February 12, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Blackhawks 3-2 in an overtime shootout. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Well, whatever it's going to be, it starts tonight.
The Hawks and Canucks renew their on-ice version of the Hatfields and McCoys tonight in Vancouver. Most of the eyes of the hockey world will be focused on this one. It's the most anticipated seriesin the East because it involves two of the biggest bloodlust rivals in the league.
It also will attract the eyeballs because everyone wants to see if the Canucks are ready to validate their cartoonishly good regular season by a long playoff run they haven't had since 1994, or see if it was all just a practical joke. Adding to the intrigue is a defending champ who had to Forrest Gump its way into the tournament, and whether they take the new lease on life and roll with it, or if they are just that battered and flawed a team that needed a miracle to just get smacked in the first round.
First the particulars. The word out of BC is that Troy Brouwer is likely to suit up tonight, but Dave Bolland is a longshot. He may be a safer bet for Game 2 Friday. So the Hawks are going to have to engage the enemy without one of their most effective anti-Canuck weapons. Troy Brouwer likely replaces Fernando Pisani on the fourth line, possibly Bryan Bickell.
The atmosphere inside Rogers Arena should be as piercing as it's ever been. Everything about the Canucks season, everything about their offseason, has been building up to this moment. The moment when they can vanquish the demons on their way to a Stanley Cup that will be the only satisfactory end to their season. You can expect those on the ice in blue and green to be flying around as if someone greased their undergarments with cayanne pepper. It will be vital for the Hawks to survive this storm. Even being down just one goal after the 1st period could be cosidered ok, as things calm down in the second. But we can hope for more.
The Hawks must play this game as simply as possible, to get the heat out of it as quick as possible. Getting the puck in deep in the Canucks zone, even if it only means making the Canucks come 200 feet repeatedly will accomplish that. There will be a temptation to get in a track meet with these guys, but the Hawks can't survive that pace. They'll need to continually make their d-men turn around and retrieve, see if they can't cause a turnover down there, and make them build and build again. Do that, things get tight, and the pressure mounts.
And the Hawks cannot go to the box unnecessarily. This power play is too lethal, and will allow the Canucks to find too good of a rhythm, and build too much momentum. A few stupid penalties in the first, and this could get ugly. Keep your heads, see if they can keep theirs, and if they don't make them pay. Then the gremlins come out to play.
Let's do this.
Sam Fels is the proprietor of The Committed Indian, an unofficial program for the Blackhawks. You may have seen him hocking the magazine outside the United Center at Gate 3. The program is also available for purchase online. Fels is a lifelong 'Hawks fan and he also writes for Second City Hockey .