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Musick: Hawks’ dirty hits worse than loss

Published: Saturday, April 19, 2014 10:29 p.m. CDT • Updated: Saturday, April 19, 2014 11:17 p.m. CDT
Caption
(AP photo)
St. Louis Blues' David Backes (42) and Chicago Blackhawks' Johnny Oduya (27), of Sweden, fight for position during the second period in Game 2 of a first-round NHL hockey playoff series, Saturday, April 19, 2014, in St. Louis.

ST. LOUIS – Brent Seabrook walked quietly to his locker, turned toward the cameras and faced the music.

Actually, the Blackhawks’ veteran defenseman turned his back to the music. Outside the visitors’ locker room, a happy ditty played on the organ and filtered through the Scottrade Center after the St. Louis Blues rallied Saturday afternoon to beat the Hawks, 4-3, in overtime.

It was odd, the contrast between the upbeat song and the downbeat Seabrook.

“I don’t know what else to tell you,” Seabrook said as more than a dozen reporters surrounded him and asked different versions of the same question. “I hope [David] Backes is feeling all right. I hope he’s doing OK. That’s all I can say.”

Soon after, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock offered an update on his injured player.

“How do you think he is?” Hitchcock said. “Not great.”

Seabrook should be suspended multiple games for the hit, which left Backes dazed and unable to stand up straight in the moments that followed. Backes, who already had a history of concussions, could miss the rest of the series.

Replays left little room for argument. At the point of contact, Seabrook drilled his right shoulder directly into Backes’ head, causing the Blues’ forward to ricochet backward and slam his head where the glass meets the boards.

“I’d say that’s the stuff that we’re trying to get out of the game,” Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s a dangerous hit.”

This is the dark underbelly of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Players put in so much work throughout a grueling regular season to get to this point, and when they finally make it, they seemingly lose the ability to know when enough is enough.

So, we see head shots. Concussions. The threat of long-term brain trauma.

Perhaps more than any major sports team in Chicago, the Hawks are a likeable team filled with likeable players. They do great work for the community, they appreciate their huge numbers of die-hard fans, and they never quit on a game or a season.

But something was different about Game 2. Too often, the Hawks were unlikeable.

It was disappointing when Hawks forward Bryan Bickell stuck out his leg near center ice for a knee-to-knee blow against the Blues’ Vladimir Sobotka. Bickell was penalized for kneeing, and Sobotka was lucky to be able to skate off of the ice.

Bickell’s hit wasn’t a hockey play, it was a dirty play. Imagine the outcry if someone on the Blues had tried to pull the same move on Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane.

Even worse was Seabrook’s vicious hit against Backes late in the third period. Seabrook received a five-minute major for charging and a game misconduct, which opened the door for the Blues to tie the game with 6.4 seconds to go in regulation.

Less than six minutes into overtime, the Blues scored again to grab a 2-0 series lead.

Expect the NHL to make an announcement Sunday regarding Seabrook, who was playing a terrific game until the hit. He said everything happened fast.

“I was just trying to make a play on Backes,” Seabrook said. “I thought the puck was there, I was on [Alexander] Steen, I was just coming down the wall and I just tried to finish my hit. …

“I feel bad seeing a guy like that on the ice. I’ve been there myself, and I’m not trying to target his head, I’m not trying to do anything like that.”

But it happened. It was ugly. And for the first time in a long time, the Hawks resembled unlikeable bullies more than dazzling playmakers.

“We were a pretty disciplined team all year,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “You have to have emotion when you play St. Louis and you have to be smart at the same time. There’s a balance thing that’s necessary, and be smart [about] it.”

On Saturday, the Hawks were on the wrong side of that balance.

• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at tmusick@shawmedia.com and on Twitter @tcmusick.

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