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2010 Stanley Cup Finals, Game 3: Blackhawks not worried about Wachovia atmosphere

Wachovia.jpgOne of the more interesting questions asked of the Blackhawks today
before tonight’s game concerned their preparation and readiness for the
raucous and sometimes violent Flyers crowd that will be out in full
force. It was a great question, and certainly topical considering the
game tonight is in Philadelphia, but one I just don’t think applies to
the Chicago Blackhawks.

Would it apply to the Dallas Stars or the Tampa Bay Lightning?
Certainly, but if there is one team in the NHL that should be prepared
for the noise that will be prevalent in tonight’s game it’s the Chicago
Blackhawks.

Forget the fact that until three years ago, United Center could have
been considered an abandoned building. Now that the Hawks are great
again — and the ownership is actually embracing it’s fans instead of
ignoring them — the Blackhawks have built one of the loudest and most
passionate fanbases in the NHL. One could argue that the Blackhawks fans
are on the exact same level as the crowds in Montreal, San Jose,
Washington and yes — Philadelphia.

Patrick Sharp, who has spent time here in Philadelphia, is looking
forward to seeing how the home crowd will act now that the Flyers are in
the Cup finals. He certainly agrees that the fans here in Philly are
more passionate than most.

“I’m not sure how they’re going to treat us,” said Sharp. “In the
Playoff atmosphere I know I was on the Flyers side before. It’s a great
atmosphere. Every building has great fans when the puck goes in the
net or something happens out on the ice. These Philly fans, they watch
every play. They can get on top of the opposing teams players as well.

“I think it’s going to be a fun atmosphere. We’re all looking
forward to it, and we want to play our best.”

One reason that the Hawks aren’t all that worried about the
atmosphere here, and they acted a bit nonchalant about the whole thing
honestly, is that the team has been so good on the road.

If the Blackhawks win tonight, they’ll break the NHL for consecutive
road wins in the playoffs. After losing on the road in Nashville in
round one, the Hawks have rattled off seven straight victories on the
road.

That includes five straight between Vancouver and San Jose, two of
the rowdiest crowds around. I’d say they know exactly what it takes to
not only win on the road but win in the most hostile environments in the
league. Perhaps that’s because they’re so used to the atmosphere at
home, but Jonathan Toews attributes their road success to how close the
team is on the road.

“When you’re on the road, you spend more time as a team. We’re
together. For us that’s where we want to be. That’s where we’re in our
comfort zone.”

There’s stories circulating as well that one reason for how close the
team is on the road are the nightly Super Mario Kart tournaments. While
I don’t know about the particular team-building methods that Mario Kart
possesses, there’s no doubt that this is a very close-knit team.
Patrick Sharp agrees.

“I think we get along so well off the ice as a team. We enjoy each
other’s company. We like being out on the road together. It’s nice to
have a road-winning streak, but it doesn’t mean much at end of the day.
We have to hopefully win two more on the road.”

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    2010 Stanley Cup Finals, Game 3: Flyers not feeling any pressure

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    Flyers9.jpgIf there was one thing to take away from this morning’s skate, is
    that the Philadelphia Flyers are nowhere near panic mode.

    They looked calm, confident and focused and according to them, they
    aren’t feeling the pressure.

    They are down 2-0 against Chicago, and a loss tonight would put them
    in the dreaded 3-0 hole. They’ve come back once this year against those
    odds, but doing it again and in the Cup finals against the Chicago
    Blackhawks is a completely different animal altogether.

    Still, they say, there’s no pressure.

    “I’m not sensing a lot of pressure,” coach Peter Laviolette said.
    “As far as the building and the fans and the energy, I’m a big believer
    in that. I say harness all of it and ride it as hard as you can. The
    pressure, I’m not seeing it from our guys. I don’t see it in the
    interviews. I don’t see it on the ice. I don’t see it in the locker
    room.

    The players themselves stated the same thing and certainly didn’t
    appear to be all that worried about their deficit in the series.
    Instead, they’re focused on improving and focused on just winning
    tonight. They’ll have their home crowd behind them this time, and while
    I’m sure the energy will give them some extra jump they appeared to be
    completely comfortable as they settle back onto their home ice.

