Blackhawks Soothe Chicago, for Now
"GET OFF THE ICE, VERSTEEG," he yelled in the middle of the first period.
Yes, Chicago's Kris Versteeg (right) was awful, has been awful through the Blackhawks run in the playoffs. It's not certain that Versteeg had forgotten how to skate, though he kept stumbling around on the ice. But it did seem clear he had forgotten how to hold on to his stick.
"YOU [bleep] VERSTEEG," the heckler yelled.
It felt like the Randy Quaid guy in the "Major League" movies, comically heckling away, never believing.
Well, see if you can guess which of the Hawks would be the star in Monday night's 4-2 victory over Vancouver, which one scored the late game-winner. Guess which Blackhawk saved what is supposed to be the dream season.
"That last puck came to me and I was going to shoot it as hard as I could," Versteeg said about his game-winning goal with 1:30 left.
"It's something you grow up your whole life dreaming about."
Well, no. This goal just evened the conference semifinal series at 1-1, saving the Hawks from losing the first two games at home. If they had lost this game, they would not have come back.
But that can't be the dream come true, not on a team that has promoted a slogan all season:
That means the Stanley Cup, by the way, not Chicago's offense.
That heckler represented the first seeds of unhappiness in Chicago about the Blackhawks. The first little bit of frustration since the rebuilding and revamping three years ago of the Hawks -- resuscitating? -- had crept up after Game 1 of the series.
Vancouver crushed Chicago 5-1 in that one by outskating, out-muscling and out-goaltending, if that's a word, the Hawks. These young Hawks had grown up together, going from irrelevant all the way to Game 6 of the conference finals last year.
This year: last step.
And then the Hawks coasted around in the first game against Vancouver, didn't try particularly hard, and basically seemed to think this series, this Cup maybe, was their birthright.
So there was grumbling the past few days in this city, and that was the first heckler I had heard.
Just one heckler, yes. But the arrow has always been pointing up the past few years with these Blackhawks. Rocky Wirtz took ownership of the team after his father died, and he scrapped every bit of damage his dear old dad had done and started all over, bringing in young players, spending, putting games on TV.
We still don't know for sure if the Hawks have the It factor to win.
"I'm still thinking the commitment to checking is always going to get rewarded," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said.
Maybe that made Quenneville the second heckler, as this was roughly a coach telling his players they had played like a bunch of sissies. On Monday, they hit. The Hawks came after the Canucks, with the first pushing and shoving coming just 31 seconds into the game.
The Hawks were a little hyper, a little out of control. And Vancouver scored two goals in just over five minutes to start the game.
Chicago was already in trouble. Goalie Antti Niemi had given up seven goals in the first 65 minutes of the series.
"You don't want to think too much," he said. "You don't want to get rattled."
Meanwhile, Marian Hossa, the big-dollar guy brought in as the final piece to the Cup, was failing. Quenneville, who has spent a career coaching beautifully in the regular season but losing in the playoffs, was at it again.
Versteeg was stumbling, and dropping his stick.
But something clicked there for the Hawks. They took over for the final 50 minutes of the game, but just couldn't seem to get the puck past Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo.
"Obviously," Versteeg said, "it kind of sucks when they can't go in the back of the net."
Chicago cut it to 2-1 by the end of the first period, but couldn't pull even until Patrick Sharp's shorthanded goal in the final seven minutes of the game, with dreams starting to fade.
Versteeg had not exactly been a star yet. He was still stumbling around. With less than two minutes left, he was trying to drive for a shot, but instead lost control of the puck. Dave Bolland, on his knees in front of the net, dug the puck out to Brent Seabrook on Luongo's left. Seabrook pushed it to Duncan Keith in front of the net, and Keith got it back to Versteeg, who basically swung as hard as he could.
Just a guess, but the grumbling is going to stop now in Chicago, at least until Wednesday's game in Vancouver. These fans have been through too many years -- decades? -- of embarrassment, and are understandably a little nervous.
When it was over Monday, I still hadn't picked out the heckler, as he was likely mixed in with 22,000 crazed fans. But I can guess what he was thinking. This is what Quaid finally said late in "Major League 2":
"All right, break out the champagne. It's in the bag. The fat lady has left the building."
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