Keeping in pattern with this series, the Chicago Blackhawks and Phoenix Coyotes went to overtime for the 5th straight game. For the 5th straight game, the Hawks started out strong and the Yotes absorbed, leads were blown and a turnover with out of position D-men gave the Yotes a lead, and in familiar fashion the Hawks tied the game late.
The difference in this game was that the Hawks were clearly the team that should have won. This was their best performance of the series and I will be dammed to see them lose it.
A blatant reason, and maybe the only reason I would have understood a loss was the Hawks continued inability to score on the power-play. They had 3:45 of continuous PP-time, and even a good 15 seconds of 5-on-3 to make it happen, and they just can't. This alone, more than Crawford's weak OT misses, could be the glaring reason to see the Hawks knocked out in the first round.
No one would call this Hawks team consistent, and Q is the man in the drivers seat. And yet, the only area that Q decides is worthy of consistency is the one area that is screaming for big change. Q is just incessant on kicking a dead horse with the Hawks PP. What might I have done differently? Glad you asked, because it is eating me inside. This is a message to Q: Play your regular lines with the man advantage, and start with the Bolland line! Follow that with your Toews line from last night (if these lines stay the same). Tell them to play hockey, skate hard, pepper Smith and win the battle to the rebound. Simple.
Oh yeah, we saw some shifting in the line-combos. Are you surprised? Eh, I am whatever about it, but pulling Bickell off the 3rd line was pushing it Q, and you have never been one for balance in your combos.
To the game:
- This game looked almost identical to the last game in which the Hawks lost in OT. The biggest difference was the 3rd period and the fact that Toews said enough already and showed everyone how to walk in on Smith and pick his spot. Unlike the last game, the Hawks owned the 3rd period, and very well should have won the game during the normal 60 minutes. In OT, Toews won a very important draw, Stalberg and he won a board battle (hugely important), and Toews showed everyone why he is the guy who should have the puck on his stick in moments like these.
- There is one more thing that was blatantly different in this game: Nick Leddy. Maybe he has been reading my comments about his performance up until last night, and I hope he has, because Leddy proved his worth by giving the his best game of the series, and in a long time for that matter. Leddy was credited with 5 shots on net, and I think he had more than that. He scored the equalizer as a well placed Bolland took Smith's sight away. He won a few board battles, was credited with 3 hits, and looked altogether more comfortable on the ice. I had called for his head (in a matter of speaking), and still think the right move was to play Lepisto in his spot, but he showed me and his team a little fight last night, and also how to hit the net from the point.
- Winning board battles. The Hawks won more board battles than any of the other games. they not only brought intensity, but also a bit more smarts. They still need to get a heck of a lot smarter with the puck (and without it), but it was better. If they get to where they need to be with the puck, this game is at least a 3-0 win.
- Yes, the Hawks dramatically controlled the puck for the far greater portion of this game, starting at puck drop and continuing up until the Toews winner. The Yotes barely threatened the Hawks, and I think I might know why: Ice-time. Q played his guys a little more evenly throughout the game, and you have to wonder why it took so long.
- Have I mentioned how huge the return of Michael Frolik has been? Could enough great things be said about his contribution since Shaw's suspension and his name was picked out of a hat? Nope, because Fro has been the best skater on the ice, period. He has 2 goals, assisted on last night's equalizer, has been the best defensive forward, and better stay exactly where he is when Shaw returns.
- Okay, okay, I will mention Stalberg, who was the focus of most between period conversation. Lets get something straight first; the officiating continues to be terrible, and while Stalberg was within reason for each penalty he was hit with, most were weak, and the Yotes are guilty of so much more. Was it a bad game for #25, maybe, but it was more a bad luck issue if you ask me. Before you start calling for his being benched, take notice of what his speed creates, and how many battle he did win, including the game winning one. Has he been a disappointment, sure, but I wouldn't give up on him either.
- If anyone deserves to be sat, it would Kane, which I am not saying should happen. I am just saying. I almost forgot he was on the team, which shows how little he contributed to the win.
The climb is still a steep one, but I think a part of the mountain fell off last night. I figured that the games would be close, not this close, but tight enough. I also anticipated one game where the Hawks opened the Yotes up and poured some goals in Smith's net. With the course of last night and given the return of Shaw, and maybe another big name, this next one could be that game. I saw a little bit of fear break through the tough demeanor of the Yotes, and that could be the doubt that the Hawks needed. Smith knew darn well that they needed to burry the Hawks before they figure it out, and it was all over his face as Leddy tied the game. Not sure how he felt about being destroyed by Toews.
I have a lot of opinions about how bad choices have gotten the Hawks into the situation of climbing out of a hole when they most likely should be covering up one that has the Yotes inside. But, last night was about being positive and keeping that momentum going. Hawks Win!!!!!!!!!!!!
Look for Sharp and Kane to be noticed next game.