Searching for hope inside the Blackhawks’ Game 1 and 2 efforts in Vancouver can be like finding a needle in a haystack. More like pouring a glass of milk three days after the expiration date.
Those looking for positives will need to keep their good eye closed.
Corey Crawford has been mostly great, but the Hawks are still in a 0-2 series’ hole coming back to the United Center for Game 3 on Sunday night.
Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp have yet to be heard from in this series. But, neither have Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows and Mason Raymond. Habitual Hawk-killer Mikael Samuelsson was a late-scratch Friday with the flu and the Sedin twins have flubbed a few prime scoring opportunities they normally wouldn’t.
Words cannot describe how awful Chicago’s blue line has been. Future and former Norris Trophy winners will petition to have Duncan Keith’s name removed from the statue at this point. Brent Seabrook’s pressing too hard and can’t be everywhere. Brian Campbell is the Hawks’ best defenseman five on five and that’s not saying much. He’s been terrible at times too. Chris Campoli at least didn’t do anything too stupid. Nick Leddy simply doesn’t belong.
Niklas Hjalmarsson did something on Friday you don’t see very often at the NHL level. With the Hawks pinned deep in their zone, Hjalmarsson tried to outlet to his defense partner twice in a matter of seconds. Just a minor issue with that though. Neither time did Brian Campbell have a stick. Ben Smith tried to give his stick to Campbell after the second Hjalmarsson pass but the puck was ten feet from Campbell in the Hawks’ right corner and the exchange didn’t happen. The Hawks eventually got the puck out.
For the Hawks, hope is yet a glimmer in a narrowing eyelet.
For those steadfast in denial, the milk is on the table.
‘The defense can’t go on being this horrid.’ Or, it could.
‘Jonathan Toews (last 14gp: 2g, 3a, -2) will snap out of it at some point.’ But, will it be too late?
‘Marian Hossa won’t wait until Game 5 to be heard from in this series like in last year’s opening round vs Nashville.’ What makes you so sure?
‘Luongo’s a mental midget. He’ll blow it.’ At some point, maybe. But put Game 6 in 2009 aside though and his best games against the Hawks have come inside the United Center.
Canucks’ fans waiting for the roof to cave in are thinking along the same lines. The reality is whatever the Hawks have left to offer will be expended in Game 3. Chicago may in fact win and force at least a return visit to British Columbia. For the Hawks to jump back into the series and then try for the upset, there will need to be almost a complete role reversal on the ice.
Lost in the hit counts and physical dominance by the Canucks is the fact the Hawks simply can’t skate with Vancouver. They’re doing all they can just to keep up.
Teams that take a 2-0 series lead have won a series at an 87.2 percent rate (258-38).
Eternal optimists can cling to a bit of recent history. Last year’s Philadelphia Flyers dropped the first two games of their Eastern Semi-Finals series with the Bruins in Boston, and then Game 3 in Philly before pulling off four-straight wins and the improbable come back.
If you can find similarities between this year’s Hawks and last year’s Flyers, I’d like to hear them.
The last time the Hawks lost the first two games of a playoff series on the road was the 2009 Western Conference Final versus the Red Wings. Chicago won the third game of that series 4-3 in overtime but got embarrassed by the Wings 6-1 in Game 4 and would have again in Game 5 (even though they were eliminated in that game) would it not been for Cristobal Huet. The current series with Vancouver has a similar tone to it as the ’97 first round series with Colorado. Chicago dropped the first two games of that series in Denver, came back to win the next two at home but were beaten and eliminated handily in six games.
In the last 65 years, the Blackhawks have lost the first 2 games of a 7-game series on the road in the playoffs on 24 occasions. You have to go all the way back to 1968 to find a positive outcome, when they rebounded in the opening round against the Rangers to win that series in six games. They’ve lost 16 consecutive series after dropping the Games 1&2 on the road since though.
As for Friday’s 4-3 Canucks’ victory:
Vancouver struck first when Jannik Hansen ripped off a one-timer from the near right circle and past Corey Crawford. The breakdown on that play actually started in the Vancouver end. Nick Leddy took a puck in the Hawks zone and punched his turbo-boost button, flying past everyone on the ice and into the Canucks’ zone. The trouble was he didn’t have a plan for when he got there and was too shy to carry the puck deep, so he tried and ill-advised pass back through center and it was blocked. Vancouver transitioned the other way and the Sedins and Hansen made him pay. Leddy saw 8:48 of ice time on Friday. Or about three and a half minutes less than he did in Game 1. And on a night the Hawks top four defenseman couldn’t get out of their own way.
Nick Leddy is akin to a Moserati that comes without power steering.
Ben Smith scored twice and on his only two shots of the game. He was left alone on Luongo’s doorstep for rebounds on both goals. You can bet that won’t happen again.
The first came after a nice Bickell rush and shot goal line extended-left. The shot seemed to fool Luongo as it appeared to glance off Luongo’s glove and drop right in front of Ben Smith who stopped at the top of Luongo’s crease and behind a Canucks’ defender.
Smith’s first goal trimmed Vancouver’s lead to 2-1 because of a Daniel Sedin power play goal 30 seconds into the second period.
Patrick Sharp is obviously gutting through a knee injury but his frustrations got the better of him on a few occasions Friday and a late and undisciplined penalty with 41 seconds left in the first period came back to bite his team. In the end, that was the difference in the came and the Hawks were in catch-up mode from then on.
