Despite an inspiring performance, the Blackhawks say goodbye to the 2011-12 season.

Despite an inspiring performance, the Blackhawks say goodbye to the 2011-12 season.

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.

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  • It also sounds like, unlike games 1-5, the Hawks completely lost their composure in the late third period, thereby assuring that the series would not go back to Glendale--not only the 3 goals, but Hayes and Kane having major misconduct penalties.

    However, I don't see you commenting on that.

  • In reply to jack:

    By and far there are many aspects of this game that I could get into which i did not. Both of those events are most definitely included.

    IMO, the game was already over when the Hayes penalty happened. It was a bad hit, and a dumb thing to do.

    Kane was a huge disappointment for the entire series. Whatever he did to do deserve it, I am kind of whatever about it at that point.

    For sure, composure played into the 3rd period in large ways, but I kind of understand why at that point. Maturity has hurt this team before.

  • In reply to jack:

    The Hayes penalty was a rookie mistake of losing track of the situation's desperation. I too think the game was over by then. But in jimmy's defense, he has had it drilled into his head to hit, so we can't fault him for "wrong kind" of hit. Hell the kid is doing what he can.

    Kane, poof, he was gone and did anyone miss him?

  • And as I walk through the Valley of the Sun.....I will fear no evil.

  • In reply to OneTeam:

    And those of you who face your fears squarely and give up your pattern of belief, will walk on the sun …

  • In reply to OneTeam:

    The reason I was busting your balls early Oneteam is because the fate both our teams received is pretty much what I expected. The entire first round of the west this year was a statement that you can stop skill and entirely negate experience by going 180 degrees in the opposite direction. While the league has changed the rules to increase scoring and by default have encouraged teams to invest in drafting and developing skill, teams like Nashville and Phoenix that can't or don't want to spend to the cap have figured out that if you devote yourself entirely to preventing a team from doing what it does best, you can win many games by not losing. And by the way, the birth of the era of the six foot five goalie is underway. Make the equipment smaller?, make the goalie bigger and more athletic.

    Comparatively, your team faced a much stronger opponent and in the end, the Hawks, with their inconsistency, have no one to blame but themselves for pooching a series they should have won. Ironically, I believe that Nashville is actually taking the same step the Hawks did, that was essentially an emulation of what Detroit did. The have drafted well, developed their talent and over this past summer went all in to balance their team and create a result of being able to roll four lines and hit you from anywhere you aren't paying attention.

    Seeing as how we both found the same fate, what do you think your team needs to do deal with it? Bring back all the same people and expect it will be different just because? It will be interesting to see what the skill of the west does to counter this.

  • The Blues-Preds Conference Finals is going to be huge.

  • In reply to Hostile Hawk:

    You mean the Kings-Preds finals HH!

  • Not much to say. Hawks put together their two best periods of the season to no avail. A goalie win—Something we haven't seen from the 'hawks once this year.

    Give Q credit the line changes were good calls but where is the coaching in all the other aspects, like special teams?

    Can't wait for the post-mortems?

  • "The last 2 seasons were not exactly good ones for the Hawks. Let's make the next one better."

    No changes equals no changes. Who is going to make this team better HH?

  • Vegas- My apologies for the "Valley of.." bit. It was just meant as a call back to your line a few weeks ago. I figured since Phoenix was called the "Valley of the Sun" it had some appropriate irony and it was only in just. No hard feelings my good man.

    Hawks, Wings, Nucks and Sharks......OUT!

    Blues, Preds, Kings and Yotes.....IN!

    Bizarro world.

  • In reply to OneTeam:

    Absolutely no offense taken, I figured where you were going with that and I took it completely in good spirit. Still, I'm genuinely curious about what you think your team needs to do, I really do think both our teams have similar decisions to face this summer.

  • Frustrating game last night, I will give Smith his kudos but if the Hawks would have just elevated the puck on at least four different occasions, we would be talking about a game 7 right now. Another frustrating aspect is the D-men being unable to get pucks thru. Telegraphed slap shots into shin guards over and over, how about a quick wrister once in awhile?

    Too bad the Hawks got that first power play, you could feel the tension in the crowd and all the momentum being sucked out of the game, sad but true..

  • In reply to SDSTAN:

    When I am shooting from the point, I am looking at the shin guards of those in front of the goalie, and not at the net. Getting the shot through is your first priority, and deflections happen. Often, you see a hole through all of the traffic and it usually ends at the goaltender. This is where you aim.

    I can not believe how bad the Hawks were at getting shots through.

    Again, you have to wonder what goes on during practices.

  • It is relief the series is over. The frustration of seeing our boys bent by another team's system made for a miserable two weeks. So much fricking futility. The power play, or lack thereof, is the key to fixing the hawks in my opinion. When they can intelligently dissect an opportunity, and then cash in, they will have finally played to their strength. They just have to be smarter because the whole team is too small to grind and everyone can't be traded.

