Today we are learning how to do the Ronaldo Chop. This is the Ronaldo from Real Madrid I’m talking about. Think of this video like soccer school. The Ronaldo…
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More proof that the regular season – stats, performance, trends, whatever – can mean so little when the playoffs roll around is evident nightly on the face of the frustrated and struggling Jonathan Toews, captain of the Chicago Blackhawks. Chicago had one of those seasons for the ages – 24 games without a regulation defeat to start the year, a league-high 77 points to win the President’s Trophy and home-ice advantage for as long as they play in the post-season – and Toews was a big part of what went right for the Blackhawks this year. He was 13th in the league in scoring, an eye-popping plus-28, received some MVP support and generally helped make Chicago the darlings of the shortened NHL season.
All of it is threatening to go – poof! – up in a puff of smoke in the second round against a pesky, rebuilding-on-the-fly Detroit Red Wings team that is teaching Chicago a thing or two about how the playoffs differ from the regular season.
Though known primarily as a skilled, puck-possession team, Detroit has more than its share of bangers, and some of them – notably, the defence pair of Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson, forward Justin Abdelkader and Toews’ personal shadow, Henrik Zetterberg – have been consistently getting under Captain Serious’s skin in these playoffs.
Toews had 23 regular-season goals, tied with Patrick Kane for the Blackhawks’ team lead, but he has zero thus far in nine playoff games – and his frustration boiled to the surface in what may turn out to be the decisive game in the series, a 2-0 shutout victory for Detroit Thursday night, which gave the Red Wings a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference semi-final. Toews didn’t like the way the Red Wings were working him over physically and he showed it in the second period, where he was flagged for not one, not two, but three consecutive minor penalties.
Toews is normally the epitome of cool, the perfect captain in many ways, but the combination of the Red Wings’ checking and his inability to break a lengthy goal-scoring drought finally got to him. On the second infraction, a high-sticking call in which Toews thought Abdelkader was guilty of embellishment, the Red Wings scored the only goal they’d need, on the power-play, off Jakub Kindl’s stick, with one second to go in the man advantage. Toews went to the penalty box immediately after for getting his stick up on Ericsson and long-time teammate Brent Seabrook actually went into the penalty box to put his arm around him and settle him down. That sort of composure loss is close to unprecedented and proves again that sometimes, a little regular-season adversity can pay dividends in the playoffs.
Detroit certainly had its share early on.
They were terrible at the start of the year, losing a 6-0 decision in the season opener to the St. Louis Blues, but gradually found their way, integrating young players, and living with Jimmy Howard’s inconsistent moments in goal.
Meanwhile, Chicago lost just seven games in regulation in the regular season; at no point did they lose three in a row the way they have against the Wings. Chicago swept the season series against Detroit – meaningless now, with the Blackhawks on the ropes and threatening to become yet another President’s Trophy-winning team unable to close the deal in the post-season. It proves once again that in the NHL playoffs, if it’s your week, it could be your year. Detroit wasn’t great for long stretches of the season, but they got it together in time.
So when Red Wings coach Mike Babcock was asked if he could have imagined this turnaround happening, he was candid: “If you had asked me two months ago, I’d be shocked. A month ago, we started playing better. Once we got through the Anaheim series, you go in thinking you have an opportunity. Our big thing was just to prolong the series and maybe the pressure gets up on them and in the end, you get through it. But we’re competing at a high, high level. We don’t do things right all the time. But I think we’re doing things hard all the time. We’re trying hard. There’s a lot to be said for effort and compete and battle, and our penalty killing’s been outstanding.”
It was a game that could have gone either way, but went to Detroit – one of those times when a one-goal game (the second Red Wings’ goal came into the empty net) wasn’t an exercise in drudgery, but a close, tight, competitive contest. The Blackhawks rattled two shots off the goalpost behind Howard, making it five goalposts hit in the last two games. For Howard, the Red Wings’ goalie, who recorded his second career shutout, he has now surrendered just two goals in the past three games to the Blackhawks, who were No.2 behind only the Pittsburgh Penguins in scoring this year. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville went out of his way not to be critical of Toews’ game, and said his captain brings more than just scoring to the table:
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DETROIT – The Chicago Blackhawks began the year with a record-breaking start.
The NHL’s best team during the regular season will have to finish the season strong to avoid flopping out of the playoffs in the second round.
