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Hawks, Bulls Face Tough Tests Tonight

By Chuck Sudo in News on Apr 26, 2011 10:15PM

Our Town's sports radio talking heads have been calling tonight's games involving the Bulls and Blackhawks one of the biggest nights for professional sports in Chicago in recent memory. Both teams can advance in their respective league's playoffs with wins tonight. But while the momentum has swung in the Blackhawks favor in their Stanley Cup playoff series with the Vancouver Canucks, the Bulls look like one of the more vulnerable top seeds we've seen in a while.

The Blackhawks have managed to get back in the collective heads of the Canucks in a way they haven't done in their two previous playoff meetings. On paper and on the ice for the first three games of the series, the Canucks were the better team.

They still are. The Canucks have faster skaters, better goaltending and deeper lines. Yet from the moment they had the chance to close out the series, the Hawks have fought for loose pucks, maintained composure and proven that Vancouver may not have the mental toughness to be a championship team. As Daily Herald columnist Barry Rozner wrote, the Canucks have proven to be "gutless" since the Blackhawks started hitting back. Sun-Times reporter Mark Potash chalks Hawks captain Jonathan Toews willingness to say the Canucks are who they thought they were as the turning point in the series.

With a win tonight, the Blackhawks can make history as the fourth team in NHL history to come back from a 3-0 hole to win a series, and the first eight seed to do it. A win tonight will also be Chicago's first Game 7 win on the road since 1965.

At the United Center tonight, all eyes will be on Derrick Rose and his injured right ankle. Rose is listed as questionable, but only an act of God will keep him off the court. Rose has handled the lion's share of the offensive production against the Indiana Pacers in their first round Eastern Conference playoff series. But the Pacers have run Rose through screens when they have the ball and hit him hard every time he's driven to the hoop.

Rose, to be blunt, needs some help. Luol Deng has been reliable for much of the series. But if Carlos Boozer decides to show up tonight, that would be nice. Boozer had his best game of the series Saturday, but he isn't attacking the rim, relying instead on half-hooks, fadeaways and pull up jumpers in the paint.

The Bulls struggles with the Pacers have given Indiana confidence. Pacers coach Frank Vogel said that if his team wins tonight, they'll win the series. The way they've bottled up the Bulls this series, Vogel might be on to something. As it stands, this tightly contested series has only reinforced the opinions of some experts that the Bulls will not represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals.

A strong closing performance tonight against the Pacers would be a fair rebuke.