    Crawford Is inconsistent, a softie every other
    game. Q's lineup juggling reeks of not knowing what to do with what he's got. Overall team chemistry seemed poor because no one knew what would happen next, a pooch by Corey or a yank by Q. And last but not least, the core didn't assimilate with the rest of the team OR deliver when it was Showtime.

    Everyone here said as much over the last months. How well nashville and phoenix do from here will say how much change the hawks will need in order to get past these guys next year.

  • In reply to Icehogst:

    +1, Ice. At this stage, like this stage last year, I'm of the opinion it is time to cash in the coaching staff and get some new methodologies put in place. You don't have a team when you use 30% of the players 80% of the time.

  • seems to me we always get scoring chances but never finish and then they score and it tears our heart out.....team has big decisions next year ..our core guys didnt step up and they are a huge percent of salary cap .we need a second line center and some size on defense and a goalie that can win us a game once in a while .......was kane playing in this series or was he a healthy scatch.....

  • Vegas- To be honest, I’m not really sure yet. I think I will wait to see how the rest of the playoffs pan out for these teams that "win by not losing". (Which BTW is the perfect way to describe what these teams are doing.) Even if it works for one of them this year, I still wouldn’t be too quick to reverse course just yet.

    The fact is, both of our teams have their core players and they are built for offense. There is no sense in trying to undo that immediately. I think (for better or for worse) we will both be playing the same hands we dealt ourselves for at least the next couple years. I think we agree that the NHL prefers scoring and they will see to it that it continues. If that’s the case, then teams like ours will have to look at different approaches to teams like NSH and PHX if they want to survive a playoff series against either.

    I know that isn’t saying much but like I said, I think I need to see more before I could play GM. The Preds/Yotes series have similar styles and should be pretty interesting. Hopefully it will reveal an exploitable flaw in their systems.

    Wings need to spend almost every penny on defense next season. Regardless if Nick is coming back or not.

  • In reply to OneTeam:

    OT, I agree with most of your sentiment here, especially the fact the NHL prefers scoring, and that the Wings, Hawks, Sharks and Canucks should, and likely will, stay the course. But the question I have is just how is the NHL going to keep it that way?

    They tried, after the last lockout, with all the obstruction calls, etc. They also removed the red line from being anything significant and look what that has brought about.

    Speed, and as a result, violence has escalated to the point that player safety has to be called into question. They tried to add more speed to the game and have suceeded to the degree that we now have several elite players skating who are one hit away from a career ending injury. Has the goal scoring gone up, I don't know, I'd need to look at the stats.

    Are you trying to say that teams shouldn't be allowed to play defense first hockey? That Hitchcock can't coach his system anymore? That the 1-3-1 defensive posture should be banned. How are they going to change it?

    With my tongue in cheek I say:
    a) No goalie should be allowed to be over 5'5" in height.
    b) Nets go to 5' x 7'.
    c) That there should be a penalty for two many defenders in the paint. Kinda like basketball. Of course, they'd have to create another trapezoid on the ice to define this.
    or,
    d) every defensive zone penalty should be a penalty shot.

    Really, I just don't see how this can be done. With the cap and too many small market teams that can't compete, and a somewhat watered down player pool, this is what you get.

    To say that any particular style of play is less valid than another is not right either, because strategy is an integral part of the game and there will always be a counter to a successful strategy. That's the nature of all sports. Like disco, this too will pass.

    I also disagree on the Preds style of play. They have slowly and methodically constructed a team that can compete at both ends of the ice on a (relatively speaking) shoestring budget. Sure, give them the lead and they're tough to come back on, but that should be the way it is. They have built that team from the goaltender on out, unlike the Wings and 'hawks. They choose to err on the defensive side of the puck. The 'hawks and Wings on the offensive side.

    Fact is, both teams were eliminated because of better goaltending and defense. The 'hawks are not going anywhere until they address those issues and many others, and while you're loathe to admit it, the Wings are long in the tooth and it doesn't get any easier with each passing year. Babcock is the best coach in the NHL, bar none. I expect some relevant changes to both organizations. Wings have a ton of cap space and will probably go the veteran route. Hawks have a bean-counter with no sack, who prefers to pinch pennies rather than ice a winning product. We shall see.

    If the Preds, Yotes, Blues, or Kings have an exploitable flaw, I'm sure Babcock and Q have an idea on how to counter it. The question: do they have the personnel?

    PS, sorry to butt into your verbal rendezvous with Vegas, but I just had to chime in.

  • * if that's NOT the case, then teams...

  • FF- Glad to have your input! No pardon necessary.

    "Are you trying to say that teams shouldn't be allowed to play defense first hockey? That Hitchcock can't coach his system anymore?"