Jakub Kindl scored on a power play in the second period, Daniel Cleary had an empty-net goal and Jimmy Howard made 28 saves to help the Detroit Red Wings earn a 2-0 win Thursday night that puts the Blackhawks on the brink of elimination.
After losing Game 1, the seventh-seeded Red Wings have surged into control of the second round series by handing the Blackhawks their first three-game losing streak of the year.
Is Detroit coach Mike Babcock surprised that his team that barely made the playoffs is a win away from the Western Conference finals.
“If you would ask me two months ago, I would be shocked,” he acknowledged.
Game 5 is Saturday night in Chicago, where goaltender Corey Crawford is confident the team can win the first of three straight games.
“We’ve gone on streaks before,” Crawford said. “We just have to keep playing hard and it’s going to have to turn our way.”
Chicago’s chances will improve if captain Jonathan Toews can score and keep his cool.
He couldn’t do either in Game 4.
When Howard wasn’t using his glove or pads to deny Toews, Detroit’s skaters were rattling him with a physical presence that made him uncomfortable.
“Eventually, something’s got to give,” Toews said. “We’re too good a team. We’ve got too much talent.
“For as hard as we’re working, something’s got to go our way.”
Crawford did a solid job in his net, but he couldn’t kick his right leg out quick enough to stop Kindl’s shot on a power play midway through the second period and he was on the bench in favour of an extra skater when Cleary sealed the victory in the final minute.
“The pressure is on them,” Detroit defenceman Jonathan Ericsson said.
Yes, it is.
And, no one in the Windy City will want to extend the series more than Toews.
“We’ve got to find a way to force a Game 6,” he said.
The Blackhawks desperately need Toews to score and lead after he extended his goal drought in a composure-crumbling performance.
Toews was called for three penalties in the second—two for high-sticking—and could’ve gone to the box a fourth time in the period for slashing Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg while an official stood between them.
“Emotions run high in some of these games, and my stick got a little loose there,” he said. “I was playing hard. Sometimes that happens.”
The Red Wings took advantage of the second power play Toews gave them when Kindl sent a low shot to the near corner from the top of the left circle.
“We’d like to keep him in the box,” Ericsson said. “He’s not as good for them in the box.”
Chicago had killed its first 30 penalties of the playoffs and matched the 2001 St. Louis Blues’ feat of playing eight post-season games without giving up a power-play goal, the longest such streak since 1988.
The Blackhawks had a power play with 4:45 left in the game when Kindl was called for hooking, but they couldn’t tie the game.
Crawford made 25 saves and allowed one goal, after giving up seven goals in the previous two games.
Howard was just a little bit better, earning his first shutout of this post-season and the second of his career in the playoffs. He has helped the Red Wings win five of their last six games since trailing Anaheim 3-2 in the first round.
“He made a couple of big saves there,” said Chicago’s Patrick Sharp, who had five goals in five games against Minnesota and only one so far against Detroit. “We hit a few posts.”
Kindl scored his first goal of his first post-season to help the rapidly improving Red Wings pull within a win of their first trip to the Western Conference finals since 2009 when they got past Chicago and went on to lose Game 7 in a Stanley Cup finals rematch against Pittsburgh.
“Biggest goal of my life so far,” Kindl said.
Toews has gone 10 post-season games without a goal—dating to last year’s playoffs—in what is the longest scoring skid for a former Conn Smythe winner since Claude Lemieux went 20 games without a goal from 2000 through 2009, according to STATS.
Toews, who has three goals in his last 30 playoff games, broke a tie for his second longest streak without a goal in the post-season and trails his 14-game skid that spanned 2010 and 2011.
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville insisted Toews, who he put on a line with Patrick Kane, is doing a lot of things and isn’t the only one struggling to score.
“We just have to find a way to get more about of everybody,” Quenneville said.
NOTES: Since winning the Stanley Cup in 2010, Chicago has lost in the first round twice and is a loss away from a second-round exit. …… Chicago hadn’t given up a power-play goal since April 22. … Detroit D Danny DeKeyser, who broke his right thumb in the first round and was ruled out for the playoffs, said he is holding out hope that he can come back if his teammates can advance.
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1. Vanderbilt hasn’t released Sheldon Jeter to his hometown Pitt Panthers yet. It may or may not come. Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings has never blocked a player from transferring to a specific school in the past. Jeter could be the first. Regardless of whether or not it’s fair to put a block on a player receiving a scholarship in his first year at a new school (blocking doesn’t prevent the player from transferring to a school, but does cloud the process with the NCAA), there is a right and wrong way to depart.
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