Hawks win first title in 49 years in bizarre finish to Game 6

Hockey fans in the great city of Chicago had to wait 49 years to experience the moment again, but on Wednesday night it finally happened.

In a thrilling, yet completely bizarre finish to the title series, the Blackhawks hoisted the Stanley Cup with their 4-3 victory over the Flyers in overtime. Patrick Kane scored the game-winning goal 4:06 into OT, but nobody outside of him knew that the puck had slipped past Philly goalie Michael Leighton because the net indicator never went off. The announcers didn’t even know that the puck had got passed Leighton until they saw Kane skating down the ice with his arms up in the air and the rest of his teammates clear the bench to greet him at the other end.

In all honesty, the moment killed the excitement that had been building for over three periods. Chicago fans obviously don’t care how it ended because the Hawks won, but for casual fans, it was undoubtedly a lackluster finish. (Or at least, a lackluster finish for a game-winning, series-clinching overtime goal.) It was strange to watch the Hawks celebrate while the Flyers stood on the ice waiting for the referees to make an official announcement about whether or not the goal had counted.

Regardless, it was a thrilling moment for the Hawks and their fans. With four minutes remaining in the third period, it looked as though Chicago would win in regulation but then Scott Hartnell beat Antti Niemi to eventually force overtime. Of course, without Niemi, both teams would be heading back to Chicago for a Game 7 right now. He made a couple of key saves late in the game to keep the Hawks afloat. In fact, he saved a point-blank shot by Jeff Carter with less than two minutes to play in regulation, right in front of the Hawks’ net.

All in all, this was a great moment for hockey and for Chicago fans, who are extremely loyal and who cherish titles. It was an exciting series and the NHL can’t be upset about how this one turned out.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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Olympic medallist Ruggiero takes offense to Chicago Tribune drawing of Pronger

The Chicago Tribune was trying to get under the skin of Flyers’ defenseman Chris Pronger, but instead ticked off three-time Olympic medallist Angela Ruggiero with its “Chrissy Pronger” photo, which ran in the Tuesday edition of the paper. (The photo shows Pronger wearing a skirt beside a headline that reads, “Chrissy Pronger. Looks like Tarzan, skates like Jane.”)

From SI.com:

Chris Pronger Story“I don’t read what you guys write, good or bad,” Pronger said Tuesday. “I really couldn’t care, to be honest with you. I’m worried about playing the game.”

Others weren’t so dismissive of the poster.

“I’d like to see that editor out on skates. I’ll take them one-on-one on the ice any day,” three-time Olympic medalist Angela Ruggiero told The Associated Press. “They obviously have never seen women’s hockey and are living in the dark ages.”

“For her and others who took offense, I apologize. No qualifiers, I’m sorry,” Chicago Tribune sports editor Mike Kellams said in an e-mail. “We were just having a little fun with a guy who has come to personify all that has gotten under the collective skin of Blackhawks fans. Pronger is talented that way. And we were trying to connect to that emotion in a fun way.

“I grew up in Indiana and came to hockey as an adult. Ruggiero vs. me on the rink would be no contest. I know that from what she and her team did at the Vancouver Olympics.”

“Some people are still ignorant,” Ruggiero said. “Our sport doesn’t get a lot of exposure, so you have to see us play in the world championships or the Olympics to see what the highest caliber of women’s hockey is.

“Obviously, it’s offensive. It’s disappointing more than anything. I grew up playing with boys, trained with NHL players. I would go head-to-head with Pronger any day I could.”

Not to piss Ruggiero off even more than she already is, but I think she’s being a little defensive here. She needs to consider the context of the joke. The Tribune wasn’t taking a shot at women’s hockey or suggesting that it’s not on par with the NHL; it’s taking a shot at Pronger by suggesting he plays like a woman figuring skater. (Hence the women’s figure skater skirt that he’s wearing in the photo.)

