Chicago Blackhawks celebrate after Patrick Sharp scores. (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)
So much for the theory playoff inexperience will scupper the Chicago Blackhawks. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane, in an offensive role, and Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith, in a shutdown role, are playing like playoff giants in Chicago's 2-0 series lead against Calgary.
The only time the young Hawks look apprehensive is in the opening period when they let the Flames set the pace in both puck control and aggression, something they’ve done two games in a row. But skill and talent prevailed as Chicago rallied with three second-period goals, two by Toews.
Toews, according to TSN analyst Bob McKenzie, is playing like a young Bryan Trottier. He's creative in the offensive zone, responsible on the backcheck and strong-willed enough to keep his focus when the pressure is on.
The Chicago kids get most of the credit for the Blackhawks resurgence and comeback abilities in this series, but chalk one up for the ol' stopper as well.
Hawks goalie Nikolai Khabibulin was phenomenal in Game 2 Saturday keeping Chicago within two goals and withstanding heavy Calgary pressure. His career dominance over the Flames is uncanny. Most of his big saves were due to solid positioning and athletic ability, but the difference between him and Calgary goalie Miikka Kiprusoff is Khabibulin's anticipation for the next pass.
It's not that Kiprusoff has been bad - he hasn't - it's just that Khabibulin has been better.
The Calgary Flames just finished playing their two best games in six weeks, yet they still trail 2-0 in their heavy-hitting series with the Blackhawks.
Just like they did in Game 1, the Flames came out strong and aggressive in Game 2. Unproductive Olli Jokinen was taken off the first line and moved to a unit with David Moss and Rene Bourque, forcing the Hawks to contend with three lines capable of scoring. Jarome Iginla started the game with hard-working Curtis Glencross and playmaker Craig Conroy. They had their chances, but couldn't get the deal done in the second and third periods.
Calgary played with focus and determination in the first period registering 21 hits, but the magic went missing in the second period. The Flames had just five hits.
If Calgary's biggest fault in Game 1 was changing their game plan by going into a defensive shell in the third period after getting a 2-1 lead, their fatal flaw in Game 2 was easing off the gas-pedal with a 2-0 lead in the second period.
Want to feel a chill down your spine? Turn up the volume when Jim Cornelison revs up to start the U.S. national anthem in Chicago. No one in sports does it better and no where does it resonate louder than the United Center. It carries right through to the final note. Check it out if the series gets to a Game 5 next Saturday, but make sure the volume on your TV set is way up.
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Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. You can find his blog each weekend.
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