Boy, let’s hope the NHL doesn’t schedule any games on back-to-back days should the Blackhawks make the playoffs.
The Blackhawks roll-over and play dead act in Boston on Tuesday was widely anticipated and accepted by many before the two teams even took the ice before a nationwide audience at TD Banknorth Garden.
You see, because the Hawks skated so exceptionally hard to earn a 61-minute win over an AHL goaltender in Detroit twenty-four hours earlier, it’s perfectly understandable the team wouldn’t stand much of a chance against the Vezina Trophy frontrunner and the big bad bully Bruins.
Boston outshot the Hawks 9-0 in the first seven and a half minutes of the contest. From the onset, the visitors had little to offer. Apparently, whatever the team had stowed in its ‘care-tank’ was exhausted the night before in Motown.
There’s a good chance Milan Lucic would have scored the game’s first goal at that point had Marcus Kruger not slashed Lucic’s stick on the Bruins’ 15-foot rebound opportunity. An early gift from referee Paul Devorski as that act was overlooked (because Lucic’s stick didn’t break) but when Kruger and Lucic continued and got entangled in the battle for what then became a loose puck, Devorski called Lucic for holding.
Chicago’s first power play crew of Toews-Kane-Hossa-Keith and Seabrook briefly gave their team signs of life but that ended when the second unit (Brouwer-Kopecky-Frolik-Campoli-Campbell) stumbled over the puck for the next minute.
From that point the Bruins never looked back and the Hawks didn’t muster much resistance.
Marian Hossa, who was terrific against the Red Wings on Monday, tried his best but couldn’t find the magic to overcome the linemates he’s currently handicapped by against the Bruins.
As bad as Boston outplayed the Hawks in the first 32 minutes, it wasn’t until the 12:02 mark of the second period when Zdeno Chara’s shot from the left point clipped Brian Campbell’s right knee and changed direction just enough to fool Corey Crawford on its way by the near post to give the Bruins the long-awaited 1-0 lead.
Two minutes later another long drive from a Bruins blue liner gave the home team a 2-0 advantage. Johnny Boychuk’s knuckle shot from the right point fooled Crawford after Mark Recchi and Milan Lucic owned a few Hawks along the far wall.
Nathan Horton notched the only other tally of the game 5:20 into the third when he was left uncovered trailing a dump-in that saw Daniel Paille beat Chris Campoli to. Paille’s back-pass centering attempt bounced through Gregory Campbell and Duncan Keith in the slot, to Horton who had all kinds of time to stick-handle Corey Crawford down and out before mercifully putting the Hawks away.
Knowing the Bruins would follow the Anaheim’s ‘how to beat the Hawks’ blueprint, you’d figure the Blackhawks would show up in Boston feeling they had a little something to prove.
Instead, they chose to chirp from their bench and duck underneath it when challenged.
After wilting under the Anaheim’s forecheck and being totally manhandled in Saturday’s crucial Western conference-seeding defeat, the Hawks did nothing to refute their Jekyll and Hyde season which will ultimately end in a first-round gut punch. Likely to come at the hands of hated nemesis, the Vancouver Canucks.
I’m sure many would point to the second goal as the one that broke the backs of the Blackhawks on Tuesday, but in reality, they’d checked out long before then. Boston backed up what Anaheim proved in the final 35 minutes of last Saturday’s game, these Blackhawks fold under physical duress.
You expect goaltenders to give up goals from time to time. Even softies like the Johnny Boychuk shot Crawford whiffed on.
Crawford’s largely been incredible lately. In the five games since the debacle in Dallas, the Hawks have gone 3-2-0-0, all with Crawford manning the pipes. In those five starts, Crawford has posted a 94.8% save percentage and an even more astounding 1.20 goals against average.
He let up five goals in the two losses, but his team managed just one lonely tally in response.
While some keep calling for Quenneville to give his number one netminder a rest, the team’s schedule over the past few weeks have been relatively relaxed. Prior to the Detroit-Boston back-to-back, the Hawks had four games, each with two off days in between them. That’s plenty of time for the team, and Crawford, to recharge before the next start.
After Tuesday night’s loss, the Blackhawks are 11-4-0-2 in the second night of a back-to-back situation. The loss to the Bruins being their first non-shootout loss on the road (7-1-0-2) this season.
Crawford himself is 6-2-0-1 (.913 sv%, 2.65 gaa) in the back-end of a back-to-back he’s carried alone; 6-2-1-0 (.917, 2.34) on the front side).
He is showing signs of some wear, however. And how could he not? Crawford has been the Hawks’ most consistent and formidable component all season and he is the piece keeping the Hawks from sitting #13 in the conference.
Four of his six losses in those back-to-back situations have come in March. If you throw out the Florida game (which, to be fair to Crawford, you really should. His teammates didn’t bother to get off the bus in Sunrise until Turco came in for the second period) Crawford’s save percentage in March back-to-backs is 91.3% and goals-against is at a fair 2.80. Not exactly stellar, but good enough put what is the NHL’s fourth-highest scoring team (3.18 goals per game) in position to win every game.
Overall though, Crawford has slightly trimmed the Hawks goals-against per game down to 2.50 in March, opposed to the season average of 2.68.
