Last night’s Game 6 between the Coyotes and Blackhawks marked the end of the season for the Hawks, while the Coyotes earned their first playoff series victory since moving to Phoenix. This was a tough series for each team that featured some heated moments and many overtimes, but only one side could advance.
The Blackhawks played probably the best first period they could have asked for. Right from the opening puck drop, all the way to the final whistle of the period, the Hawks absolutely dominated the play. It seemed as though the puck never even left Phoenix’s defensive zone. The Blackhawks were getting shots off left and right, peppering Mike Smith from every angle. In total, they out-shot the Coyotes 16-2 in the first period. Those are ridiculous numbers. Yet, even with all of the good chances that the Hawks had, Mike Smith wouldn’t budge. He played the best he had played the entire series. After the first period, the game remained scoreless.
The beginning of the second period started a little bit slower for the Blackhawks, but they ended up picking up right where they left off in the first period. For about the first 10-12 minutes of the second, they once again were bombarding Mike Smith with shots, and good ones too. Then, with just over 12 minutes gone in the second, Jonathan Toews was called for interference, leading to the Coyotes second powerplay of the game.
With a little over a minute remaining on the powerplay, Phoenix’s Oliver Ekman-Larsson beat Corey Crawford with a slap shot from a few feet inside the blue line to give the Coyotes a 1-0 lead.
The rest of the second period featured a few more scoring chances for the Hawks, but they still couldn’t score. The shot totals in the second period were 12-6 in favor of the Hawks.
In the third period, the Blackhawks came out giving everything that they had left in their tank, knowing that they needed to win the game to stay alive. Unfortunately for them, only 2:24 into the period, Gilbert Brule scored his second goal of the series to increase the Coyotes’ lead to 2.
With just under 9 minutes played in the period, Jimmy Hayes of the Blackhawks was given a 5 minute major, and game misconduct for boarding. This sent Phoenix to a 5 minute powerplay, where they would score with just over 7 minutes left in regulation to make it 3-0.
By this point, most, if not all hope was lost for the Blackhawks. To make matters worse, Kyly Chipchura added Phoenix’s 4th goal of the game with about 6 minutes left in regulation. The final score would be just that, 4-0.
Mike Smith was unbelievable in this game, stopping all 39 shots that he faced.
For the second consecutive year now, the Blackhawks have been eliminated from the playoffs in the first round. Last year, they had the excuse that they had to completely dismantle their Stanley Cup-winning team due to the salary cap. We all understood that and somewhat gave them a break for backing into the playoffs as the number 8 seed and losing in the first round. This year, however, is a bit of a different story.
Heading into this season, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman said a number of times that he believed this team was capable of winning the Stanley Cup. To his credit, the Hawks did look like they were good enough to win it all for about the first 2-3 months of the season, but then the 9-game losing skid came up. After that streak ended, it was clear that this team had too many holes that it needed to fill if they wanted to win the Cup. Most people thought that they might try to fill those holes at the trade deadline, but we were wrong.
It was no secret whatsoever that the Blackhawks badly needed a second line center heading into the trade deadline. Paul Gaustad, Jeff Carter, and Antoine Vermette were all names that most hockey experts expected the Blackhawks to go after. Instead, they traded for defenseman, Johnny Oduya. Yes, this was a hole that they needed to fill, but acquiring a good, second line center would have had a bigger impact on this team than Johnny Oduya had. This was especially made evident in this series with the Coyotes, who dominated at the faceoff circle from the get-go. I’m not saying that Johnny Oduya was a bad acquisition (he did a lot of good things for the Hawks, although not so much in the playoffs), but the Blackhawks could have, and should have made a better trade than the one they made.
After the game ended last night, I was thinking to myself, “The Blackhawks really could have used Brian Campbell in this series.” Campbell was a key component to the Blackhawks powerplay while he was still on the team before getting traded to the Panthers. He was/is a great puck-moving defenseman, and he made entering the offensive zone much easier with his speed. If the Hawks had converted on their powerplay more frequently throughout the regular season, and especially this series with Phoenix, they would have been a much more successful team, and that’s a fact. If you really think about it, what did the Hawks really get by trading Brian Campbell? By getting rid of his salary, they were able to sign Steve Montador, Daniel Carcillo, Andrew Brunette, Sean O’Donnell, and Sami Lepisto, as well as re-sign Corey Crawford and Patrick Sharp. Now, not all of those signing were due to getting rid of Campbell, because the Hawks did have some money before making that trade. But how much did Carcillo really help this team? He got hurt and didn’t even play half the season. Montador had some good stretches, but he was nothing to write home about before he also got hurt. Brunette was an underachiever this year, and O’Donnell and Lepisto were in and out of the lineup on a daily basis. Corey Crawford had a disappointing season this year, to say the least, and Patrick Sharp did what everyone expected him to do by scoring 33 goals. By not trading Campbell, they would have had 5 solid defenseman this year, and their powerplay most likely would have been a bit better.
Stan Bowman has A LOT of decisions to make this offseason. Should he look for a new goalie, such as Jonathan Bernier out in L.A.? Or should he trade for/sign a top 4 defenseman? Also, how is he going to address the issue of the nonexistent, number 2 center on this team? There are a lot of questions surrounding the Blackhawks heading into the summer months. I would expect some changes to be made.