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Thursday, April 19, 2012
Hawks lack punch in Game 4 loss

By Melissa Isaacson
ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks were beating themselves up after this one, an ironic state of affairs considering it was what many of their fans had hoped they would inflict on their opponents.

But armed with the oldest motivator in sports, revenge was not enough.

Michael Frolik
For the second consecutive game, Michael Frolik made an unexpected contribution for the Hawks on Thursday -- but it wasn't enough.

Instead, after a 3-2 overtime loss to the Phoenix Coyotes before 22,111 at the United Center on Thursday night, the Hawks were left only to ponder how they got themselves into this position and how, facing elimination in the Western Conference quarterfinal series as it shifts back to Phoenix, they are going to get themselves out of it.

"It was a brutal ending," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said of Mikkel Boedker's second straight game-winner in OT. "I'm not happy with the way we played. Certain guys have to pick up their games."

Without singling out anyone in particular, it is obvious the coach was referring in part to his offensive core, notably Patrick Kane (without a goal in the series but four assists over the first three games), Patrick Sharp (with one goal and no assists in the first three and neither in Game 4) and Viktor Stalberg (with no goals and one assist in all).

All four goals in regulation Thursday night came in the third period, the Hawks clawing back from 2-0 with goals from two players -- Michael Frolik, who scored with 1:26 remaining in regulation, and Brendan Morrison -- who were healthy scratches throughout much of the season.

It was another dramatic, come-from-behind performance by the Hawks but ultimately can't be termed gutsy when, like Game 3, it ended with a defensive breakdown that lead to a weak goal for the loss.

Rather, almost fittingly -- given the tenor of most of the night -- it was simply anticlimactic.

Aside from a brief and fruitless skirmish in the first period between the Hawks' Brandon Bollig and the Coyotes' Paul Bissonnette that looked part-WWE and part hockey fight, the Hawks seemed more worn out from an emotional Game 3 two nights earlier than wound up.

With Marian Hossa resting at home with an injury supposedly not serious, but enough to keep him out of Thursday night's game after being brutally leveled Tuesday night by Raffi Torres -- also at home awaiting a suspension hearing -- the anticipation was, shall we say, jacked up for Game 4.

While knowledgeable and attentive Hawks' fans could not have expected their more brainy than brawny team to come out swinging, it was fair to assume Chicago would come out with a certain level of aggressiveness.

In the sense that they outshot the Coyotes 11-5 in the first period and 12-5 in the second, the Hawks were not exactly asleep. But there was also something missing, three failed power plays and a frequent looseness with the puck not befitting a team desperate to at least metaphorically clobber their opponent and get back into the series.

"The first two periods, they played a tough defensive game," said Hawks captain Jonathan Toews "They're going to be slowing you down, hitting you, hooking you, doing all the little things to try to steal that speed and energy from you.

"We need to find a way to play like we do late in games down a goal or whatever. We need to find that desperation and bring it right away and not wait for something to happen where we wake up and then start playing the game we can. … We just need to find a way to motivate ourselves and do that early on and try to get ahead and let them chase us around."

It was the second straight overtime loss at home for the Hawks, the fourth straight overtime game this postseason and sixth dating back to last postseason.

Is that exhausting in and of itself?

"We haven't gone too deep in overtime, it's been over pretty quick," Morrison pointed out after Boedker scored at 2:15 of OT, with United Center fans chanting "Hossa, Hossa" in an effort to fire up their team.

"I don't think it's an issue and they're going through the same thing as us. But lot of guys in here have been down 3-0, 3-1 and come back to win series. Is it tough? Sure it is. But it's a funny thing. You win the next game, get some momentum and anything can happen."

Indeed, trailing 3-0 to Vancouver in the first round last postseason, the Blackhawks came back to tie the series. But the Canucks won at home in Game 7, which is where the Coyotes would be, in Phoenix, if the Hawks can push them to the limit.

Toews thinks it's a matter of inches.

"It would be a very different discussion if we just scored an extra goal in that overtime period," he said. "We'd have a much better feeling in here if we could find a way to get that extra break. That's kind of what it comes down to, one shot, one chance, [but] these last two games it hasn't gone our way."

Of course, you can also look at it that if not for a goal by Sharp with five seconds left in regulation to tie Game 2 before the Hawks won in OT on a goal by Bryan Bickell, the series would have been over Thursday night in a Phoenix sweep.

Instead, the Coyotes are somehow playing both the underdog and bully, and loving every minute of it.

"I think our players are thriving under the pressure," said Phoenix coach Dave Tippett.

The Blackhawks are certainly capable of doing the same. And they should not have to resort to violence. But a little belligerence? It might come in handy.