With the second round now upon us, Adam Hess takes a shift with Sam, John and myself to discuss the playoffs to this point. As always, no subscription is needed for the podcast, and can be grabbed after the jump.
It was only five games ago we lowered the shark cage and let @AnthraxJones snarl and yell and chew on the bars Not much has changed since. Here’s what he had to say then.
Nathan MacKinnon is on a 110-point pace, even though he missed a little time. Why has he become Asgardian this season?
We knew he had this in him, we saw it in the World Cup with the NAU23 team when he stood out over everybody on the roster, including Connor McDavid. Two days earlier this season may have been what evolved mild-mannered Nathan MacKinnon from “maybe we should’ve taken Barkov or Seth Jones” to “Indestructible Cyborg Nathan MacKinnon”: a late-October 7-0 loss to Vegas that saw him wheel and fight Brayden McNabb after a bad hit, and you could tell he was taking out his frustration from a slow start on McNabb. Second was when the Avs traded Eeyore to Ottawa and suddenly there was a vacuum at the top of the lineup, which happened a few days after the Vegas debacle. Part of me wonders if something in Duchene’s attitude was keeping MacKinnon from wanting to really take ownership of the team in a leadership capacity, but whatever it was, it seemed to lift after the trade.
Your Special Boy Mikko Rantanen is also a point-per-game. Tell us why he’s your Special Boy.
He’s our Big Baby Deer. It’s remarkable that he’s had the season he’s had so far, because he’s one of the most awkward-looking players I’ve ever seen. He looks like a large horse that still hasn’t figured out its legs yet. It makes me hopeful that he still has another gear to get to when he does get himself coordinated. He’s a smart player who finds himself in the right places at the right times, he has murderous hands for a kid his size, and he benefits from playing with Cyborg 29 and Angry Hossa, Babe Landeskog.
Two kids in Alex Kerfoot and Tyson Jost are on the second line. How have their rookie seasons gone?
Kerfoot and Jost have inverted one another so far. Kerfoot started the season blazing hot, and has really cooled down since then, which is natural for a kid who isn’t used to playing this many games against adult men with Dad Strength, instead of physics majors at RPI. Jost started slow and battled injuries, but for the past month or so it looks like something is clicking with him. They’re both gonna be good NHLers, but I think their future roles are still undetermined.
Are the Avs done treating Tyson Barrie like a redheaded stepchild and accept he’s actually quite good and necessary?
If the Avs don’t, they better listen to their superstar player, who’s not only best friends with Barrie, but also shares a brain with him on the ice. Their chemistry is ridiculous, and it’s truly a symbiotic benefit where they both make each other better. I haven’t always been on board with the idea of Tyson Barrie as a long-term piece on this roster, especially once Cale Makar hits the NHL roster, but I think it would be a mistake to trade him this offseason.
They going to make the playoffs?
They shouldn’t, but they’re gonna, and it’s because the Central Division beyond Nashville and the Mole People in Winnipeg ranges from desperately mediocre to downright bad. I’d love to see a first round matchup between Colorado and Vegas so we can never pay attention to pre-season “expert picks” ever again, but also because I think Vegas is gonna get picked off by whoever they play in the first round. The Avs aren’t deep enough to beat a Nashville type team in the second round, but every great team has to experience that first tough loss sometime, and I think this is that season.
Game #79 Preview
I liked Hess’s title last night, so I’m going to piggyback off of it. I’m sure he won’t mind.
This isn’t the autopsy of the Hawks. We’ll have plenty of time for that come April 9th. Hell, we’ve already been doing it. There will be even more time to speculate about what lies ahead, or whether losing out the rest of the way would change minds upstairs about firings and such. We can and will do that.
No, this is pretty much just the mourning. It didn’t come as a huge shock, but the Hawks were eliminated officially this week from the playoffs. And I was surprised at how much the feeling was the inverse of what I felt April 3rd, 2009. You probably don’t remember that date all that well, and I had to look up the exact one for this.
