Blackhawks Confidential

Blackhawks sucker punched by two late Flyers goals, lose 3-2

flyers.jpgThere has been many a sucker punch thrown on the hard streets of Philadelphia. And it might take the Blackhawks a while to recover from Saturday afternoon's unexpected knockdown.

Beating Washington Sunday afternoon on NBC at United Center could partly salve the wound. But this 3-2 loss should leave a mental bruise that doesn't subside easily, because it provides an important lesson with the playoffs within hailing distance that as good as they are, there is always the painful possibility the Hawks can be shocked and tossed carelessly aside if they don't attend to business.

Some defeats sting. Some defeats annoy like a hangnail. Some defeats are oh-so-whats. But this defeat with two seconds on the clock, the second of two goals Philly scored in the final 2 minutes, 4 seconds, was a fierce blow to the Hawks' usually invincible ego, a crippling fumble after it appeared Marian Hossa's sharp-shooting wrister from high in the right circle for the 2-1 edge--permitting the Hawks their first lead of the game--would carry the day.

Cristobal Huet deserved better. He played well, but will step aside in frustration for Antti Niemi to face the Capitals in their personal puckoff, with the burden of giving up a tying goal to Scott Hartnell as the clock ticked to almost two minutes left and then a goal to Chris Pronger, who finished off an odd-man rush with too many Hawks caught flatfooted in the Flyers zone and every bit as much helpless witnesses to the final disaster as you and me at home.

Pronger was not even being defended as Claude Giroux's pass from the right side found the weak-side defenseman staring into a wide open net left of the crease as he beat the clock, beat Huet and beat down Chicago's confidence that it always knows how to manage the clock and the situation. Here, they seemed to stop to wait for overtime, but never found themselves able to recover and lost a chance to salvage one point.

The Hawks were sickened by having to swallow their own medicine, burned by quick and lengthy passes out of the Flyers end that resulted in rapid attacks the other way. That is suppose to be Chicago's playbook, but Philly swiped it here and used it effectively.

There are so many ways the Hawks could have won against Michael Leighton, a former Chicago draftee who has overcome a career of being overlooked and passed over to show up when needed badly in Philadelphia after goalie Ray Emery's season-ending injury. Come the playoffs, Leighton will be the guy wearing the Cinderella slippers.

If Dave Bolland scores on him immediately after Hossa's goal to give the Hawks a two-goal advantage, Leighton and the Flyers likely lose. If Kris Versteeg lifts his backhander over the big body of Leighton shortly before Hossa scores, the momentum is all Chicago's.

If Jonathan Toews scores on Leighton's doorstep in the third, the Hawks could have pulled away for maybe a three-goal victory. But Toews and Patrick Kane were controlled much of this game by the Flyers, who blocked a lot of shooting lanes and kept the Hawks scoreless as both teams went without a goal in the first two periods.

Kane seemed to revert at times to the player he was much of last season, looking first to pass and shooting only when forced. Kane will need to rethink his strategy after this one, because his passes were being blocked or not connecting and his offensive threat was minimal.

The Flyers started strong before the Hawks took the reins for most of the first period. When Mike Richards spun around and tried to hammer a puck past Huet, he was ready. When the Flyers tried some redirects to penetrate Huet, he was ready.

In the second period, when the Flyers looked certain to score on a 3-on-1 when Duncan Keith was caught up in the offensive zone and couldn't get back, defenseman Brent Seabrook and Huet and some luck combined to hold the game scorless. When Huet came out of the goal aggressively and left his teammates to defend the crease in a scramble, they managed to hold off Philadelphia even when it appeared the Flyers were close to breaking through.

Early in the third, it finally happened. Seabrook's passing attempt from the boards wasn't a clean connection with his stick. It deflected to Dan Carcillo, who carried the play behind the net and shot a wraparound pass through the front of the crease for Simon Gagne, who sent this deft attempt past Huet.

The Hawks were close to tying with the puck under Leighton, who didn't know where it was, when a whistle seconds before Toews knocked it into the net wiped out that possible score. Seconds later, it didn't matter. Kris Versteeg sustained his sudden hot streak by scoring again for a 1-1 tie.

The action then seemed to favor the Hawks, resulting as mentioned in Hossa's goal, and the assault on Leighton seemed to be enough to either add to that margin or at least play smart enough to hold the 1-goal edge. Alas, it all feel apart quicker than you can say Alexander Ovechkin.

Oh, yes, not much time to mourn. Or Alex The Great will turn a mental bruise into an aching asskicking Sunday. And after falling flat last Sunday on national TV against Detroit, it would be nice for all egos if the Blackhawks can show everyone how good they are and how much we've enjoyed this season.