    Far from it! Not sure what part of my comment implied that but it wasn’t my intention to make that assertion. I think every team should be allowed to build the better mouse trap! (Hey- That might even be a good name for the new system "Mouse Trap") Of course I mean anything within the rules. When I said "[if things don’t change] ..teams like ours will have to look at different approaches to teams like NSH and PHX if they want to survive a playoff series" I was suggesting (as you are) that "there will always be a counter to a successful strategy" and I am hoping the series between PHX and NSH will help in providing the blue print solution.

    In terms of the NHL, I was merely suggesting that the NHL will look to push things back toward favoring scoring again. Its well documented that the NHL made these efforts following the lock out but due to the recent rash of head injuries, much of the focus shifted from obstruction and seemingly had gone unnoticed or further to the back of the referees minds. (Please forgive the oxymoron)

    I think the NHL can address that problem by directing the refs to actually skate and chew gum at the same time. (it’s a tall order I know) They should still be able to protect the players from head shots while also continuing to focus on the obstruction as they had been leading up to this year. I’m not suggesting that this is the only area that could be addressed, but it is something players have grown accustom too over the past several years and it wouldn’t totally disrupt play on the ice.

    As far as moves for the off season (back to your question Vegas) I don’t think even the teams will know what they can and cannot do until the CBA is settled. I guess everyone will just have to wait and see.

    Great playoffs so far regardless of the outcome for our teams. As a hockey fan I am enjoying the competition. Three game 7's in two days is pretty exciting for a first round. Tonight we can add the defending champs to the list of the fallen. I wonder if the Rangers will be next!

    Enjoy!

  • Great comments. The only way I see that a skill team beats a stifling defense team is by being balanced, and by being better at special teams. The Hawks were not able to do either of those things this year. Watching the Caps-Bruins game last night looked like another, "Defend The House At All Costs" strategy by the Caps and though neither goalie in that game looked particularly good to me, the Caps gutted out the OT win mostly, IMO, because they were better defensively.

    Perhaps better then most teams I can think of, the Wings have shown you can have exciting offense and still be defensively sound. I don't make this next claim about this blog, but I think many Chicago fans believe the Hawks in the cup year were defensively solid. I don't. Instead, I believe they were so stacked they could overcome many a mistake and live to tell about it. To be both strong offensively and responsible defensively is not something the Hawks have been able to accomplish. It's early I guess to go player by player, but I'll say this, despite Q's shortcomings, I don't think he's always had the best blend of players to deal with what's in front of him. I don't know that Bowman needs to blow the whole thing up, but something in the approach of coaching and approach taken by some veterans needs to change.

    What I'm not critical of NSH and PHX about is that these teams work their ass off every night and in NSH case, they are not just a trap team anymore. I'm sorry to pile on OT about the age of your team, but I agree with FF. You made a comment to me awhile back about how people have been bringing that up for years. Well, you won the cup, got there again but lost, went out in the second round last year and went out in the first this year. Maybe that's not a trend. As for the Hawks, they still have the youth factor, but this team cannot continue to play the disorganized game it has. I believe ORGANIZED skill will still beat teams like PHX. But on that score, the Hawks have a lot of work to do.

  • On the age thing: I don’t dispute that the Wings are the oldest team (on average) in the NHL. They are. But I think the age thing gets blown way out of proportion and the numbers can be a bit misleading. For example: Currently, they are (on average) 28.4yrs old according to their official roster in 2012 and oldest in the league. If you are going to say that their age is a notable factor in why they have not being able to get back to the Finals since 2009, then I will have to continue to disagree and I’ll use those exact same numbers to support my argument.

    The first thing to note is that the Wings were 30.9yrs in 2008 when they won the Cup in 2008 and 31.1 when they made it back to game 7 of the Finals in 2009. (both years, oldest in the league) According to the numbers, since 2009, our average age has actually dropped by 2.7 years on average (or I guess you might say…. they "got younger"). You suggested that since 2009, the Wings failed to get out of the semi’s twice and went out in the first round this year because they are getting “older.” Unfortunately, the numbers just quoted just simply don’t support that claim. If anything, one could say their recent playoff trend would be the result of them getting younger! Ha ! (Hey, its more easily proven than arguing the opposite!)

    In grade school, people liked being in math class with me because sometimes, our test were graded on a curve. Because of me, a lot of kids got passing grades!! Ha ha- I think the same applies here. A couple guys (that are consistently productive) just happen to inflate the average age for the entire team. Players like Lidstrom, Holmstrom and Bertuzzi certainly aren’t liabilities. All three played over 70 games this season. Holmstrom led the team in PP goals. Bertuzzi has average 42 points per season as a Wing since 2009 and Lidstrom.....do I really have to explain that one?

    This is why…..IMO…. the age issue doesn’t really mean anything in this case. Since the rest of the roster is reasonably on par with the league averages, the issue is ultimately a wash. That is why I always say “it’s a fact, but not necessarily a factor”.

