The Blackhawks could be on their last wing right now, could be down three games to one heading into Vancouver tonight, and no one, not even their most faithful followers, could rightly complain.
They've already had a regular season that was 16 points better than 2007-08, already won a playoff series for the first time in 12 years. This is all gravy, folks. This is all more than even the sunny-side up Blackhawks management could have hoped for when they replaced coach Denis Savard with Joel Quenneville four games into the season. This is a good, young Chicago team -- offense, defense, you name it -- with a rejuvenated fan base and a future in front of them. So if they'd gone quietly at the end of Game 4, let Vancouver seal up a 1-0 win, well, that would hardly have been cause for tears over at 1901 West Madison Street.
But if you fell asleep before that late comeback Thursday night (and boy were the Canucks doing everything they could to put people to sleep! I mean, sheesh, can the league adopt a too-many-men-on-the defensive-blue-line penalty? Please?) if you fell asleep, you missed the revelation that the Chicago Blackhawks are not quite ready to call it a spring. Quenneville later said that even as the clock ticked away and Vancouver kept clogging the ice like a sock in a drain, even then the feeling on the Blackhawks bench, "was that we were going to get it done."
So the sight of Roberto Luongo in the Vancouver net didn't scare them, and the sight of identical red-bearded men swooping around on either side of the ice didn't freak them out. The deficit didn't daunt them, the clogging couldn't stop them, and now, well, it's a best of three.
Here's what the Blackhawks need tonight, and what they need to extend their fantasy season into one more round: Brian Campbell in A-1 form. Campbell has quietly had a good playoffs for the Hawks, scored a couple of goals, set up a few others, applied the big hit that sidelined Pavol Demitra. And if the Canucks get a lead, go back to their protective shell, the glib Campbell is just the man to break it.
As much as people gushed about San Jose's newly acquired puck-mover Dan Boyle and how he rejuvenated the Sharks offense; as much as people wondered this season whether the puck-moving Campbell is worth that $57 million he's getting, it should be pointed out that Boyle is no longer in these Stanley Cup playoffs and Campbell most definitely is.
A big Game 5 for Campbell, a big couple of games here to try to close out this series, and Chicago GM Dale Tallon will feel like he's gotten every penny's worth out of Campbell -- just as the Blackhawks are squeezing every last second out of this rich season, doing whatever they can to make the gravy last.
Tonight we find out whether the clock has struck midnight for Capitals rookie goalie Simeone Varlamov, whose been looking like Chris Osgood, circa 1999, giving up those long-range goals. If the Capitals had on their bench a veteran goalkeeper whom they trusted, as opposed to Jose Theodore, Varlamov's leash would be a lot, lot shorter . . . After the Penguins beat the Capitals in Game 4, Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma talked about the knee-on-knee hit from Alex Ovechkin that took out Sergei Gonchar, and implied that the NHL might take action? Huh? The league is not about to levy any punishment on Ovechkin, especially not now. The guy is the league's most promising drawing card, a reason to get interested for many fringe fans. It would take a lot more than a borderline hit like the one on Gonchar to get this guy in hot water.