Talk About Testicular Fortitude...
There's simply not enough Mean Gene Orkerlund on this site, and thankfully the Hawks provided fodder tonight for me to start to change that. While it wasn't a perfect game by any measure, I think it's better than it might look from the stat sheet. What it mostly showed was balls. And balls can win you a lot over the next two months. Keep that in mind. The Hawks are also only the second team to grab any points when the Devils have the lead going into the 3rd. Very encouraging.
As most of you know, my skills for predicting things wrong is unmatched. Well, I got a couple things right tonight. I feared Dustin Byfuglien out against some real top-line talent. He went walkabout to leave Patrick Elias too many passing options. I worried about Kovalchuk getting space. He scored. So there's one out of 487.
In fact, the Hawks were blown away in the 1st. While the commentary and some of the thread would have you believe this was the Hawks being lethargic (and they were slightly), there's a reason the Devils are contending for the Atlantic crown. They'd had problems starting games the past little while, and it was obviously something they'd addressed. While we're not accustomed to seeing teams put the Hawks on the backfoot, the Devils can for stretches, and did for the first 10 minutes. But the Hawks continued to win draws, limiting Jersey possession, and slowly worked themselves back into it. They has some Niemi saves to thank, and he proved that when under the kosh he can keep his team in it. This after locking down a slender lead in Minnesota. All good signs.
The 2nd was the reverse. I thought the Devils D might struggle with a furious forecheck, and they did with turnovers and losing battles for the entirety. But what they do do well is limit chances and keep the front of the net clear. So while the Hawks managed some real quality chances, they were one and done. Still, after watching the second, I never doubted the Hawks would score. Really, I didn't. Honest.
The 3rd was more balanced, with chances going either way (by the way, whoever runs the shot board in Newark is certainly "liberal" with what constitutes a Devils' shot). The Hawks defensive game was much better the second two periods, and I think the Devils only had a couple real good chances. But the same could be said of the Devils, who really limited anything the Hawks could do, even with Coach Q going to the lineup-skidoo again. Still, I'm sure I wasn't the only one who knew the Hawks would score. Honest. No lies, and I kept my hands to myself.
Finally, in the last minute, in a scramble reminiscent of a young kids soccer game, the puck squirted to Kris Versteeg who blasted a roller on net that found its way through Fatso. Captain Marvel was in front making life difficult, but the Hawks certainly deserved an equalizer.
The OT was actually a little hairier than I thought it would be, with the Devils having the best chances. But Niemi easily saw off anything in front of him, and Toews was the only one to pot in the Stupid-Frame. Are we back yet? Getting close at least...
-You saw the best and worst of Versteeg tonight. A little too often he tried to navigate the razor-wired minefield that is the neutral zone against New Jersey. But he never stopped trying, created more than enough, and was rewarded.
-Bolland's line did not have a good 1st period, in fact they got their skulls dick-slapped. But their play over the next two was far better, and I've decided to be encouraged. Brouwer was very active.
-Kane also had some real jump tonight, that slump probably ends Sunday against a Flames team he torches.
-Is Buff in front of then net more now than he was when he played forward?
-I've got one leg on the Anti-Goal bandwagon.
-So, 2 of 3 on this trip is all we would have asked for to begin with, although this probably isn't the way we pictured it. The Sharks did their best to blow one in St. Paul tonight, but didn't . If you want the #1 seed Hawks, you probably have to win out. With efforts like this, that's certainly doable.
Player Of The Game
He kept the Hawks in it in the 1st, and stonewalled all Devils shooters to get us the extra point.