  • In reply to OneTeam:

    I'll accept your numbers OT, math not being one of my favorite things.

    I think what we're really witnessing is the result of too much hockey being played over a set period of time. The Wings, have been playing playoff hockey for so long it has to take its toll on the players. Those B2B cup final appearances exact a price on the body, psyche, and emotional aspects of the game. It takes a while to recover, and while no player would ever it admit to that, the number of teams that have failed after winning a cup presents a compelling argument that this is the case.

    I agree the wings have gotten younger but, Maltby and Osgood lowered that equation somewhat.

    Even Babcock said that they needed more depth at forward position. (I appreciate his forthrightness, compared to the 'hawks speak no evil brass) Is he referring to more players or is it a backhanded way of saying we need to be fresher come playoff time?

  • In reply to fourfeather:

    "I agree the wings have gotten younger but, Maltby and Osgood lowered that equation somewhat."

    Dont forget Draper, Dallas Drake and Chelios! Hell, Chelios' retirement probably moved the age by a good 2 years all by himself! I mean, the man played until he was 137 years old! Ironically enough, just like Joe louis!!
    :
    "Joe Louis had come out of retirement to fight Rocky Marciano the minute he was 76 years old. Joe Louis was always lying about his age. He lied about his age all the time. One time Frank Sinatra came in here and sat in this chair. I said Frank 'you hang out with Joe Louis, just between me and you, how old is Joe Louis?' You know what Frank told me, he said "Hey, Joe Louis is 137 years old." A hundred and thirty-seven years old!" Coming to America-1988

  • Well, you can look at age a couple of ways. One way is to look at physical average age and when you replace a retiring player with a younger player, you can say you "got younger". Another way you can look at age is through mentality. As FF mentioned, your veteran players who have been there since before the last cup have played an enormous amount of hockey. Was Rafalkski physically beaten into retirement, or was he simply getting bored with the game? I dunno. I heard an interview with him on NHL live a couple years ago and I came away with the impression he was headed towards the latter.

    Look at the flipside. Does a team of largely unexperienced younger players suddenly get older just because they pull in some grizzled veterans? I say no. You mentioned yourself you wondered about the hunger of these guys and perhaps we are hitting on the same thing from different angles. Experience is invaluable when it comes to driving for the cup, but so is having the ability to mentally shut everything else out. Not only have your veterans won a cup(s), but they have also played in the NHL for years, established families and established a full life outside of hockey. Is reprioritization another word for lack of hunger? Maybe.

    Next year, it's likely they do what they do every year, which is to establish themselves as an upper echelon team, secure a playoff spot the bajillionth time and start that endless slog toward the finals. If your younger players cannot step up and surpass the veterans, we will likely be having a similar discussion at this time next year.

  • Thanks for the discussion- I appreciate your insights guys!

    I guess we are all right in different ways. It’s true that age isn’t purely a number. It is experience, it is inexperience, it is maturity, it is priority, etc...etc..

    I do believe that the Wings (and WHAT EVER team for that matter ) that have played at this level for this long are bound to lose "The eye of the Tiger". That’s unfortunate because I believe that it is an intangible that is required to be the Cup Champion. You can’t manufacture it, you can’t buy it and you can’t just turn it on and off at your leisure. It is very natural and organic and when its present, it is actually palpable… (too much?) Ok, Ok, I think I made my point... Caveat: I am not likening the Wings to the 1980 Russian team from Miracle by any means, BUT I find similarity with the Red Wings and with how the Russians watched the Americans celebrated after beating them. They watched in kind of a strange reminiscent way. They had forgotten that overwhelming feeling of victory because they had had so much success that they were numb to the sensation. (Again, Im not saying my team is the 80’s Russian team- Just trying to illustrate my point) I don’t think you can be hungrier for the Cup than the next guy if your Cup already runneth over!

    Side note on that point: In terms of that whole Weber/Zetterberg thing- I was glad it happened at the time. Not like I wanted my guy to be injured but because I felt like they needed something to rally around and to take revenge on the scoreboard. When Shanna-huh? didn’t do anything to Weber, I was alright with that in hopes that it would be enough to make those guys decide "There is no way were letting that trash beat us" AND IT WORKED! .......well, for one game at least! Haha-- I think when you can’t motivate yourself, it’s good to have some sort of thing beyond hockey to rally around and make it more than just about winning the Cup. For example: The Wings had it when they won in ‘97 (revenge for Draper) ‘98 (for Vladdy) ‘02 (who am I kidding, we bought that one) ‘08 (return of McCarty/Osgood off the bench)

    Ps- Rafalski quit because God told him to. He turned his hockey sticks into holy crosses and went on to serve the Lord with great peace in his life. (Oh......and less $6 million!)

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