This is a hard one to write. My fears began to materialize late in the 1st period as the Hawks poured everything they had on Smith, but it just wasn't happening for them. The thoughts in everyone's head before the series ended up finding a moment of reality for the Hawks; Mike Smith can single handedly win this series. But there is more to this story, isn't there?
The Hawks started with a huge WTF line combo that followed with 3 more of similar nature, and boy did they generate big time chances. The Shots were building up within the first 5 minutes and it seemed as though Phoenix had finally cracked. Lucky for them, Smith did not, and the Hawks missed a few marks. Call it luck, call it a bounce, the fact is that the Hawks missed the holes. Yes, Smith helped that along, and yes, the Yotes defense did just enough to keep them from being large enough, but it doesn't change the desperation in the Coyotes overall play as the Hawks finally showed the NHL what a high powered offense can do to a strictly defensive team.
Put anyone else in goal for the Yotes on this night and they lose. This was Smith's night to be had, his game to win (not lose), and his moment of greatness. If I was in a Coyotes uniform and my name was not Smith, I would feel very humbled right now, and maybe even unworthy. I say this of course, after giving large credit to the Coyotes system of play, coaching, mental spirit, and defensive credit in past posts. They are a smart and composed team full of players ready to work, and I give them along with the coaching staff full credit for that.
Since this might turn into a dissertation if i get into specifics, I will try to summarize the important elements that I saw.
Kane was moved to the 4th line, in a game that saw the wealth (core) spread throughout the line-up. Why Q waited to do that until the last game is beyond me. He was bringing balance to the 4 lines, or closer to that anyway. Something suggested here for 2 years was finally attempted and it was working in great ways. Trying this earlier in the year might have caused better results, but the fact remains that Q finally seemed to be coaching his team.
The Hawks missed on some epic chances, and more than line combos, it was that the Hawks were winning battles, getting and giving support, had active sticks, were making smart plays and using their speed to their advantage. I honestly can't decide whether or not I should be pissed off about it, because where the hell has this been all year? Why has this team not played at their potential until their final game?
I think this team has a motivation issue.
And yet, all of these elements coming together still could not fix the power-play. If you wanted to find the quickest scapegoat of a reason to why the Hawks failed this year, you could easily point to the power-play and then goaltending. I am not here to give Crawford more reasons to feel sorry for himself, so I am pointing at the PP, and boy was it bad. Too bad to even talk about, and bad enough to require action by the Hawks administration.
I also must say that the officiating of this series and around the NHL has been pretty bad. Not using it as an excuse, but it had a hand in the outcome of this series, and seems to be doing the same in others. When Toews was called for interference in the 2nd, on a play that could have been easily written off to two players skating into each other, when the Yotes had been guilty of interference time and time again in this series, you have to wonder. Because, that was the straw that broke the camel's back in this game.
The Hawks ended the first outshooting their opponent 16-2, and all 16 of those shots were primo shots, but when the Yotes get a 1-0 lead on their 6th shot of the game after a weak penalty called to the Hawks best PK guy, you just kind of have to laugh about it.
And still, the Hawks put the petal to the metal and continued to make the Coyotes look pathetic. I am not even sure that I have ever seen this kind of domination. I know I haven't seen it where the team getting dominated ended up winning 4-0.
The Shots taken after 2 periods of play was 54 to the Hawks and 20 to the Yotes.
It only took one strong play by the Coyotes to put this game away as they created their only decent scoring chance of the game behind the net and put the puck away. 1 scoring chance to the Hawks 20+.
This is what a player who has reached this level of play should do. Put the puck where it belongs when the situation presents itself. I do not think the Hawks were unlucky. I do however think that the Yotes were lucky to win. Because the Hawks had at least 6 to 8 chances that should have been, without a doubt, cashed in on; good goalie or not. The Hawks missed their marks on chances that just have to be put away. The puck has to go into the net to win the game.
Smith saw everything, and he proved that when he does, he will most likely stop it. Was there ever a great screen in this game by the Hawks? Seems like they did everything right except for that one, and it might have been the big one.
I feel for the Hawks. Listening to the responses from Toews, Sharp, Q and company, I see a bunch of people trying to make sense of something that is hard to grasp. I just hope they remember it. I hope Q remembers what worked, and what didn't. I hope they all ask themselves why they missed chances that they should not have, and why their PP is so terrible. It was nice to see Q bring balance to his team for once, and I hope he remembers that too.
The last 2 seasons were not exactly good ones for the Hawks. Let's make the next one better.
I need more time to process this before looking further into it.