The key to competing in any competitive field is to do something that no one else is doing and stand out from the crowd.  You need to fill a niche that has yet to be filled and plant your flag in its virgin soil.  After several years of living with a member of the fairer sex I have come to realize that there’s nothing worse than having to watch “Dancing With The Stars” and yet I also know The Wife feels equally terrible about watching some “meaningless” (her words) sporting event on TV.  Watching separate TVs in separate living spaces is certainly an option but I personally am not a fan of living a lifestyle where we each retreat to our own corners each evening for our own viewing purposes.  My solution to this dilemma struck me when I noticed The Wife had no problems watching sports as long as: A) it was not a rerun of something we already watched and know the outcome (ESPN Classic does not get a lot of run-time in our household) & B) she was invested in the back story of the game itself, the teams involved, or more particularly the players on the ice/field/court. 

With a little focus and some well-timed question & answer sessions I found that it didn’t take much to get her caught up to speed, and quickly my programming choices became our programming choices.  It’s win-win.  What I am surprised to find however is that there really isn’t a good place to find the US Weekly Cliff’s Notes to any of our professional sporting leagues.  Where there is a need, a solution will follow.  If I accomplish nothing else in this inter-web of ours, I can only hope that I am looked back upon as the pioneer of turning sports into OK!-esque human interest pieces that bring families together through the medium of sport.  I made my first stab at this endeavor a few months back with a Bulls season preview, and would like to now return to the medium as the Chicago Blackhawks begin their final preparations for what I can only hope to be a long playoff run.  Without further ado, please pass along this column to your loved one or significant other to ensure peace of mind and familial harmony over the next few weeks.  Hopefully your arguments change from who gets control of the remote tonight to why the Blackhawks Power Play is not converting at an acceptable rate. 

Jonathan Toews – Your favorite.  My favorite.  Captain Serious is expected back after a 22 game concussion-driven absence.  The heart and soul of the Chicago Blackhawks is making his long awaited and much anticipated return to the lineup for game 1 in Phoenix.  He will be centering a super line with Patrick Kane on his left and Marian Hossa on the right.  Phoenix’s goalie – Mike Smith – is currently experiencing cold sweats.  Perhaps the only one more excited for his return than I is his girlfriend Gabrielle Velasquez.  (I really have no justification to say that but for the sake of the US Weekly appeal I had to throw it in.  Your wife/girlfriend/significant other will eat it up – I promise).

Patrick Kane – Speaking of tabloid related hookups, assuming your wife/girlfriend/etc. is under the age of 30 and living in the Chicagoland area, there’s a 51.375% chance that she’s probably hooked up with Mr. Kane at some point during his illustrious five year career in Chicago.  A known cocksman who has significantly stepped up his game in Toews absence (on the ice), he is the most likely to have a breakout playoffs after a relatively quiet regular season.  How could you not cheer for this undersized sharpshooting Casanova?

Patrick Sharp – One of the elder statesman on the team (at an ancient 31 years old) Patrick Sharp has the cover boy good looks that makes ladies swoon.  Seriously, he was named one of Chicago’s 50 Most Beautiful People in Chicago magazine in 2011 and also made the cover of Chicago Parent in March with his daughter Madeline.  Despite those siberian huskie eyes, Patrick is the ultimate good guy who married his college sweetheart and stuck with her through his various stops through his hockey career (which undoubtedly were fraught with temptation).  What a class act he must be.  He’s even personable on his weekly “Sharp Attack” spot on Eric & Kathy’s show (mornings on 101.9 FM).  On the ice Sharp is the quintessential sniper meaning he can bury the biscuit with the best in the biz.  When Patrick Sharp is on your second line it means your team has significant scoring crashing to opposition’s goal like waves at Mavericks.

Viktor Stalberg – For those put off by Sharp’s abstinence above may I introduce you to Viktor Stalberg.  I’m not as versed as some on these topics, but my understanding is he has taken the title of the team’s resident eye candy from Mr. Sharp after Patrick got married last summer.  I will leave this to you to decide (for the record The Wife doesn’t see it and still retains her status as Secretary and provider of orange slices for the Patrick Sharp Fan Club).

Dave Bolland – His teammates call him “The Rat” due to his peskiness and ability to get under the skin of his opponents.  They do this despite Bolland asking them to call him “The Greyhound” for some unexplicable reason.  I have a friend who asked a group of us to start calling him “K” in college because it’s short for krazy (despite his not having the letter in either his first nor last name).  Needless to say this name never took and the lesson learned was that if you ask for a nickname you’re only setting yourself up for disaster much like the top line of any opponent the Hawks face in the playoffs.  Bolland signed a five year deal in 2009 solely based upon his ability to be the premiere shutdown center in the playoffs.  He singlehandedly is  responsible for causing sleepless nights for Vancouver’s Sedin sisters, San Jose’s Joe Thornton, Philadelphia’s Daniel Briere, Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk, Nashville’s David Legwand, and anyone else unfortunate enough to draw Chicago in a best of seven series.  Ray Whitney – consider yourself warned.

Andrew Shaw – A 20 year old Dave Bolland in training.  He’s also anticipated to have the worst playoff beard on the team this year due to his age and general lack of facial hair.  So now you have that to pay attention to.  After not being selected in either the 2009 or 2010 entry drafts and falling to the 5th round of the 2011 draft last summer, this will be the first of what promises to be many playoff runs in the Indianhead sweater for Mr. Shaw – by far my favorite rookie this year.

Bryan Bickell – The third member of the Shaw/Bolland/Bickell shutdown line, I only mention him here because Bryan listens to motivational tapes before games on the recommendation of team doctors.  I have no inside information as to the content of said tapes but in my heart of hearts I really hope it’s some combination of Pantera and Stuart Smalley.

Andrew Brunette & Jamal Mayers – Two savvy veterans who signed with the Hawks last summer (over several other teams) because they felt they gave them the best chance to win their respective first Stanley Cup after long careers that have never taken them to the promise land.  At some point during the playoff run these guys will need to make impassioned speeches to remind the youngsters about the fleeting nature of their careers.  John Madden played this role to perfection in 2010.

Johnny Oduya – Who knew the Swedish version of Lenny Kravitz knew how to strap on the skates?  Since his arrival on February 27th the Hawks have gone 12-2-4.  For being a Swede he sure seems to have brought the luck of the Irish to the Indianheads.  Let’s hope that keeps rolling for the next two months or so.

Corey Crawford – He likes classic automobiles.  That is literally the only somewhat interesting thing I know about Corey Crawford.  That’s ok, he’s a goalie and they’re a little weird in general.  What’s more important is that more than any other individual on the team, Crawford’s play going forward will have the most direct effect on how far this team can go towards hoisting their second Cup in the past three years.  When Crawford is on – as he was in the Vancouver series last year – these Hawks can play with the best of the best.  When he’s off however – as he was for the vast majority of this season – we’re talking about a team that could be done before the calendar flips to May for the second year in a row.  No pressure Corey, but myself and all of the readers (along with their fairer-sexed lovers) will be watching.