I'm not trying to pee in your morning corn flakes. Saturday night's Blackhawk win was as exciting and memorable as any in recent memory. Brent Seabrook's game tier and Bryan Bickell's OT winner will be fond memories for Hawks fans for years...especially if they go on to win this series, but we were all 5.5 seconds away from being absolutely furious and frustrated at another sub par playoff performance.
The Hawks dominated play and scored early. From there...it was all Phoenix...until it wasn't.
Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett has his squad committed to a patient and frustrating system. Once they get a lead, they shut it down. The Hawks, as they have been all season, were hellbent on carrying the puck into the zone, rather than dumping it in and chasing the puck. The Coyotes were playing a 1-4 defense for much of the second and third period. One forward forechecks, the others stay in the neutral zone, forcing turnovers and bad decisions. Clog the neutral zone, and the Hawks are toast.
The Hawks have looked their best in this series when they have the puck behind the net, working the give and gos and backdoor passes. Dumping the puck and winning a race is an easy way to get in that set up. Their unwillingness to adjust has been their undoing...especially on the powerplay. The Hawks needs to start playing with and holding leads. That will force Phoenix out of their system and open up the ice.
Aside from system frustrations, a few players have left something to be desired as well.
Duncan Keith was an absolute disaster last night. Phoenix's first goal was a result of Keith not taking the body on Shane Doan. Both players chased a puck headed behind the net. Doan got their first. Keith had a perfect angle to eliminate the winger, but weakly poked at the puck. The 240 lb Doan kept the puck, and centered the puck to Raffi Torres. 1-1.
Late in the 2nd period, Keith had a bouncing puck at the Coyotes blue line. Instead of swatting it deep, he tried to stickhandles around a Coyote forward. He failed, and it led to a 2-on-1 scoring chance for Phoenix. If not for a big save by Crawford, it would have been 4-2 heading into the 3rd period. Bad decisions and bad turnovers have plagued Keith all series. He's overthinking every play. If the Hawks are going to have a chance against Phoenix (and beyond) he needs to be much better.
Johnny Oduya and Marian Hossa haven't exactly been electric either.
Oduya looks like the game is moving too fast for him. He looks nervous and panicked with the puck. Oddly, his poise and calm are what have made him such a valuable addition. It's been a couple of years since he's played in a playoff game, and it's showing. Hopefully, he can catch back up to the pace and play the game he's played so well in the last few weeks.
Hossa simply isn't scoring. Sure...there are moments where he still dazzles with the puck, but the results aren't there. He's not recorded a single point in the Hawks' last 4 games. He needs to get on the scoresheet.
It's not all bad news though. Patrick Sharp returned to form after a terrible game one. He was buzzing all night...especially in the first period. Brent Seabrook continues to define "clutch." Of Seabrook's last five goals, one was a game-winner, and three tied the game to force overtime (stat courtesy of Paul Kennedy). Bryan Bickell has been outstanding, as have his linemates Dave Bolland and Andrew Shaw. Let's hope Monday's hearing with the NHL doesn't keep Shaw out of the lineup for Game 3 or beyond...because it shouldn't. Bolland made an immediate impact on the powerplay, assisting on Bickell's first goal.
The Hawks are a different team at the United Center. If they can fly back to Phoenix up 3 games to 1, book your flights to the next opponent's city (probably not Vancouver.)