No matter how delayed meteorologically, the coming of spring always feels a little better when both the Bulls and Blackhawks are playing playoff games in Chicago.
In 2014, fans in this city have been afforded this pleasure once again, but the promise of a defending Stanley Cup champion in one sport and a surging, threatening dark horse in the other could all be put squarely in the rear view if the wrong things happen this evening.
If the right things happen, then that perceived promise should be renewed despite both teams having spent the majority of their respective series with game deficits.
If not for the Rockets, the Bulls would be unmatched tonight in the NBA Playoffs with regards to pressure on one team. If not for the Pacers, the Bulls would be unmatched regarding whose the biggest first round disappointments.
Typically set up as the most evenly-matched series in the postseason, the 4-5 match-ups have both been disappointing for the 4s, each playing tonight on the road and down two games. Houston has dealt with some malfunctioning weapons, such as James Harden, but the Bulls’ stockade looks barren and unable to match the Washington Wizards, who are playing with all the exuberance and confidence at the key moments of each game of the series.
Even with solid performances from sources like DJ Augustin, Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah in Game 2, there was little back-up. The Bulls have been shown to not have the depth and inter-changable talent of its previously unproven opponent, but frustratingly, coach Tom Thibodeau hasn’t given his squad much of a chance to be dynamic, stubbornly riding players like the three mentioned (and poor Jimmy Butler, working on 96 minutes so far in a 101-minute series) and failing to outmaneuver Randy Whittman, who has put his guys in a position to succeed at the end of each game, outscoring the Bulls 61-42 from the fourth quarter over the course of Games 1 and 2.
Things are quite simple for the Bulls right now — get out and take control early in tonight’s game (7 pm, ESPN & CSN Chicago), settle down what should be a raucous D.C. crowd and get back in the series as soon as possible. There’s absolutely no coming back from a 3-0 deficit, not with a lack of any consistent go-to offensive threat, not with only one shot-disrupting defensive presence in Noah. The Wizards have been able to do what they want, when they want in this series and if that doesn’t change then neither will the trajectory of this series.
Bulls woes on defense real surprise (ESPN Chicago)
Wizards hope to avoid home letdown in Game 3 (Washington Post)
Have the Bulls been exposed by the Wizards? (Bleacher Report)
If the Bulls need a good example of how to play back into a series, then they can just look at their United Center roommates, who stand to take a 3-2 lead tonight (7 PM, NBCSN & CSN Chicago) if they handle business.
The Hawks actually took advantage of their home contests in their series against St. Louis after losing the first two in Missouri, and even more than that, the team has modulated its increased physical play to fit better with its natural scoring talent.
All that came to a head with a dazzling shut-out performance in goal from Corey Crawford to shut out the Blues 2-0 on Monday. Wednesday in Game 4 the offense had its most impressive outing of the series, taking control of the game with two unanswered goals in the second period and finishing it off in come-from-behind fashion with another goal late in the third and to close things out in overtime.
This team has come a long way from its devastating 3-OT loss in Game 1 and its mental collapse in Game 2. Brent Seabrook, whose ugly hit in the second game threatened to define a potential losing series, now awaits his return in Game 6, which could be a series clincher. Meanwhile, the Blues are losing more players and looking like they can’t not only skate with Chicago, they can’t withstand Chicago’s pressure as well.
Neither team should escape the feeling of urgency in a series that is down to a best-of-3, but given the way the last two games have gone and given their championship pedigree, only the Hawks can come close to feeling comfortable entering tonight.
Still the Hawks can’t afford to sleep on the Blues, luckily there’s nothing within the team to assume that they will do so, but it has to be stated nonetheless. Avoiding a seventh game in Round 1 would be key in the Hawks’ attempt to have success in later rounds. Home ice advantage is not assured them given their lower seed this season, so winning on the road would be a nice thing to see. Chicago hasn’t done it so far, bout time to get on that.
Blackhawks in a good position to win series (NHL.com)
Blues looking to rediscover their home ice magic (Belleville News-Democrat)
Patrick Kane back to form just in time (Chicago Sun-Times)
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