That night, the Hawks beat the Preds 3-1. They clinched a playoff spot for the first time in seven seasons. Though that team was a playoff lock all year and had been second or third best in the conference all of that season, when they flashed the “Stanley Cup Playoffs” graphic at the game’s conclusion I wasn’t the only one whose heart paused for a moment. In a season and time that were filled with moments signaling how much had changed, this was another. It was arrival, a welcoming. Back where we belonged and such.
So at the end of Tuesday’s loss, it was something of the perfect bookend, I guess. While I don’t think this team or organization will enter anything like the abyss of before, it certainly is now a time of uncertainty and trepidation. Back then we knew the Hawks were there to stay. Now we know they could honestly be anything. While we had known it was coming since like January, to finally see it official is jarring and what lies beyond even more so.
There’s a lot that will piss us off about this season. For me, I most miss the tension. While we just passed the first day of spring, if you’re part of our fucked up cabal that probably means to you that spring doesn’t begin until the day of Game 1. The season ends but it only feels like a phase. You find out exactly who’s waiting finally and you start picturing the colors, players, things you’ll see over the next 10 days to two weeks. You eagerly await the schedule and official times. You already start your plans (drinking plans clearly).
You wake up that day, whether you work or not, and you don’t really focus. You know it very well might be two months before you’re of any use to anyone. That feeling of wanting to eat cigarettes. Tension beers. The charge in the air outside the United Center. We won’t get any of that, though clearly you could argue we barely got any last year either. Which is only accentuating this year’s despair.
Not that we aren’t used to this. The NHL playoffs were a party we watched from the lawn across the street for years and years. Sure, you get to talk to those who are hanging out outside to smoke or whatever but you’re missing the good stuff because the keg and dance party is inside.
That’s the point of being a hockey fan. It’s why you trudge through -2 from where you parked repeatedly, or suffer through the Hawks broadcast, or even bother reading this waste of time because there’s supposed to be this payoff. No other sport has such a start contrast and reward-type structure as the NHL. Sure, we’ve sat through a lot of shitty baseball in this town in my lifetime, but the weather was still warm and the beer still cold and the dogs still tasty at either park, so going to games or hanging out in your apartment with a breeze coming through the window was still its own reward. Sure, there’s charm in freezing your ass off on your way to watching the Hawks and Jets for the third time that year, but it’s not the same.
We’ve been missing out on that. We will miss out on that. And we may not get it back next year either. This is the new normal, I guess. Can’t say I like it much.
RECORDS: Hawks 28-29-8 Ducks 32-21-12
PUCK DROP: 3:00 PM
TV: NBCSN Chicago
UNDERGROUND DISNEYLAND OVERLORDS: Anaheim Calling
After showing an actual pulse yesterday in the third period, after a comeback we hadn’t seen in a very long while, and after an actually stirring win (though signifying nothing), the Hawks reward is to huff it down the I-5 to Orange County. Almost doesn’t seem fair. Anaheim isn’t a reward for anything.
What the Hawks will find when they get there is much like yesterday, a team clutching the last playoff spot with one or two cla…feet? Beaks? Whatever, carry your own metaphor here. The Ducks are in the last wild card spot, one point ahead of both the Avs and Blues and three ahead of the Flames. They’re four behind the Kings for the right to have another Battle of California in the first round.
It’s been up and down since you last saw Anaheim take a tight one over the Hawks here at the UC 20 days ago. They won the next three in Dallas, Vegas and Minnesota, but then found a way to only find a point in back-to-back games against the Coyotes and Oilers. They bounced back on Thursday with a win over the similarly flailing Blue Jackets.
