8:16 PM CDT, June 7, 2013
If anybody in the sports observation business ever tells you he or she doesn't take enormous joy in being right, they're lying.
Everybody with a laptop or a microphone relishes every opportunity to spike the ball after a prediction — be it on a game, a season, a career — proves correct. As it is with sports wagering, however, it's much easier to recall, in vivid detail, those "I'm telling you this is what's going to happen" projections when they belly up.
Good thing I don't blush easily. My NHL crystal ball has been an off-the-charts disaster this spring.
Leave it to the Stanley Cup playoffs to slam the brakes on my "told ya so" roll: Brian Urlacher's career being over, the White Sox being much closer to Cubs-level bad than anybody realized, etc.
Just after my "the Blackhawks are the hammer and the Red Wings are the nail" proclamation one game into the Western Conference semifinals blew up, I was telling anybody who would listen that the Hawks were coming back from Los Angeles with the series tied 2-2.
Without suspended defenseman Duncan Keith, the Hawks were certain to lose. Nobody could have convinced me otherwise.
Keith's performance in the first game of the series, on both ends of the rink, was his best of the year. Two nights after the Hawks couldn't get out of their own zone, there was no way that would change with Keith in civilian clothes for his boneheaded retaliation against Jeff Carter.
Question the depth of this Hawks roster and look the fool.
I know Niklas Hjalmarsson is a terrific player, but I didn't think he would be mobile enough to log the extra time two nights after taking a bullet of a slap shot off his right knee in Game 3. Hjalmarsson played more than 25 minutes and showed no ill effects.
Brent Seabrook rose to the occasion. Michal Rozsival got much more ice time and responded. Johnny Oduya and Nick Leddy were steady.
The Hawks' blue-liners got the puck out of the defensive zone. In tandem with the spirited forechecking efforts of the forwards, the Hawks afforded Corey Crawford his easiest third period in 16 playoff games, holding the Kings to two shots on goal.
So how in the world can Darryl Sutter's Kings, who were unbeaten after scoring first at home this season, muster up an effort Saturday and extend the series to six games?
It's the NHL playoffs. I would recommend waiting until Sunday morning before checking flights and hotels in Boston for the finals.
The Hawks are going to their second finals in four years, but I can't say with any more conviction that they will punch that ticket in Game 5 than I can predict Saturday's winning Powerball numbers.
The Bruins were left for dead in the first round, and the Maple Leafs choked. The Blues blew a 2-0 series lead on the Kings in the first round. The Red Wings, the No. 7 seed, were sure to upset the Hawks after taking a 3-1 series lead in the conference semis.
Professional hockey defies logic. How does one explain role player Bryan Bickell's ascent to first-line status? The soon-to-be-wealthy winger has gone from grinder to Conn Smythe contender.
The puck has been finding Bickell. And he has been cashing in. Bickell scored his eighth playoff goal Thursday, albeit on Jonathan Quick's worst moment in the series. The NHL's hottest goaltender couldn't get anything on an unobstructed Bickell knuckler.
That encapsulates how perfectly the stars have been aligned for Bickell lately. And it proves that the NHL playoffs can't be predicted or explained.
I'm going to keep trying though. Possessing a willingness to embarrass yourself is part of the job.
Special contributor Dan McNeil hosts "The McNeil and Spiegel Show" weekdays from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. on WSCR-AM 670.
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