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Saturday, May 1, 2010
Blackhawks proving tough to love

By Jon Greenberg
ESPNChicago.com

Kramer: It's a write off for them.

Jerry: How is it a write off?

Kramer: They just write it off.

-- "The Package," from "Seinfeld"

CHICAGO -- Write this game off.

Throw it away. Bury it deeper than your most embarrassing moment at summer camp. You know, when the water was cold …

That's what you do with a 5-1 opening-game loss to Vancouver in the Western Conference semifinals when you're the Blackhawks, a team that treats opening games of playoff series like a mulligan on the golf course.

Patrick Kane
Patrick Kane, who scored the Blackhawks' lone goal, said they will learn from the loss -- and then throw it away quickly.

That's what you do when your goaltender, fresh off a pair of first-round shutouts, handles rebounds worse than Eddy Curry, when your defense thinks a clear is just a wireless network, and when your forwards couldn't find a crack in The Wailing Wall, Roberto Luongo, with a jackhammer.

That's what you do when you're the high-scoring, late-starting Blackhawks. You forget about this game the moment you wake up Sunday, right?

"I don't think so," Patrick Kane said. "I think you can learn from it, like any other game you lose like this. I think the biggest thing would be to learn about it tomorrow and then obviously you want to throw it away after that. And then think about the things you can do better from this game, for sure."

Taking advantage of the quick turnaround is key, because you don't want to relive this one for too long.

"That's the way you look at it," Brian Campbell said. "We've got to come back and respond Monday."

"The best thing about the playoffs is you can come back and try to even the series," Kane said.

For an organization that loves nothing more than celebrating its newfound success, this team seems to relish making it difficult for their fans and themselves to enjoy this second season. The Blackhawks have lost the opener of their past four playoff series, going back to last year's semifinals against Vancouver. The good news, of course, is that they won three of those series, including the first series this year against Nashville.

The way this team treats openers, I'd hate to see these guys throw out pickup lines at a bar. How many vodka sodas in the face would cause you to find a different rap?

"It's not like we're trying to lose Game 1 of the series," Kane said. "It's just something that happens and obviously, not something you want. But we've been successful from it before, so this is probably no different."

What can you get from watching tape of this game? It's not like the Hawks don't know where their troubles lie. It was effort and focus, plain and simple.

"We'll obviously correct some of our mistakes in areas, and things we can do better," Campbell said. "And also look for some positive things that worked for us, especially in the first period, that we're going to have to continue Monday night."

Positive things? I said throw this game away, not rewrite it. Was there a positive to this game, beside its end?

"We can't be happy in any respect with what took place tonight," coach Joel Quenneville said. "I think we definitely have to respond."

Antti Niemi will have the spotlight on him Monday night and everyone will be watching how he reacts to a five-goal bludgeoning and a hook before the third period. Quenneville did him a favor by letting him finish the second and sparing Niemi the embarrassment of being pulled in the middle of a period for Cristobal Huet, who was last seen on the side of a milk carton.

The typically placid Niemi didn't talk to the horde of reporters before most decamped for the coaches' interviews, but you could see him sitting in a private locker room, reliving each goal in his bowed head.

"I could've maybe pulled him after one of the other goals, but I wanted to get him through the end of the period," Quenneville said. "He's fine. He's got a great disposition and demeanor, as far as his approach."

The game went downhill quickly as the Canucks scored twice in 43 seconds of ice time between the first and second periods. Niemi's kick save of a Ryan Kesler shot ricocheted directly to a charging Mason Raymond to make it 2-0 with 11 seconds left in the period.

Just 32 seconds into the second, Henrik Sedin scored to make it 3-0. The culprit there was Duncan Keith, who botched a clear attempt in front of the goal. The puck found Sedin less than 10 seconds later for the goal.

"We were slow out there, right from the start," Keith said. "It didn't seem like we got any better. We were slow to react, slow to lose pucks. Slow everywhere."

The Hawks are a fast team, which makes this harder to digest. After all, the problems getting up early against Nashville were largely blamed on the Predators' tight style. Now against a much-better team, Chicago still had trouble closing out scoring chances. Falling behind caught up to them once again.

"I thought the pace was good for both teams in the first period," Quenneville said. "It would've been nice, obviously, to score, but we played pretty well for them."

Quenneville certainly wasn't pleased with the mental mistakes that caused the first three goals. After that, the Hawks had no rhythm as the Canucks ran it up pretty quick. The 5-0 deficit with 3½ minutes to play in the second should've negated playing the Chelsea Dagger song when Kane finally broke the drought in the third.

There was nothing good about this one for the Hawks, who sure can't count on history repeating itself against this team. Well, there is one silver lining.

"Put it this way," Keith said. "It can't get any worse."

Famous last words or a promise of better things to come? We'll see Monday night.

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.