Chicago committed another fateful as Alex Edler scored with 14 seconds to go in the 2nd period to again give the Canucks a two-goal advantage. The shot deflected off Ben Smith’s stick as he wasn’t quick enough to front Edler’s attempt.
Viktor Stalberg’s wrister 1:56 into the third frame fooled everyone in the building, Stalberg included, as even he couldn’t believe his shot slipped past Roberto Luongo’s left pad and inside the near post. Marcus Kruger made the play happen when he converged and won a stick battle with Alex Edler on the right half wall.
Vancouver regained their 2-goal lead midway into the third period when Daniel Sedin was allowed to cruise into the middle of the slot and fire off a wrister Crawford would probably want to have another chance at. The play began when Seabrook pinched down the right wall in the offensive zone and the puck got by him. That left Hossa back with Keith. Hamhuis carried the puck and was never pressured by Keith, who seemed confused as to what to do knowing he only had a forward back out of position. Keith just kept backing up though and Daniel Sedin made the Hawks pay again, potting his second of the night.
Ben Smith’s second goal came three minutes later as he again put the Hawks within a goal. He was pretty fortunate. Roberto Luongo gave a rather arrogant rebound right to Smith off a 50-foot Michael Frolik wrist shot. Give credit where its due though. It was a smart shot by Frolik. If he’s going to shoot from that far out at the right point, he aimed for the Luongo’s far pad as he should with Smith streaking up the far side. From a Vancouver perspective, however, that rebound never should have been there. The goal never should have happened.
Vancouver sustained a mad rush by the Hawks late to preserve the 4-3 win and commanding 2-0 series lead heading back to Chicago.
Anything’s possible. Luongo could stink out the joint for a couple and Alain Vigneault could wait too long to call on his secret weapon, back up Corey Schneider, who may be equally as good as Luongo. The Hawks could catch fire and cause the Canucks to scramble and doubt themselves.
Or Vancouver can continue to out-pace and out-skill an overmatched 8-seed.
Game 3 is Sunday night, 7pm central at the United Center.
Any time now Marian Hossa.
In 24 playoff games as a Hawk, Hossa has 3 goals. Hossa has just 1 goal in his last 15 playoff games (Gm 2 vs Flyers) and has gone six without one.
Hossa’s shooting percentage with Chicago in the postseason is a paltry 3.7% on 81 shots.
He’s playing with Jonathan Toews, who’s caught Hossa’s disappearing spell too.
The ugly truth is the Hawks are caught in a catch twenty-two. They can’t score without their D jumping into the play because their big guns aren’t producing and the other forwards don’t win enough battles in the trenches and along the walls. So the defenseman must help out. But that is a game of risk and comes with a price.
One the Hawks cannot afford to pay against Vancouver.
– Jake Dowell’s Chicago Blackhawks career may have come to an end in Vancouver on Friday. At the very least the end was signaled and noted. On a night Joel Quenneville looked to his group for a bigger physical presence, the Hawks’ coach scratched a healthy Dowell and inserted Marcus Kruger, of all guys. Kruger, a shade under six feet and 175 pounds in all his sweat-soaked equipment, was back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch over the last four games since Ben Smith’s recall.
Quenneville was already going in without his best net-front presence forward, Tomas Kopecky, who missed Game 2 with an undisclosed upper-body injury. Fernando Pisani, of little worth at this point of his career, dressed in Kopecky’s place. Pisani was credited with three hits in less than nine minutes of ice time skating on the Hawks’ fourth line with Ryan Johnson. Dowell is a center by trade but his skill-set makes him better suited for the wing. On the surface it would figure Dowell would do a better job in the corners and in getting to the front of the net than Pisani, but coach Quenneville doesn’t see things that way.
Kruger made a few nice plays in the game and one even led to Ben Smith’s first goal. So don’t look for Dowell to get back into this series without another injury or two, or until the Canucks target Kruger physically and stop taking shifts off when Kruger’s line is on the ice.
Injuries do continue to mount for the Hawks however. Bryan Bickell left the game three minutes into the third period (seconds into his first shift of the period) when he fell in front of the Hawks’ bench and a Vancouver player’s skate appeared to slice Bickell’s hand or wrist. Bickell immediately rushed to the locker room and did not return. In his post-game press conference, Quenneville told the media Bickell’s status would be reevaluated on Saturday in Chicago. From Duncan Keith’s reaction, who was first to see Bickell’s cut, a reasonable guess is Bickell went in for a considerable amount of stitches in a sensitive area that would make it difficult to handle a hockey stick without disturbing the damage for at least a day or two. But we’ll see.
If Kopecky isn’t ready, Dowell could get back in the lineup. Dave Bolland (concussion) admitted his recovery has stalled and won’t be ready. Jeff Taffe is another option. Rob Klinkhammer would fall in line behind Taffe. This is the playoffs. These are the Vancouver Canucks. John Scott is not an option.
– More on the note mentioned above on the Hawks losing the first two playoff games on the road.
In those previous sixteen 7-game series the Hawks have lost Gms 1&2 on the road and gone on to lose the series, the Blackhawks record is a cumulative 13-32 after Game 2. They were swept in seven of those series. Not once did they force a seventh game.