    “We’re a loose group,” Laviolette said. “We’re really comfortable
    where we’re at right now, and we would like it to be the other way, but
    we’re not. We’re comfortable here because we’ve been here too many
    times. We’re looking forward to it tonight.”

    Several players stated that while they’re not happy with being down
    2-0 to the Blackhawks, this is a position they’ve been in nearly all
    season long. This is a team that’s had it’s back against the wall, that
    barely made it into the playoffs and have gone on a historic ride
    through the postseason. Since Laviolette replaced John Stevens on
    December 4th, however, he’s done nothing but get them ready for this
    moment.

    “We’ve been in a situation since Christmas where it’s been time to
    pack it in,” he said. Everybody just go home. Call it a year. And yet
    we’re still here. It’s the beginning of June. We’re pretty happy to be
    here. And the guys won’t quit. They just won’t. That’s why I sit up
    here today confident about our ability to win a hockey game tonight.”

    2010 Stanley Cup Finals, Game 3: Does Pronger get away with too much?

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    Chris Pronger does not have a great reputation. He’s been suspended
    multiple times in the past, and not always for just a bad hit — the
    leg-stomping incident is about as bad as you can get.

    That he ended up playing for the Flyers is only fitting. He was
    brought in to provide not only great defensive leadership and veteran
    experience, but to be that nasty guy out on the ice that no one wants to
    mess with. The Flyers are a physical team for sure, but every team
    needs a player that is — sort of — like Pronger.

    A lot of the focus headed into this series has been on his matchup
    against Dustin Byfuglien. After two games and a complete shutdown of the
    Blackhawks’ top line, the focus has now shifted to what I think is one
    of the oddest and dumbest incidents to debate over I’ve seen in a long
    time.

    Chris Pronger stole the puck at the end of both games.

    Oh my.

    This has caused an incredible amount of debate to spill out across
    the interweb, with many saying this is justification that Pronger is
    nothing more than a jerk. Perhaps he’s a genius. It seems that everyone
    is talking about Pronger and this puck incident instead of focusing on
    what really matters.

    Today, several of the Blackhawks were asked about Pronger. Other than
    the postgame festivities after Game 2, he’s been relatively quiet. He’s
    played solid and smart hockey, not allowing himself to get caught up in
    any games with the rest of the Blackhawks.

    Instead, it’s the Blackhawks that are now caught up in his game.
    Patrick Kane was asked if perhaps Pronger gets away with more because oh
    who he is.

    “I think so. I think the refs probably know it too,” Kane said. “He’s
    been in the league a long time. He gets away with whacks here and
    there that he probably shouldn’t. Playing in the league that long, I
    guess you kind of deserve something like that.”

    Coach Joel Quenneville isn’t all that worried about it, and says that
    Pronger is smart for being able to play like he does without taking too
    many penalties.

    “You have to commend Prongs for finding ways to get around it or
    push the envelope, whichever — as far as, I guess, you can push it.
    But he’s a smart player that is effective in a lot of ways. He finds
    the way to take advantage of whatever situation it is that can give him
    an edge.”

    Perhaps Pronger went a bit too far in taking those
    pucks, but it’s created drama for the Blackhawks while he’s easily
    shrugged off any question directed his way about it. The Flyers didn’t
    have much to say about it today and frankly weren’t asked all that much
    about the incident.

    I’m certain that Adam Burish will have
    something to say though, and while he’s done plenty of talking off the
    ice I’m certain he might have something to say tonight as well.

    2010 Stanley Cup Finals, Game 3: Yes, Hossa is valuable to Hawks

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    Hossa1.jpg

    If the Chicago Blackhawks had lost the first two games of this
    series, or even split them, then we might be talking about how Marian
    Hossa is undoubtedly cursed.

    This is his third straight Stanley Cup finals, and he’s the first
    player to appear in three straight series with three different teams. He
    was on the losing end in his two previous trips to the Cup finals, and
    some thought that the Blackhawks adding Hossa was the kiss of death.

