Commentary

Push calls for shove

The Blackhawks can't let the Canucks continue to outmuscle them

Updated: May 2, 2010, 9:26 PM ET
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

In the biz, it's known as generalizing, stretching the truth for the sake of getting a good quote in return.

[+] EnlargeSami Salo, Dustin Byfuglien
Bill Smith/NHLI/Getty ImagesSami Salo and the Canucks got the physical edge on Dustin Byfuglien and the Hawks in Game 1 on Saturday.

OK, baiting.

Canadian reporter to Daniel Sedin: "The Hawks are saying it was all things they didn't do that contributed to your goals, that they were self-inflicted wounds. Is that the natural reaction of a team when they lose not to look at what the other team did but at their own problems?

"Is that, in a way, not giving you guys credit for what you did?"

Geez, as if anyone needs to get the Vancouver Canucks any edgier.

As it was, there was more than one frustrated and blood-thirsty Blackhawks fan yelling not-nice things in the general direction of their heroes Saturday night, suggesting that not only was the home team a step slow in the Canucks' 5-1 pasting in Game 1 of their second-round playoff series, but that they were far too polite.

Vancouver goalie, and yeah, yeah, Olympic gold medal winner Roberto Luongo, he of the 36 saves on 37 shots, went untouched until late in the second period at 5-0. And at that, he turned to the nearest official to complain.

"There were a lot of things we didn't do and obviously that's one of the things -- we didn't bring our physical game," Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said Sunday. "I think the biggest thing was our energy. We didn't bring our energy last night. You could see it. We watched video this morning and it was obvious our work ethic wasn't there. And when you don't have that, there's a lot of other things, a lot of other details and parts of your game that don't come along as well."

To fill in some of the blanks, each of the Canucks' four lines scored against sloppy goaltending. The Hawks were manhandled in their own end, committed far too many turnovers in Vancouver's end and said they were generally humiliated.

"I think we're all feeling it this morning with the embarrassment of a score like that, especially in Game 1 when you're expecting that both teams are going to be excited and playing with a lot of energy trying to get that first win under their belts," Toews said.

One convenient excuse is that the style of play is so different against the up-tempo Canucks than it was in the gridlock that was prevalent against Nashville in the first round. But something surely can be learned from that series if you're the Hawks, and Patrick Sharp sounded as if he and his teammates are well aware of that.

"A lot of the goals [against Nashville] were scored in the crease area, deflections, rebounds and kinda those ugly goals. … The pretty plays, the 3-on-2s, the 2-on-1s, might not always be there, but we've got enough guys in our locker room that can get dirty and score those gritty goals [against the Canucks]," he said.

While the Hawks are reflecting, they can also look at Game 1 of the last four playoff series and, well, wonder why they stink in Game 1s. But they can take solace, apparently, in knowing they can come back and actually win again before going home for the summer.

"It's something to look back and draw experience from," Sharp acknowledged. "I think we responded well after the tough losses all season long, not just in the playoffs. We've got a lot of leaders in our locker room and a lot of guys who have pride in the way they play individually, and that results in a team game, so we're looking to have a big effort tomorrow night.''

Obviously, coming back from Goal 1, not to mention Goal 2, is just as important as rebounding from Game 1. And the Hawks failed in that regard Saturday night, allowing the Canucks to turn a 1-0 lead into 3-0 with two goals in a span of 43 seconds. Antti Niemi will be back in goal.

"We haven't responded well in the playoffs after we've been scored on, and [coach] Joel [Quenneville] has pointed that out to us," said Brian Campbell. "We have to do a completely better job than that."

The Hawks insisted there was no lack of respect for the Canucks coming into the series, but perhaps they did underestimate them a bit.

"They're really good and it seems like they've gotten a lot better since last year," said Patrick Kane.

At the same time, the Hawks are clearly a different team as well, their hockey innocence long gone, and in its place, the lofty expectations usually associated with a much more accomplished and experienced group.

Sharp agreed, but said, "We put those on ourselves, as well. You look inside our locker room, we're expecting to do well and we're expecting to go far in the playoffs. [But] it starts with the series with Vancouver. We're not looking ahead. Everyone talks Stanley Cup, but we're worried about Game 2 and we got to find a way to get better.''

The pressure only grows for Game 2 at home, when the deafening roar is not likely to rattle their opponents but must lift the Hawks.

"We have the opportunity to play the way we can [Monday] night and really take advantage of our crowd, which is one of the things we didn't do last night," Toews said. "If we go out there and play our best game and give ourselves a chance to win and come out with that result, the 5-1 loss in Game 1 kind of goes out the window."

Well, not really out the window, but it is important. Important for the Hawks to play to a level they truly have not reached with any consistency since earlier this season, and important for them to listen to that crowd and knock down a few more Canucks.

Toews said it's all about just playing better each game.

"You're going to have ups and downs," he said. "When you win games, you go home and can feel good about yourself and you feel like there's nothing stopping you from going all the way to the last game to win the Cup. And when you lose the game, it's the most depressing game ever. So it's just trying to learn to deal with that. We'll have rough days but on those tough days, we have to be better than we were yesterday and find ways to hang in there because not everything is going to go our way.

"We dealt pretty well with the adversity Nashville presented us in the last series and we're going to do it again in this one."

"Tomorrow," said the noted philosopher Brent Sopel, "is a new day. The sun will come up and we have to take that approach."

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Melissa Isaacson

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for espnW.com, ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com. The award-winning writer has covered Chicago sports for most of her 31-year career, including at the Chicago Tribune before joining ESPN in 2009. Isaacson has also covered tennis since 1986.

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