By Brad Vandenberk
After barely beating the NHL’s worst team on Sunday in Buffalo it was now time to roll up the sleeves and get a little greasy on a trip to Colorado. This could possibly be the Hawks first round playoff match up with some differences of course. Yes, the Hawks have lost to the Avs 3/4 times this year. But let’s be honest, in a 7 game series when Coach Q starts matching up lines, then we will see how things will play out. Oh yeah, and the fact that one of the best 2 way players in the game, Marian Hossa, is still on the shelf until this weekend at the earliest. The Avalanche have the potential to pass the Hawks in the Central division with a regulation win. The good news is the Hawks will be done with Roy and the boys after this one.
Antti Raanta got the nod for this one playing in his first game in almost 6 weeks. Coach Q wanted to switch things up and remind the naysayers that Raanta was the goalie in the Hawks only victory against Colorado. Seymon Varlamov was between the pipes for the home team. It must have been the mile high air, but Joel decided to dress 11 forwards and 7 defensemen. One can assume that Patrick Kane may double shift or good old reliable Sheldon Brookbank will be on the wing. David Rundblad and Peter Regin were the lone wolves out.
The first period lived up to its hype just 53 seconds in. The young Nathan MacKinnon is wide open in front of Raanta, but the tender comes out to make the safe. Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith mix it up with the young bucks and Keith heads to the box for roughing. Raanta is absolutely brilliant during the man advantage with a puck hitting the post and dancing right across the goal line which ignited the horn and goal light, but remained out. After the penalty Seabrook comes down and rings one off the far post. The Avs are relentless and continue to come at Raanta, but the Fin is up for the task. The action continues from end to end with the Hawks 4th line getting numerous changes. Cody McLeod wallpapers Brookbank from behind and is one his way to the box, but not before Brookbank gets up and throws his mitts. They both head off for 5 minutes with McLeod getting the extra 2. The Hawks try to get to Varlamov early during their first power play but he stays sharp. Brandon Bollig throws his weight around and hammers Tyson Barrie behind the net. Just before the period ends Brad Malone chips and chases a puck and shoots from a wide angle and it beats Raanta giving the Avs a 1-0 lead. The Hawks end the period with the slight shot advantage 11-10.
The second starts the way the first left off. Matt Duchene gathers a puck off Niklas Hjalmarsson’s foot and rifles it upstairs giving the Avs a 2-0 lead just 19 seconds in. Big man Bryan Bickell makes his front net presence felt tipping a shot on, but Varlamov reads it perfectly. Remember when he played with Kane and Toews throughout the entire playoffs? The Hawks get their second chance on the power play when Nate Guenin gets called for interference. Nick Leddy put a shot off the crossbar. Moments later, Patrick Kane grabs a puck at center ice, undresses Jan Hedja and puts a back hand in the only spot Kane puts back hands, the roof 2-1. Just after the goal Q puts Jonathon Toews, Patrick Sharp and Kane together. Domination ensues. At this stage Johnny Oduya is having a great game, he hustles to get back and break up a play from a speedy Duchene. Weird moment when Kane clearly gets thrown into Varlamov by Hedja, the ref calls Kane for goaltender interference. The Hawks bench is livid and the Avs get another power play. Thankfully the penalty is killed. Hawks get a late power play when Toews takes John Mitchell stick out of his hands using his armpit. The Hawks get a few chances with Toews at the side of the net and Leddy point blank. Oduya makes another fantastic defensive play sliding on his belly and stopping a pass from getting across on a 4 on 2. Hawks continue to lead 25-18 in shots but not on the scoreboard down 2-1.
The final frame opens with Toews between two Patrick’s. They have Varlamov scrambling with pucks getting through, but not over the goal line. The other lines begin to change when Kris Versteeg centers Andrew Shaw and Saad and Michael Handzus is centering Brookbank and Bickell. The fourth line is untouched, for obvious reasons. Bollig continues to add the Hawks physical element hamming McLeod this time. At the midpoint of the period the play is literally end to end with both teams exchanging quality scoring chances. If this is the first round of the playoffs, where do I sign? Bickell even lends a hand on the physical side knocking Barrie over. Shaw wants to get into the fun, but decides to hit a player without the puck and gets called for interference. During the penalty kill, specialist Marcus Kruger lifts an “untouched” puck over the glass and the Hawks are forced to kill 1:31 of 5 on 3. Well it didn’t take long for the Avs to capitalize. Ryan O’Reilly is left open in front and takes his time sliding it past Raanta 3-1. The Hawks keep coming throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Varlamov. Even Sharp plays a few shifts at D to try and sneak off the point. At the 2:32 mark of the third, Raanta heads to the bench for the extra attacker. Brandon Saad grabs a rebound and the puck makes its way to the back of the net 3-2. Hawks pull Raanta again with 1:33 left and Saad gets a number of chances and even Kane has a last second chance but the Hawks fall 3-2 to the Avs and fall to third in the Central Division.
Saad Toews Shaw Keith Seabrook
Sharp Handzus Kane Oduya Hjalmarsson
Bickell Versteeg Brookbank Leddy Rozsival
Bollig Kruger Smith
-Hawks outshot the Avalanche 39-29
-Hawks go 0/3 on the power play with the Avs going 1/4
-Keith led all Hawks in TOI –with 25:10, next was Kane with 23:23
-Toews was 18/25 in the faceoff dot Handzus 9/15, Vertseeg 0/3 and Kruger 3/7.
-The Hawks have lost 4/5 versus their division foes.
-Now it will be an uphill battle to regain home ice for the playoffs, next up it’s another divisional game at the UC on Friday against the Nashville Predators.