By HOWARD BERGER
CHICAGO (Feb. 29) – There was no evidence of the Maple Leafs at the United Center this morning, and fans of the reeling club are likely fearful the same could apply after 8 o’clock tonight.
Having chartered here after last night’s debacle against Florida, the Leafs canceled their usual morning skate and chose to rest at their hotel on the famed Magnificent Mile. No such adjective has been used to describe the Blue and White since early this month, when the club established a remarkable streak of penalty-killing during a 10-4-2 run that moved it to within four points of home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. It seems almost laughable – given the events of the past three weeks – that Leafs could have been so close to that coveted spot.
A 1-8-1 disaster since Feb. 6 has Leaf fans in an uproar and Leaf management in a state of virtual paralysis. That said, there remains a vehement misunderstanding of the trade deadline among even the most astute followers of the Leafs. Mark this down for next year: IT IS NOT POSSIBLE TO FIX A BROKEN CLUB AT THE DEADLINE. A very good team such as Vancouver can add pieces to try and nudge it past other contenders, while lousy clubs can sell off useful parts for draft picks. But, no team playing as horribly as the Leafs can reverse its fortune at trade cut-off. Therefore, dumping on Brian Burke for his inability to do so on Monday is ridiculous.
Questioning Burke as to why his team has fallen apart is a completely different matter – and thoroughly justifiable. Trying to understand how far the Leafs would have to fall before Burke considers a coaching change is also warranted. But, give the deadline stuff a rest – especially after the limited and low-level activity – league-wide – this year.
THE UNITED CENTER (ABOVE) DOMINATES WEST MADISON ST. HERE IN CHICAGO.
Tonight’s match is not exactly a collision of freight-trains. In their past 26 games, the Leafs and Chicago Blackhawks have combined for a sickly record of 5-19-2. Chicago went through an 0-8-1 streak before winning four straight. But, the club has lost its past three. And, we all know what the Leafs haven’t done.
I was fortunate to attend the final hockey game at old Chicago Stadium in April 1994, when the Leafs knocked off the Blackhawks in Game 6 of a first-round series. The following year – during the lockout-shortened schedule of ’94-95 – I began traveling, full-time, to Leafs road games and the United Center opened its doors. During that season, workers demolished the old Stadium and I still have three bricks from the building at home – given to me by a very thoughtful person as I gazed at the crumbling structure through a chain-link fence.
The United Center is called THE MADHOUSE ON MADISON and THE HOUSE THAT JORDAN BUILT, as NBA legend Michael Jordan was leading the Chicago Bulls to multiple championships when it opened in 1995.
Please enjoy my photo-tour of the enormous arena from this morning:
WHAT A SPECTACULAR DAY IT’S BEEN HERE IN CHICAGO, WITH CLEAR SKIES AND TEMPERATURES IN THE LOW-60s. ALL OF THAT WILL CHANGE TONIGHT WHEN THE COLD AND WIND IS EXPECTED TO RETURN.
WEST MADISON ST. IS LINED WITH BLACKHAWKS PENNANTS (ABOVE) IN THE IMMEDIATE VICINITY OF THE UNITED CENTER.
STATUE OF MICHAEL JORDAN OUTSIDE EAST ENTRANCE TO THE ARENA (ABOVE) AND BANNERS DEPICTING THE BULLS’ TWO GREAT LEADERS ON THE INSIDE (BELOW).
ANYONE PRONE TO NOSE-BLEEDS SHOULD NOT ATTEND A HOCKEY GAME IN THE UPPER-REACHES OF THE UNITED CENTER – EASILY THE FARTHEST DISTANCE FROM THE ARENA FLOOR IN THE NHL.
PROUDLY DISPLAYED AT THE ENTRANCE TO THE BLACKHAWKS DRESSING ROOM IS THE STANLEY CUP LOGO FROM 2010 (ABOVE) WHILE THE CORRIDOR LEADING TO THE VISITORS’ ROOM (BELOW) WAS VERY QUIET THIS MORNING.
MORE THAN 20,000 SOULS WILL JAM THE UNITED CENTER FOR TONIGHT’S HOCKEY GAME.
YES, IN CAN BE A MADHOUSE HERE.
BANNERS DEPICTING GREAT MOMENTS AND GREAT PLAYERS IN BLACKHAWKS HISTORY ARE STRUNG FROM THE RAFTERS OF THE UNITED CENTER (ABOVE AND BELOW), AS THEY ONCE WERE IN CHICAGO STADIUM.
VIEW FROM BEHIND THE BLACKHAWKS BENCH (ABOVE).
FROM A WINDOW ON THE EIGHTH FLOOR OF THE ARENA, WE SEE THE EMPTY PARKING LOT (ABOVE) WHERE CHICAGO STADIUM USED TO SIT. THREE VIEWS BELOW ARE TAKEN FROM THAT HISTORIC SPOT.
ACROSS FROM THE OLD STADIUM SITE IS A TWIN-STATUE OF BLACKHAWK LEGENDS STAN MIKITA AND BOBBY HULL (ABOVE AND BELOW).
BACK DOWNTOWN, IT WAS A BEAUTIFUL DAY ALONG THE SHORE OF LAKE MICHIGAN (ABOVE) AND LOOKING UPWARD AT THE JOHN HANCOCK CENTER (BELOW).
Facebook: Howard Berger [Thornhill ON]