On Sunday night, the Blackhawks again pressured the Canucks just enough to lose an exciting game.
They’re now down 3-0 in the series.
Is it time to write the Blackhawks off? Should the playoff beards come off with the golf club covers?
If it was October, I would write about how the Hawks were playing three kids – Nick Leddy, Ben Smith and Marcus Kruger – instead of Jordan Hendry, Ryan Johnson and Tomas Kopecky. Certainly this inexperience was little more than a building block for later, right?
If it was November, I would write the Hawks being handicapped by John Scott skating in place of Bryan Bickell. If he can’t fight, what good is he?
If it was December, I would cry about the hit Raffi Torres put on Brent Seabrook, and talk about how he should be suspended at length by the NHL.
But the Hawks’ leading scorer in the series is Smith.
And the Canucks beat the Hawks in the first two games without Torres.
At this point, excuses and hyperbole are worthless. At some point, the Blackhawks have to finish.
Everything looked like it was going well for the Blackhawks. They scored first – a rare positive contribution from Duncan Keith in the series – and were dominating the flow of the action. The refs had taken notice of the cheap play the Canucks were trying to get away with, and the Hawks were getting power plays.
But the season-long epidemic that has plagued the team showed up yet again. The Blackhawks went 1-4 on the power play in the first period, including 77 seconds of 5-on-3 action that came up empty.
Indeed, there were two moments in the game that ultimately proved to be microcosms of this frustrating Blackhawks season.
The first came when Kevin Bieksa did what he does so well – taking a stupid penalty. His elbowing call gave the Hawks the 5-on-3 late in the first period, setting up a potential two-goal lead (or more) and getting the United Center jumping.
But the coaching staff decided they needed Keith on the ice too late to get a change and were forced to use their timeout in the first period to avoid being called for a penalty.
The Blackhawks have played 85 games this year, and weren’t able to get the right five skaters on the ice for a 5-on-3 at home with a lead in the postseason? Really?
The remedy for that mistake is simple: whomever is running the power play should be unemployed. Mike Kitchen has been an Achilles’ heel to this team the entire season, and his inability to get the right people on the ice was an epic mistake that is not acceptable at this time of year. Championship teams don’t waste their timeout so they can get a change before the puck drops for a 5-on-3 in the first period. Even a cynic couldn’t laugh at how ridiculously embarrassing that was.
Oh, and then Kitchen sent John Scott out for the 5-on-3 to stand in front of Luongo, and he spent more time outside the circles than he did in front of Vancouver’s net. The entire power play was a debacle.
The second moment that perfectly captured the 2010-11 Blackhawks season came at 9:56 in the second period. The Hawks dressed Scott for the first time in the series because of injuries and he was desperately trying to be a wrecking ball. Every second he was on the ice he was looking for a hit, but he got more of the boards than any Canucks player. He was credited with three hits on eight shifts, but two of those were phantoms.
At 9:56 in the second, Scott was called for interference on one of the rare times he made contact with a Canucks player. It took the Canucks seven seconds on the subsequent power play to tie the game. Momentum was lost, as was the lead.
Then, in what has become all-too-familiar fashion from these Hawks, the tie was blown when Vancouver scored again 54 second later. You could have heard a pin drop in the United Center.
From that point on, the Hawks struggled to sustain a rush, their passing went down the drain, and the 21,743 in attendance went from excited to scared, frustrated and apathetic.
Are the Blackhawks banged up? Sure. Did they have a laundry list of potential excuses last night? Absolutely. Does any of that matter in April? Hell no.