While giving Crawford a break once or twice in the last six regular season games is ideal, the Hawks have yet to earn that luxury. Crawford has made 21 consecutive starts and 23 of the team’s last 24. He’s gone 14-6-1-2 in those 23 starts and the Hawks could still be holding on to the eighth and final playoff spot by just a single point by the time their next game rolls around.
Joel Quenneville can only play the points right in front of him. Starting Marty Turco in Detroit or Boston would have sent the wrong message. In hindsight, you can look at last night’s game and say it was the right night to start Turco, but coaches don’t get the benefit of hindsight.
Had the Hawks managed even a point in Boston, it most likely would have been a given – Turco getting the call in Columbus on Friday. He still may. Turco is 3-0 vs the Blue Jackets this season, while the team has dropped both games Crawford has started.
A decision on Friday’s starter though may be impacted by games taking place Thursday, keeping Q’s next move under wraps until late Thursday night. Calgary is hosting Anaheim tonight while Dallas is in a must-win situation as well in San Jose tomorrow night. Should both the Stars and Flames lose, the Hawks can breathe a lot easier and perhaps so could Crawford underneath a ball cap on Friday evening. Under any circumstance, its highly unlikely Crawford would start next week’s back-to-back against in Montreal (Tuesday) and St. Louis in the UC on Wednesday.
It’s a shame it has come to this for the defending Cup champs though.
The 2010-11 Blackhawks have proven to be nothing more than front-runners. In March, with the exception of Phoenix and Detroit, they’ve lost the tight games and been victorious only on nights of offensive outbursts. They don’t have the parts to win the back and forth, hard-checking battles with any sort of consistency. Their defense is too soft and they don’t have the horses to consistently win the battles along the walls or in front of either net. Injuries have hurt too, but its not as if they haven’t exhibited all the same warning signs since October.
–Its apparent Brian Campbell is nowhere near 100% skating on that bad foot. Three minutes into Tuesday’s game Brad Marchand breezed by Campbell after accepting a long two-line feed from Chara at the Hawks’ blue line. Marchand went in alone with Chris Campoli a long step-behind whacking at him, but couldn’t elevate the puck and was stopped by Crawford’s right pad.
–Marchand’s a sneaky, cheap little… Isn’t he?
–If you’re looking for a list of players or spots handicapping the Hawks right now, start here: Frolik, Brouwer, Leddy, Bickell, Kruger, Dowell, Pisani, Campbell (one 1 leg), Stalberg…. That’s half the team.
Toews wasn’t as bad as his minus-3 vs BOS would indicate, but he was skating off in la-la land on goals two and three. Aside from that, he looks worn but overall the effort is still high.
–While the shot board shows the Hawks with a 15-4 advantage in the third period, the Bruins had gone into safe-mode by then. It wasn’t St. Patrick’s Day in Dallas unwatchable, but its not easy watching this team skate through the motions – in bury the head and shoot from 40 feet out mode. Granted, that’s the only gear Frolik has.
–I’m going to go out on a limb and conclude that whatever was said to Shawn Thornton as he skated by the Blackhawks’ bench gushing blood after an accidental Fernando Pisani kick to the forehead, it had something to do with Thornton’s (possibly) incidental knee-to-knee collision with Niklas Hjalmarsson earlier in the evening.
Still, I’d thought hockey operations had rid the team of the “unlikeable” element. While Ben Eager, Kris Versteeg and Adam Burish all made varying contributions to the Hawks, each left a lot to be desired in the professionalism and class categories. Whether looking back at the 2009 Calgary series; either the ’09 or last spring’s Canucks’ tilts, the Blackhawks as a group could be hard to get behind due to the boneheaded behavior of those three in particular.
Thornton reportedly needed around 40 stitches to close the wound and did not return after the incident early in the second period. If it was hockey “karma” getting even with Thornton for the Hjalmarsson incident in the opening period, then fine. But what then lies ahead for the trash-chirping punk(s) who showed up to a big game fighting for their playoff existence in late-March with nothing but their mouths?
–Dallas losing to Phoenix in a shootout late Tuesday night definitely eases the sting of the Blackhawks no-show in Beantown. At 87 points with 7 games left in their season, the Stars will need at least 5 wins to even have a shot at overtaking the Hawks for the 8th spot.
Remember, the first tie-breaker this year comes in the form of Regulation+Overtime wins. So, basically Overall wins minus those accumulated in the shootout. Right now the Hawks have 36 to Dallas’ 33. So, while Dallas won the season-series with the Blackhawks, it doesn’t come into play unless the teams have the same number of “ROW” (regulation+overtime) victories. Odds are if that somehow does wind up being the case, Dallas will have more points than the Hawks anyways. So, point moot.
Just think, if the Hawks had not blown that three-goal lead in Dallas back on Feb 11, they’d have a playoff spot basically clinched today.
Calgary has just five games remaining and needs a lot of help, not mentioning to run the table themselves.
In reality, Dallas’ playoff hopes were probably dashed in Glendale last night. But the Hawks still need at least three wins out of their last six to put them away.
A win Friday in Columbus is almost essential.