Not much has changed with the Ducks in that time, roster-wise. GM Bob Murray didn’t think this team was worth investing too heavily into at the deadline, and with good cause. The problems they have–i.e. Cory Perry died, Ryan Getzlaf stopped caring about three seasons ago, and Ryan Kesler is now made of gum and duct tape–aren’t going to be solved by any trade. The Ducks can’t score much thanks to Perry dragging down the top line and Kesler the second, and Adam Henrique on the third can only do so much. But they don’t give up much either, thanks to the sterling form of John Gibson and Randy “Concussions Happen Because The Brain Gets Hot While Wearing A Helmet” Carlyle’s system not really allowing for any adventure on either side. They do that while still playing Kevin Bieksa, which is a hell of an accomplishment.
That’ll make for a real decision for Murray this summer, as Gibson will be heading into the last year of his deal. Thankfully for Murray it’ll only be an RFA problem but we know what starting goaltenders go for. Another big year from Gibson and he could ask for a lot from a team committed to paying their three cadavers at forward $23.4 million from here until The Reckoning.
While the Ducks will be flapping furiously until the end of the season (see what I did there?) to make the playoffs, that’s basically only window dressing for them. This team is most likely first-round cannon fodder for anyone they see, unless Gibson simply goes nuts. They don’t have the front-line scoring as Perry and Getzlaf are just too easily taken out of games now (as they always were in any game that mattered when they could move). Hampus! Hampus! is having a Norris quality season but Carlyle is insisting on playing him with Bieksa now, so what’s that shutting down? Cam Fowler and Brandon Montour aren’t doing that either. Stranger things have happened of course, but don’t bet on it. And once they’re out, this Ducks window is almost certainly closed.
Shouldn’t see too many changes from the Hawks, other than in net where JF Berube will hopefully not have Erik Gustafsson trying to kill him emotionally and physically as he did in San Jose. Q could get cute we guess and start Forsberg again, trying to ride the wave of yesterday. Whatever at this point. More of The Nuclear Option and see just what Carlyle wants to combat that with.
We know most of you are rooting for losses and better drafting position. We don’t blame you. But given how much we hate Anaheim and that they still have something to play for, seeing the Hawks try and build something off of yesterday and making life harder for the Ducks has major appeal. This one won’t be pretty given how the Ducks normally play, their stakes in this one, and the Hawks having played yesterday. But as is always the case in Orange County, just get through it and get the hell out of there as quickly as possible.
Game #66 Preview
Somewhere in the second period of last night’s horrifically dramatic and exciting, if not brilliantly played, Gold Medal game between the US and Canada, I had a pretty sobering thought: This is most likely the last hockey game I’ll have any emotional investment in until October.
Oh sure, there’s the minimal emotional investment of rooting against someone when the playoffs come around. Hockey fandom is nothing if not filled with vitriol and schadenfreude. Be it the Blues, Ken Hitchcock, the city of Boston in general, I’ll find sides to take. But as every song of the 60s told us, hate is not as rewarding as love. Seeing your enemies fall doesn’t bring the thrill of seeing your side triumph.
The past couple years, more and more people ask me why I or we as a team still do this. Last night would be the only answer I need. No other sport matches the swings of emotion, even if you’re just minimally invested. By the time Lamoureux sent Szabados into Row H with that move, the entire bar I was at was engrossed, where I was the only one watching when the game started. I didn’t want to go back to smoking so much as eat a couple cigarettes during the third and overtime. Every US mistake leading to a Canadian chance elicited this sucking sound as I quickly inhaled through clenched teeth, making an almost reverse-hissing noise.
Sometimes I’ve derided the women’s Olympic tournament as one-game long, and I believe it will be better for everyone when and if the rest of the world catches up. But it being the only game does add to the drama, doesn’t it? These two teams essentially practice for four years until this one, and it’s uniqueness heightens the occasion and tension Because the loser knows it’s going to be four years until they play anything resembling this again. Throw in the US choking away the last one and the added pressure of the wait for this one and the threat of doubling the wait and angst until the next chance.
