Chicago Blackhawks: 2012 NHL Playoffs
CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks, from coach Joel Quenneville on down, repeatedly expressed disappointment with their intensity throughout their opening-round playoff series.
The Blackhawks had knocked out the Minnesota Wild in five games, but they felt they weren’t matching the energy other teams around the league were bringing to their playoff series. It was something that concerned them as they got ready to face the Detroit Red Wings, a team hot off upsetting the Anaheim Ducks.
On Wednesday, the Blackhawks finally felt their play and intensity met what’s required for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
While the Blackhawks are still far from being content, they were pleased with the way they often dominated play in a 4-1 win over the Red Wings in Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal series.
“I thought that was probably our best game of the postseason so far,” Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford said. “A lot of pressure, a lot of pucks at the net. We were skating, moving the puck great. I thought it was one of our better performances overall.”
But what about the men in charge?
There will be an offseason-long debate about who deserves more, general manager Stan Bowman or coach Joel Quenneville? Even for them there is enough to go around:
Stan Bowman: 65 percent
Brian Campbell he was on the clock. He had newfound money and needed a second-line center. It was plausible a good one wasn’t an available via free-agency last summer, after Brad Richards’ mega deal in New York, but that doesn’t mean a trade couldn’t be pulled off either before the season or in season. The New York Islanders’ Frans Nielsen could have been had, but it would have cost Dylan Olsen. Antoine Vermette had a glorious playoff series against the Hawks but Bowman didn’t want or couldn’t get him from Columbus. The Coyotes did. The addition of a center would have had a trickle up and down effect on the entire team. It’s still a need.
Playoff built: Though Bryan Bickell led all skaters in the entire first round, through six games, with 32 hits, the Hawks weren’t built for a long, gritty postseason run. Even giving Bowman a pass for the moment on the goaltending situation -- though the regular season told enough there -- the team was constructed to win one way, with wide open offense. That doesn’t fly in the playoffs. At the end of the day the grit they picked up wasn’t good enough.
CHICAGO -- If the Chicago Blackhawks were given a pass by fans and media a year ago after an early exit, they’ll get anything but this time around -- and they know it. After losing in six games to the Phoenix Coyotes in the opening round of the 2012 postseason, there are no excuses to be had.
“When you come in off a long offseason like we did last year, we had high hopes for this team this year,” Jonathan Toews said after the season-ending 4-0 defeat to Phoenix. “With the hopes comes a lot of pressure as well.”
Maybe the pressure got to them. It’s as good a reason as any for their underachieving season. The Stanley Cup championship from 2010 is beginning to become a distant memory after back-to-back first-round exits.
Keith and Toews are part of the Hawks’ core. And it’s that core that will be most scrutinized this summer. They failed to produce against the Coyotes, and at many key times, this year. Should it be broken up? That’s a question that will gain momentum.
Patrick Kane had no goals and four assists in the series, all in the first three games. He totaled six shots in Games 4, 5 and 6. Patrick Sharp scored once, on a tip-in at the end of regulation in Game 2. And he wasn’t his normal shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later type of player throughout. Dave Bolland had a few good moments, but finished with three helpers in six games. Brent Seabrook, who was so noticeable towards the end of the regular season, was less so as the series wore on.
Only Toews is above question. He scored in his return after missing 22 games due to a concussion and he slowly got better as the series went along. Yes, he admittedly dipped in Games 2 and 3 but started to find his legs as the series got more important. The rest of the core went backwards.
CHICAGO -- The changing of the guard in the West is now complete.
The Phoenix Coyotes joined St. Louis, Nashville and Los Angeles in the second round of the playoffs; a fresh-faced group signaling not only a new era in the Western Conference but also a change in style of play.
All four teams, to varying degrees, play defense-first systems and win low-scoring games when they're having success.
"I really do think it has a lot to do with team play," Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett said after Monday's 4-0, series-clinching win. "You look at the way Nashville plays, St. Louis plays, I think that's how you have to win in today's hockey. Probably the best example is the Boston Bruins last year. They were a hard, committed team that just grinded through series and ended up being the Stanley Cup champion."
All four of these defense-first teams are backed by some serious goaltending in Mike Smith, Jonathan Quick, Pekka Rinne and the Jaroslav Halak/Brian Elliott duo.
Much like the Sharks, Blues and Red Wings in these playoffs, the Blackhawks were stymied against the Coyotes, scoring only 12 goals in six games.
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“That’s not a penalty!” one yelled.
This was halfway through the period and en route to a season-ending 4-0 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes. You wondered about the irony there, or maybe the hypocrisy, but really, you almost felt sorry for the bloodthirsty lot.
After all, they’re hockey fans, not irony fans. To the provincial, the Hayes’ hit wasn’t brutal, it was just a “hockey play.” Brutal was going 0-3 at home and missing all 39 shots in Game 6.
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The team that couldn't produce a shutout in 88 games got shut out. The team that ranked second-worst among playoff teams on the power play was 1-for-19 in the series. The team that ranked second worst on the penalty kill gave up four goals on 19 opportunities to the only power play worse than their own.
The Hawks played the series like they played the regular season -- and still they had a chance to win it. They only realized it after it was too late. Inundating Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith was a great plan that should have been executed earlier.
Smith finally stole a game and he did on a night when the Hawks had their best chances. Twenty eight to eight were the shots on net after two periods and yet the Hawks still trailed 1-0.