That said, I’m not Ruggiero and I don’t want to qualify what her or anyone else takes offense of. The photo obviously offended her and I thought it was right for the editor to apologize and explain the paper’s intentions. He also did well to put Ruggiero up, while putting himself down in the comment about how a match between those two would be “no contest.”

Again though, people have to keep in mind the context of things like this. For there to be even a little outrage over this photo (which comes from a Chicago paper, directed at a boisterous Philadelphia player in the middle of the Stanley Cup finals mind you) is kind of absurd in my opinion. We’re way too sensitive as a society.

Byfuglien leads Hawks to within one game of clinching Cup

Dustin Byfuglien’s two goals and two assists in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup helped the Blackhawks beat the Flyers 7-4 on Sunday. Chicago is now only one win away from winning its first title in nearly 50 years.

Byfuglien had been quiet in the series before Sunday, registering only one assist through the first four games. Chris Pronger had largely neutralized him before then, but by playing most of the night on a line with Kris Versteeg (who had a goal and two assists himself) and Dave Bolland (one goal, one assist), the trio lifted the Hawks to a crucial victory.

Now comes the hard part for Chicago: beating the Flyers in Philadelphia, which they haven’t done in three tries this season (including Games 3 and 4 of the Cup). Flyers’ goalie Michael Leighton has been downright brutal on the road in this series, but his 31-save effort in Game 4 on Friday night was arguably his best performance of the playoffs. Assuming he’s in net for Wednesday night and not Brian Boucher (who replaced Leighton after he allowed three goals on Sunday), he could make the difference in whether or not this series goes to a Game 7.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

Niemi rebounds as Hawks go up 2-0 on Flyers

After allowing five goals on 32 shots in Game 1, Blackhawks’ goalie Antti Niemi stopped 32 of 33 shots on Monday night to help Chicago beat the Flyers 2-1 in Game 2.

Niemi faced only three shots in the first period, but then saw 15 in both the second and third periods. His defense helped out tremendously, but he made several great saves throughout the game and even though he gave up the one goal in the third period, he shut the door on Philly to preserve the win.

Marian Hossa had another excellent outing, scoring the opening goal of the night. He now has three points in the series and appears determined to get the Stanley Cup Finals monkey off his back.

The series will shift to Philadelphia for Game 3 on Wednesday night and the Flyers have a lot of work to do. They were unable to tie the game last night despite seizing momentum off of Simon Gagne’s third period goal and launching 30 shots at Niemi over the final two periods. They’re looking at must wins over the next two games.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

2009 NHL Preview: Chicago Blackhawks

We’ve partnered with On Goal Analysis to bring you a team-by-team preview of the upcoming NHL season. (Just scroll down on the OGA website and hit the calendar.) Here is the preview for the Chicago Blackhawks…

Team Play: ISSUE – It’s all between the pipes, baby. Going into the free agency free-for-all which began July 1st, it seemed the Blackhawks’ plan was to trade goalie Cristobal Huet (who has three years remaining on his contract) and re-sign Nikolai Khabibulin (who was an unrestricted free agent). The ‘Hawks found no takers for Huet, and “The Bulin Wall” signed with Edmonton. Thus, Chicago enters the 2009-10 season depending heavily upon a goalie who was deemed second-best going into last seasons’ playoffs. As I mentioned in a post earlier this summer, the ‘Hawks can only hope Huet is able to rediscover the magic of his thirteen-game run with the Washington Capitals at the end of the 2007-08 season, in which he put up all-star numbers (11-2, 1.63 GAA, .936 sv%). Simply put, Huet must consistently play at a level which gives his teammates confidence. When a team lacks confidence in their goalie, they tend to go into a defensive shell, playing much more conservatively than normal. The current Chicago Blackhawks squad is not built to play a conservative, defense-first, don’t-take-chances type of game. If a lack of confidence in Huet causes the ‘Hawks to attempt to play that style of hockey, the season will be a miserable failure.

Click here to read the rest of the preview (which includes the site’s unique Playoff Qualifying Curve and fantasy information) at the On Goal Analysis site.

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