Of course much of last Sunday's shame fell on Huet. Niemi will be front and center this time as the goalie who can cement his supposed position as No. 1 by beating Wasington. It is a No. 1 role that can be taken away as quickly as the Flyers took away the Hawks supposed victory Saturday.

To have come this far and seen the Hawks play so well and be within striking distance of a historic season in points and individual accomplishments, and yet to still have a situation so unsettled and unsure and untenable, well, it can give you the chills once in a while, the same chills that ran down your spine as Pronger and the Flyers swooped down and won in a flash.

After 67 games, there's really only one thing we know. That we really don't much at all how this is going to end.

Game time is 11:30 a. m. Sunday. But churches will be open early in case you need to be dropping off any special petitions.

We sure as hell don't need a lost weekend against the Flyers and Caps, or we'll all be right there with Ray Milland shaking as we do shooters.

Maybe we all would be best advised to shut up about Sunday perhaps being a preview of a Stanley Cup championship. There's a long road to get there and the Hawks better not stand still and watch as they did Saturday at one critical moment, or bad shit could happen when you least expect it.

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8 Comments

Dave Morris said:

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Mike, this just in...Cris Huet is being fitted for a Vintage 90's Eddie Belfour wig, and has started growing his playoff beard.

And there is absolutely no reason to believe this year's edition of The Black Hawks will suffer the same fate as the powerhouse team did in the spring in 1991.

Is there?

Mike Kiley said:

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Do we want both goalies playing well or one goalie playing superior to the other, and is that even possible? Belfour would never play second fiddle to a backup. He couldn't even live with Hasek. Would Q take Belfour/Hasek going into these playoffs? That wouldn't work, though, because Eddie would kill somebody. Anybody. One works. Two doesn't.

Dave Morris said:

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Mike, if memory serves me, Q has lived through a similar dilemma before. His dueling fiddlers were named Theo and Budaj.

So...playing musical chairs with the goalies might even continue into the playoffs, eh.

VegasHawksFan said:

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Excellent post Mike, you could not have nailed it any better than that sentence about the Hawks being beaten at their own game with a long ass pass that sprung that final goal. All year however, I never felt the Hawks could play shut down hockey and protect a lead. Either they are trying to score and succeeding, or they are letting pucks in. There just never seems to be in between.

The playoffs are not now, so the answer to the question, "Is this team ready to win the cup right now?" doesn't matter. Just the same, the answer is no. The talent is there, the rest is not.

iplagitr said:

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They played well enough to win. Huet had a good game. But yet another scenario where the Hawks failed to finish their great chances, as Mike listed a few examples above. This team has to score more than 2 goals on 41 shots. Yeah, every once in a while you might run up against a hot goalie, but this lack of production is happening way too often.

If I have my facts straight, you have to go all the way back to 11/27 and the 3-0 loss in Anahiem where the Hawks lost a game and were actually outshot in the process as well. I know there's more to the game than just the shot stats, but it's scary how they're regularly coming close to doubling (or tripling) other teams in shots and still finding a way lose. In their last 10 losses they've outshot the opposition 363 - 223.

Just a sampling....
3/02 - Hawks outshoot Islanders 44-23, lose 3-5
2/03 - Hawks outshoot Blues 34-19, lose 2-3
1/30 - Hawks outshoot Hurricanes 41-24, lose 2-4
1/23 - Hawks outshoot Canucks 44-28, lose 1-5
1/19 - Hawks outshoot Senators 30-18, lose 1-4
1/10 - Hawks outshoot Ducks 43-12, lose 1-3
12/22 - Hawks outshoot Sharks 47-14, lose 2-3

Jerry Kayne said:

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Huet was big yesterday.

The Hawks are still missing the piece of controlling the puck at the end of a game. That's the piece the best teams have. Instead they seem to gain a Superman-like attitude. I'll just stand here while you shoot your harmless bullets at me and smile. This s the adversity the Hawks need to learn to overcome for the playoffs. It's coming at the right time. Just get over it quickly.

Lesson to learn: Foot on the throat, killer instinct. They have to score and put the opponent away.

borg said:

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Well, if yesterday was a sucker punch, today must've been a back-alley rape.

Dominated the 3rd by a team without Ovechkin and now Hossa, Johnsson and Campbell are hurt.

Should've started the playoffs two months ago.

borg said:

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Sounds like Campbell's really hurt. While frustrating at times, the Hawks can't afford to be without him. Particularly the way Seabrook's playing.

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