"Special teams is big," Patrick Sharp said in a down locker room after the season-ending loss. "We talk about that all the time. I thought we played well the first two periods then they score on the power play and we're chasing from behind."
How it happened: The Hawks dominated most of the game, but when Phoenix scored first the air in the United Center left the building. The Coyotes broke a scoreless tie with a second-period power play goal by Oliver Ekkman-Larsson after an interference call on Jonathan Toews. Larsson found a lane to shoot with a screen in front of Corey Crawford. Phoenix added three third-period tallies as Gilbert Brule scored a goal from in front of Crawford after the Hawks lost some puck battles in their own zone. Then came a vicious check by Jimmy Hayes to the back of Michal Rozsvial, drawing a five-minute major boarding infraction as well as a game misconduct. Phoenix scored a second power-play goal and then added another one. The Hawks pressured Mike Smith early in the contest, outshooting the Coyotes 39-20 on the night and 28-8 after two periods. That differential was indicative of the scoring chances, at least early on. The Hawks had the majority of them but could not figure out Smith. That is one of the main storylines of the series.
What it means: It means the Hawks wasted a good chance to move on to the second round. The Hawks have more talent on the roster -- except in goal. Yes, Smith helped steal this game, but if the Hawks had inundated him this way for the previous five they may not have been facing elimination. Joel Quenneville did a good job balancing out the lines to provide pressure from the start, but once again the Hawks' special teams let them down. It was a season-long issue and nothing changed in this series. The power-play goal from Larsson came with a screen in front and a missed chance at a shot block near the point. Again, both issues on the penalty kill have been season-long problems. Their power play chances were just as ineffective, going 1-for-19 in the series.
What's next: An offseason of change is likely and one question will certainly surround the core players. Could one be moved? Should one be moved? And who will take the fall among the coaches for a second consecutive first-round flameout? Both special teams units and the Hawks' goaltending were below par. That stuff usually falls on the assistants. And general manager Stan Bowman will be under the microscope as well.
Phoenix scored on the power play in the second after a questionable interference call on Jonathan Toews. Toews tried to enter the offensive zone, but ran into Gilbert Brule at the blue line instead.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored from the point on the ensuing man-advantage with Corey Crawford being screened.
The Hawks have dominated the action all night long, outshooting Phoenix 28-8 through 40 minutes. The home team ended the second period on the power play but failed to manage much of an attack. They’ll have 36 seconds of power-play time to start the third period.
Jordan, who was wearing a black army cap and a Jonathan Toews jersey, was shown on the scoreboard in the first period in a suite with Blackhawks legends Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull. All three have statues outside of the arena.
Jordan loves a winner, which is probably why he skipped his team's game. In Washington D.C. the Charlotte Bobcats, the NBA team that Jordan owns, lost to the equally lowly Washington Wizards, 101-73. The Bobcats dropped to 7-57.
Klesla headed to the locker room holding a towel to the right side of his head. Klesla has a goal and three assists in the first five games.
The Hawks came out flying as Joel Quennville balanced out his lines and each one provided pressure. The Hawks were outshooting the Coyotes 7-0 with less than five minutes gone by, outshot them 16-2 for the period. The two shots-against ties a season low.
Brendan Morrison had a strong opening period, registering three shots on net and providing a couple of nifty passes to set up his teammates. He’s playing with Jonathan Toews and Viktor Stalberg.
Both teams had a power-play opportunity but neither could cash in. The Hawks had just one shot on theirs while Phoenix didn't have any.
They beat the Phoenix Coyotes 2-1 in Game 5 on Saturday and did it by sending everything they could at goalie Mike Smith. The Hawks attempted 84 shots, 38 got to the goalie and two went in.
Skating and puck handling are not the keys to winning. Shooting is.
"It's a different series," Patrick Kane said after practice Monday morning. "Usually when you get the puck you don't see three guys coming at you. Sometimes that can be good. We can use it to our advantage."
Kane hasn't yet used it to his advantage, at least in the last few games. He had just four shots in Games 4 and 5 after firing off seven in Game 1, to go along with four assists in the first three games.
He didn't disagree with the notion he's been frustrated.
"I'm used to holding onto the puck and being patient with it," he said "Against this team I have to move it quicker."
If there was anyone who had a particular vested interest in the Hawks staving off elimination in Game 5 it was winger Andrew Shaw. Suspended for three games after hitting goalie Mike Smith in the helmet in Game 2, he knew a loss on Saturday would have ended the season without him getting a chance to redeem himself.
"Obviously I'm excited," Shaw said. "Thankful the boys pulled it out. Winning these next two would be huge ... I was more nervous than anyone on the ice, watching every game go to overtime."
Joel Quenneville had a short conversation with Shaw on the ice before the end of practice.
"[He said] glad you're back," Shaw related. "Bring the energy you always bring."
Mayers Out Again
Jamal Mayers will sit out his third consecutive game as a healthy scratch after playing in 81 of 82 regular-season games. He said he has no one to blame but himself.
"It certainly is disappointing," he stated. "Just got to play better. It's not about me it's about the team."
Andrew Shaw will replace Brandon Saad in the lineup for Game 6. Unless there is a last minute change everyone else from Game 5 will suit up, which means Sami Lepisto is the sixth defenseman and Jimmy Hayes will play a second consecutive game, Brendan Morrison a third.
Quenneville wasn't showing his line combinations at practice Monday morning, running them the same as last game which meant Shaw wasn't part of the group. He will be Monday night.
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