It’s one thing to be on the bubble, another to be in it and a whole other to thrive in it.
Outside of a three-game sweep, the Chicago Blackhawks couldn’t have done any better than they did in its four-game series win (a “gentleman’s” sweep of the hosting Edmonton Oilers) in the National Hockey League’s qualifying round, a first ever challenge in the league and a first-ever chance for a No. 12-seeded team to make it into the proper Stanley Cup Playoffs, meaning the final 16 teams fighting for the Cup.
A technical playoff series win, it is allowed to go down as the first for the Hawks since the victorious 2015 season when the Men in Red last won it all. Now as the presumptive bottom seed in the Western Conference, the team gets to face Las Vegas — and former goalie 1A Robin Lehner — in a potential-seven game series starting Tuesday.
As previously stated in posts by our Hawks guy, Sid “The Kid” Brown, this team, while promising, is basically playing with house money. Four teams stood between Chicago and the playoffs when pro hockey took a pause in March. The game was in its final stretch to the postseason and the Hawks were being left behind once again but the extenuating circumstances of a pandemic and a season reduced to two bubbles in Canada left a unique chance for a team that could only hope for more time to bring itself together.
What the Hawks have collected amongst themselves in the isolation of Edmonton has been truly admirable — the team’s youth is melding well with its experienced playoff core.
To that point, young talent experiencing their first playoff action, such as Kirby Dach and Dominik Kubalik, have stood out even as the main foursome from the championship era — Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and the continually clutch Corey Crawford — look re-energized and ready to max out an unexpected playoff run.
Don’t expect Vegas to be as accommodating as Edmonton, not with a deep lineup that presents challenges on all four lines and a two-deep goalie platoon that the Golden Knights got from taking advantage of the Hawks role as sellers at the February trade deadline.
But oh, what a difference six months make. In the NHL postseason, its about the same difference seven games can make.
Hold — Cubs Just Waiting For More Action; Sox Need To Rally Soon
Could have been a worse week of baseball on both sides of town, but both the Cubs and White Sox enter a new week with questions to answer and momentum to collect.
The Sox took the place of the Cubs on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball last night due to the Cubs being on hiatus for the weekend because they unfortunately were scheduled to play St. Louis, who have taken over for Miami as the official MLB club of the COVID-19 season. The South Siders didn’t do well in its national spotlight, losing in extras to Cleveland and losing yet another series to them 2-1.
Just over two weeks into the season the Sox are 8-8, which is fine and good for playoff contention but there has to be worries at the Rate about the team’s defense and spotty pitching. It can be argued that the Sox can score enough to overcome such problems but with key contributors like Tim Anderson and Nick Madrigal dealing with injuries the most you can likely get from the South Siders now is the .500 play they’ve given. TA is expected back as soon as today, the kind of bump that keeps a call of “sell” away from the Sox for the moment, but another .500 or worst week will change that.
Meanwhile, the Cubs are good — 10-3 and still atop the National League Central, but lets see if the lack of action from the weekend will effect them any way as they gear up for a challenging week with two games against Cleveland and four over next weekend with Milwaukee, the kind of series that could allow the North Siders to cement an advantage in their division psychologically if nothing else.
Hold — Bulls Win By Doing Nothing
A quick look at the Bulls, who have both impressed and not impressed with its typical brand of inaction this week: first, the good, which is more like the “ugly” mixed with an unexpected plus that makes the Bulls look good by comparison.
The Washington Wizards, who really didn’t belong in the NBA’s bubble play, have been so horrid in Orlando that they’ve fallen from No. 9 in the Eastern Conference to No. 11, falling behind two teams who weren’t even invited to play any more games — the Charlotte Hornets, and yes, the Bulls.
This doesn’t really prove anything except that maybe 24 teams could have been down in the bubble instead of just 22, or maybe it should have been just 20 or so given that the competition for the West’s No. 8 seed has been the best thing about the seeding games so far.
It’s likely the Bulls would have embarrassed themselves just as much as any team in the bubble if they went down there with coach Jim Boylen, who doesn’t look to be going anywhere soon and its that inaction that should keep any fan from fully buying into what this franchise is doing for the near future.
Buy — Sky Fly Steady Through Another Week
At least the Sky are continuing to hold up Chicago’s dignity on the court: continuing its play in the WNBA’s “Wubble” with a 2-1 record over its last three games, most recently beating the Connecticut Sun 100-93 on Saturday.
Not much has changed in the past week, but it seems that the competition is getting deeper by the game as each team in the “W” sizes each other up. There was a lot of that in the Sky’s loss to Phoenix on Thursday and those two facing off again this week would be the most anticipated game if not for Tuesday bringing a match between the Sky and current league-leader Seattle.
Buy — Fire Get 2nd Chance at Success
Finally, some good news for Major League Soccer fans and Chicago Fire fans in particular — the MLS season won’t end with its “MLS is Back” tournament, which is wrapping up Tuesday.
A schedule for the fall was released this week, which means the Fire will get to play out games at Soldier Field like it planned this year and it’ll be in the running for the 2020 MLS Cup, which is scheduled to take place in December.
As expected, fans won’t be in attendance at these upcoming games but simply playing them out at Soldier Field and the Fire establishing its TV relationship with WGN is a win both for the franchise and the league, especially with odds increasingly rising against there being much American football this fall.
Competitively, the Fire also didn’t do too bad at the return tournament in Florida, simply finishing weakly in trying to get to the tourney’s final 16 as we wrote in our first CSO post. There’s a chance the Fire could utilize more play into a true team-building exercise. Ask the Hawks how effective that can be.
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