    Hossa was almost magical for the Penguins in 2008, acquired at the
    trade deadline to provide offensive firepower and he responded with 12
    goals and 26 points in just 20 games, as the Penguins eventually lost to
    the Red Wings. Last season, he made the switch over to Detroit, and
    struggled with his production, scoring just 6 goals in 23 games as the
    the Wings lost to his former team.

    Hossa started the postseason this year in similar fashion, being
    nearly invisible on the scoreboard as his team rolled through the first
    three rounds of the playoffs. Thankfully, the rest of his team was
    scoring and we were left to wonder if perhaps Hossa was pressing too
    much as he fought to finally, finally hoist the Cup at the end of the
    postseason.

    Coach Joel Quenneville wasn’t worried about his
    struggles in the first three rounds of the playoffs.

    “We
    really like the way he has progressed in the Playoffs as well. I’m
    sure he’s excited about the third chance here this year. We really like
    his contribution in the first two games. I think that line has been
    very effective in a lot of ways.”

    In the first two games of the Cup finals, Hossa has awakened. He’s
    back to looking like the dominant player he can be and it’s none too
    soon; with the top line of the Blackhawks struggling mightily, Hossa was
    needed more than ever to step up his game. He has a goal and two
    assists in the two games against the Flyers — not earth shattering
    numbers but his efforts in other areas of the game that’s made the
    difference.

    Patrick Sharp is certainly glad he’s on the team this season, as he’s
    been the difference maker they needed him to be:

    “He’s been a great addition to the team,” Sharp said this afternoon.
    “If you ask all 30 teams in the league if they want [Hossa] there they’d
    take him gladly. We’re lucky to have him on our team.”

    Sharp says that Hossa has made a difference for the Blackhawks, even
    if he’s not putting up a ton of goals.

    “He brings so much more to the club than just his goalscoring.
    Everyone knows him because he scores 40 goals a year, but he’s one of
    the best two-way wingers in the league. He’s a great locker room guy and
    the fact that he’s been to three Cup finals is a great thing.”

    Hossa looked the best he’s looked all postseason on Monday night in
    Game 3, as he was a force along the boards and in front of Michael
    Leighton. His determination was awarded with the first goal of the game,
    as he beat several Flyers players to a rebound.

    Despite not putting up big numbers, he’s been incredibly sound
    defensively and has been a perfect example for the rest of the team on
    how to still make a difference even if you’re shots aren’t hitting the
    back of the net. He’s a plus-11 through 18 games, showing that he hasn’t
    become overly frustrated despite not scoring at his usual pace.

    Quenneville is convinced that Hossa is much, much more to his team
    than just a goal scorer, and he allows the coaches flexibility with
    their lines and matchups.

    “For sure as a coach you have a lot more options with him on the
    ice,” the Blackhawks coach said. “I think defensively he really provides
    a lot of puck possession and defensive responsibility. Offensively if
    he’s got the puck, he can make plays. That line has been a big factor,
    and he’s a big part of it. “

    2010 Stanley Cup Finals, Game 3: Andrew Ladd out tonight, still "day to day"

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    Everyone’s eyebrows raised a bit today at the morning skate for the Chicago Blackhacks when Andrew Ladd skated for the first time with the team. He looked fine, didn’t seem to be all that limited and immediately we started to debate on who might come out for the Hawks if Ladd could play.

    The first thought was Adam Burish, who hasn’t been getting that many minutes but who has been instrumental in negating the agitation the Flyers have tried to use against the Hawks. Or it could be Ben Eager or Tomas Kopecky, but both have been scoring big goals for Chicago while the top line has struggled.

    Turns out they won’t have to worry about all that, at least for tonight, as Joel Quenneville says that Ladd is out tonight and is still “day-to-day” with his injury.

    It’s a great problem to have, when the prospect of Ladd coming back into the lineup means that the Hawks will struggle with trying to find someone to pull of the ice. The Hawks have used their depth to get this far in the postseason and their depth is reason No. 1 that they’ve been successful against the Flyers in two games.