You don’t realize until you’re older how the storylines accentuate what you feel what you’re watching. It’s more than just the contest. It’s everything going into it. And it’s the feeling your heart bounce off your heels and then nearly spring out the top of your head all in a matter of seconds. That’s why we’re still here, because you can’t get that anywhere else.
Oh sure, the Cubs are almost certainly going to take me on another October ride, but while I adore playoff baseball, the pacing of those games just make it exquisite torture. The time in between pitches gives me just enough time to imagine Bryce Harper hitting a ball far enough that it has to count for 10 runs every single time. And the series are over too quickly. That Cubs-Nationals car-crash lasted exactly a week.
Us soccer fans get some of this, but there’s too many days between games. And thanks to Bruce Arena and the other morons running US Soccer, Slak and I won’t even get that this summer. I’ve already seen England go out in the Round of 16 enough to not even stir any emotion about that either.
It’s been 10 years since we’ve gone a spring without it at all, though last spring probably counts in the “can’t feel anything” category. When the Hawks were regularly missing the playoffs, that’s what I was most jealous of. Knowing that there wouldn’t be any tension when you woke up, that haze you basically go through the days in, because what did anything matter before faceoff.
At least we had it for one night in February. And at least longing and disappointment, when they arrive, are feeling something.
Let’s start this with a story, one that exemplifies how childish, petty, and vitriolic being a sports fan can be. But hopefully, if you work out these kinds of emotions in this arena, you don’t apply them to the rest of your life where people close to you might get hurt. I said, “hopefully.”
It’s the Winter Classic at Wrigley. You may not remember, but as the Hawks had exploded on the scene in November and December, they had actually crawled to within four points of the Wings for first in the division. They faced two games against them, one in the Joe and the Winter Classic. Those of us who weren’t quite in tune with our senses thought this was the moment to really fire off a warning shot. I had launched the C.I. two months before, and was still sleeping on my father’s couch while it took hold.
You might recall that the Hawks got completely pantsed in Detroit, and it wasn’t much better at the Winter Classic. The Hawks got taught a lesson on what it would take to be where Detroit was and how much farther they had to go. But that’s not the point here.
Both of the Western Conference’s games went to overtime last night, and both series were evened at two games a piece as they head back to Dallas and San Jose respectively.
We keep moving along through the river, well to be more apt this underground garbage fire of a preview that is slowly encroaching on nuclear waste, to the forwards of the St. Louis Blues. And once you get past the first line, it gets pretty automaton, but you probably already knew that. It’s a raft of palookas and hired goons that are meant to make a bunch of sounds flashed on the screen from the Batman TV series (live-action, Pure West, not the cartoon, which I haven’t seen but am told isn’t bad). You know the plan, you know the players, it’s just a question of if the Hawks can execute the plays.
Alex Steen-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
I’ve spent so long thinking that Alex Steen is just a guy that’s taken about two years for me to pivot and finally admit that he’s a plus forward. Is he really a first liner? No, probably not. But he’s struck up an understanding with Tarasenko that’s become pretty deadly and really Steen doesn’t do anything wrong. He’s always in the right spot making the right play, he just doesn’t do it with any flash so you have to really pay attention to him.
None of what comes in this post is going to be much of a surprise to you. After reading us breaking down the entire Ducks team, you probably know where we think this is headed. But thanks to the NHL and their infinitely genius scheduling, we’ve still got time to kill. So let’s look into the crystal ball.
(Although I guess I understand the series didn’t start tonight, as with Kanye playing the Honda Center tomorrow it probably takes all of today to stuff his aura into the arena).
Time to clean up our preview of the Hawks’ Western Conference Final opponent the Anaheim Ducks.
Now this is where things could go a bit sideways for the Hawks, and clearly the biggest flashing red light. Just like the Hawks did last round, the Hawks will face the team heading into it with the playoffs’ hottest power play, as the Ducks are clicking at 31% in two rounds. Both Winnipeg and Calgary had middling kills during the season, but it’s not like the Hawks’ can claim much else from about March on.