- Jesse Rogers, Chicago Cubs beat reporter
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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.
“You remember how long a playoff run it is, and how fun it is,” Duncan Keith said. “It’s disappointing when you don’t get a long playoff run.”
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.
“You look at all the other series and it’s kind of comparable,” Joel Quenneville said of his stars coming up short. “The scoring is low, and they check well. We open it up there and you saw what they can do. And I think that’s our theme, that we had to play an ugly game and take advantage of our opportunities and we didn’t do a good job of that.”
“You want to find a way to win that last game of the year, every year,” Toews said. “You don’t want to go out on a loss, especially like we did tonight. It’s disappointing for this group. I feel like we had so much more than what we ended up showing, but we gave it everything. It just didn’t go our way.”
For the core group especially.
The Hossa impact:
Quenneville called the loss of Marian Hossa to a head injury “the turning point.” He didn’t have to elaborate. It wasn’t just that Hossa wasn’t in the lineup for the final four games, it was that the Hawks got nothing out of it on the ice. No power play, no satisfaction, not even a win in the game he went down, or the next one.
“He provides that depth and when he’s around there’s not really any pressure on one guy to score the goals or create the offense,” Toews said.
Raffi Torres' hit on Hossa will long be remembered for the suspension it brought, but it didn’t turn the series in the Hawks favor. Maybe that’s what Quenneville was talking about as well.
“[Hossa] hasn’t felt very well at all,” Quenneville said. “His first day out of the house [Monday]. He’s not doing a lot. Hopefully he progresses.”
The Blackhawks held the Coyotes to two shots on goal in the first period, equaling a regular and postseason low.
Brendan Morrison tallied a team-high four shots on goal, one game after Nick Leddy led the Hawks with five.
The Blackhawks registered 241 shots on goal in six postseason games, 25 more than the next closest team.
“Sometimes in these games when you can’t score 5-on-5 or the goalie is standing on his head, you have to find a way to do it on the power play, and we didn’t.” -- Toews
“They’re just a team. They sit around, sit around, wait for their chances and get one here or there.” -- Corey Crawford, on Phoenix.
“Tonight Mike Smith had a special game. You come out of that first period, that was a moral victory for them.” -- Quenneville.
“The first two were equally stinging. The crowd was into it. We had everything going except for the goal.” -- Quenneville, on losing three home games in the series.
The Blackhawks' top players are the most to blame for their early exit.