Saturday, May 22, 2010
As per usual, the Hawks find a way to win
By Jesse Rogers
If you thought Game 3 would be easy, you were mistaken.
Give San Jose credit, the Sharks didn’t lie down. As the game moved along they got more desperate, and that was evident in their stellar third period.
If not for Antti Niemi -- how many times have we said that lately -- the Hawks probably lose this one. They were outshot 18-6 in the third and if not for 27 blocks and 15 more shots that missed the net, Niemi might have been eating a puck by the end of the night.
But great teams find ways to win and the Hawks did just that. They made their good fortune on this night.
If you’re going to block 27 shots, one of them should pay off the other way, and one did. Do-it-all Toews blocked a shot perfectly to Dave Bolland who showed an offensive finishing touch we haven’t seen all season.
When you only get two power plays and you score on one of them, that’s making some good fortune as well. Toews to Patrick Sharp in the slot isn’t going to miss often and it didn’t.
The better team keeps winning in this series but that doesn’t mean it has to. Niemi has had two 44-save performances in three games. If either or both are 43-save nights, is he any less effective? Probably not, but the Hawks would be staring at a loss or two. That’s how close two of the three games were.
But we know close doesn’t matter in hockey. There are plenty of close games, and the Hawks have lost their share of them over the years.
Sharks coach Todd McLellan did a smart and obvious thing by breaking up his top line. It helped balance the Sharks and keep some speed on every unit. But it says everything you need to know about the Hawks that they forced San Jose to separate a line that played all year together and made the Olympics as a trio. They won gold playing alongside each other, but they didn’t last three games against Chicago.
Bolland has returned. This was the player that finished last season as the heir apparent second-line center. Dropped to the third line this postseason, he suddenly found his game against Vancouver. Any coach will tell you: take care of business on defense and the offense will come. I think Bolland qualifies.
It would be hard for Byfuglien to play with this emotion for 82 games. It’s not his personality nor could his body take it. However, even 75 or 80 percent of this for a whole season could wreak havoc on the NHL. It would be cool to see what kind of numbers he could put up.
Some of the suffering is almost over. Depending on your perspective, 18 years between Stanley Cup Finals appearances may be a long time, but no one will argue that 49 years is too long between championships.
The next game might be the toughest -- elimination games usually are. But if San Jose was a bit fragile coming into this postseason, the Sharks must be feeling the weight of the world on their back right now. Maybe they just want the misery over with.
If and when the Sharks decide to go, there is only one thing left for the Hawks to do.