Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Chicago Blackhawks [Print without images]

Saturday, February 5, 2011
Hawks show vast potential in loss

By Jesse Rogers

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Most professional locker rooms are the same. After a win, there’s loud music and celebrating. Post defeat, it’s quiet and somber.

The dressing room after the Chicago Blackhawks 4-3 loss to the Vancouver Canucks Friday night fell somewhere in between.

Joel Quenneville
Joel Quenneville had plenty of reasons to be frustrated on Friday.
There certainly wasn’t any jubilation -- not after the Hawks failed to get a point for the 13th time this season when tied in the third period. But it wasn’t a down place, either. Far from it. Maybe the Hawks know something we don’t or maybe they just showed it to us.

They can still play with anyone.

The Hawks outplayed the Canucks. They know it, the Canucks know it and most anyone that watched the game knows it. Yes, you can outplay a team, and still lose the game. It happens often in the NHL.

The 45 shots the Hawks sent towards Roberto Luongo were just one off the most the Canucks have given up all season. Even more impressive was the 35 shots they had in about 45 minutes of even strength time. The pace the Hawks set was frenetic and reminiscent of some of the great games of a year ago.

Of course, the great equalizers in hockey are goaltending and special teams. The Canucks won those battles. Luongo flashed his glove like a gold glove first baseman. And the Canucks power play was deadly.

So what does this all mean?

It means the Hawks are indeed closer to being the team everyone wants them to be, but they still aren’t quite there yet. Just closer.

Friday morning Jonathan Toews talked of his team playing up and down to its competition. If that’s true, it should bode well down the stretch, considering just about everyone in the conference, save Edmonton, is in the thick of the playoff race. They should be “up” more than down. If they play with the same pace they showed Friday night, even poor penalty killing might not stop them.

And don’t forget about two bad calls by the officials that went against the Hawks. Add one goal to the Hawks' total and subtract one from the Canucks, and you can see why the Hawks’ dressing room wasn’t in hysterics.

Joel Quenneville has made much of the now 13 times they’ve failed to get a point when tied in the third as well as the 11 times they’ve led in the final period and lost the game.

Take the equation one step further, and it can sound like a positive. Including their wins and four overtime losses, the Hawks have led or been tied in the third period in 44 of their 52 games. That’s impressive but equally un-impressive is, despite that fact, they woke up Saturday morning in ninth place in the conference.

Turco start

Overshadowed a little, by a great game with a playoff atmosphere, was the controversial decision by Joel Quenneville to start Marty Turco in net instead of Corey Crawford.

As has been the case most of the season, Turco didn’t lose the game for the Hawks but he didn’t win it either. Once again, his size -- or lack thereof --came into play. It could be argued three of the four Vancouver goals could have been stopped by a bigger netminder—like Crawford.

Anything that goes through screens, like Christian Ehrhoff’s goal to open the scoring or Mikael Samuelsson’s power-play score, can be scrutinized. Even without seeing the puck, a big goaltender has a chance at letting it hit him better than a small one. That’s not even a criticism of Turco, it’s a simple fact.

Could Crawford have stopped those shots? No one will ever know. But he would have had a better chance.

And on the winning goal, does Crawford get his right shoulder on the puck Daniel Sedin so adeptly re-directed? Maybe.

But that’s what sports are all about. Putting your best people in the best position to succeed. No one is claiming the Hawks can’t win that game with Turco in net. For all practical purposes, they did. But when fortune, or this the case the referees, turns against you, overcoming the adversity is the truest sign of a champion.

The Hawks, with Turco in net, have been unable to do that more times than not, and in the most crucial of moments in games.