Blackhawks Lose in OT, Again…

For just the second time in NHL history, the first 4 games of a playoff series have gone into overtime. The Blackhawks and Coyotes played their fourth straight overtime game tonight, and for the third time this series, Phoenix prevailed. In fact, for the second straight game, Mikkel Boedker scored the game winner in OT.

The Blackhawks came out on fire to start the game, and pretty much dominated the first period. They out-shot the Coyotes 11-5 and generated a number of decent scoring chances. Mike Smith, however, was on top of his game and did not allow a puck to get past him.

The second period seemed to favor the Coyotes, but not in terms of shots. The Hawks out-shot the Coyotes again in the second period, this time 12-5. Most of the shots by the Blackhawks were weak shots on goal that stood no chance of going in. Heading into the third period, the game remained scoreless.

About 7 minutes into the third, Shane Doan picked Johnny Oduya’s pocket from behind in the Hawks’ defensive zone, and fed Ray Whitney with a perfect pass for the one-timer. Corey Crawford was able to make a huge save on Whitney’s shot, but Doan grabbed the rebound and shot it past Crawford to give Phoenix the 1-0 lead.

Less than a minute later, Antoine Vermette made a fantastic pass to Taylor Pyatt from behind the net for a great one-timer that beat Crawford. This gave the Coyotes a 2-0 lead, and seemingly the game. The Blackhawks, however, would not go quietly.

With 9 and a half minutes left in regulation, Brendan Morrison beat Mike Smith with a slap shot from the left circle to put the Hawks on the board. This was also Morrison’s first goal as a Blackhawk.

Then, with just a 1:26 left in the third, Dave Bolland backhanded a shot on goal that either hit the post, or hit Mike Smith. The puck dropped behind and to the right of Mike Smith, leaving Michael Frolik with a wide-open net to tap the puck in. This tied the game at 2 apiece, and sent it to overtime for the fourth straight game.

Just 2 minutes and 15 seconds into overtime, Mikkel Boedker grabber the puck around center ice and skated in towards Crawford on a partial breakaway. Boedker was only able to release a weak, backhanded “tap” of a shot, but it somehow found its way in past Corey Crawford to win the game giving Phoenix a 3-1 lead in the series.

Tonight’s game just about sealed the deal on this series. Game 5 will be played Saturday night in Phoenix, with Blackhawks facing elimination. I should probably be careful with my words, however, considering the fact that the Blackhawks were able to send their first round series against the Canucks last year to a seventh game after trailing 3-0 in the series.

After watching all 4 games in this series, I just can’t seem to figure out what the Blackhawks are doing. In each game of this series, the Hawks have played a great first period. They scored the first goal of the game in the first 3 games, with each of those goals coming in the first period. Tonight, they came out the same way. They dominated the first period, but for the first time in this series weren’t able to get a goal.

The second period has been a nightmare for the Blackhawks through the first 4 games. After playing so well in each first period of this series, they have done the exact opposite in each second period. It is almost as though they lose all energy and motivation during the  first intermission. They look lethargic and careless once the second period comes around.

The third period for the Hawks in this series has been mostly like their second periods, except for the last minute of regulation. Up until there is about a minute left and they are down by one goal, they flat out look bad and have zero energy. Once they pull the goalie, then they’re a completely different team. They begin playing with 110% effort. The Hawks now have 3 empty-net goals in the 4 games that have been played. Why does it take having to pull the goalie to get these guys energized and to get them to play at a high level!? It makes no sense!

Sure, Corey Crawford has allowed 2 terrible goals in the last 2 overtime periods, but if the Hawks would play with 110% effort from the start of regulation time, all the way through to the end of regulation, then maybe these games wouldn’t be going into overtime to begin with.

I said heading into tonight’s game that this was a MUST WIN for the Blackhawks. Unfortunately for them, and for all of us die-hard Hawks fans, they fell one goal short yet again and now face a 3-1 deficit in the series. If they want any hope at making a comeback, they are going to need to play the way that they have been playing in the last minute of regulation, but for the entire game.

Thanks for reading.

Joel Quenneville Receives $10,000 Fine

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was fined $10,000 earlier today for his comments during an interview following Tuesday night’s Game 3 between the Hawks and Coyotes.

When asked about the hit on Marian Hossa, Quenneville responded by saying, “It was right in front of me and all four guys missed it. The refereeing tonight was a disgrace.” It’s hard to blame him for being so upset that no penalty was given to Torres on the play. The closest referee to the play was only about 10 feet away from the hit, and even flinched when Hossa came flying towards him. No penalty was called.

Here’s my question. How is it that Joel Quenneville gets a $10,000 fine for verbally criticizing the referees, but Shea Weber only got a $2,500 fine for slamming Henrik Zetterberg’s head into the glass? Doesn’t what Weber did seem a bit more severe than criticizing some referees?

The fines and suspensions that have been handed out this season by the NHL have rarely made sense. Hopefully next year there will be a bit more consistency coming out of the league’s disciplinary office.

Brandon Saad in for the Blackhawks

Chicago Blackhawks’ 19-year-old rookie forward, Brandon Saad, was placed on the Blackhawks’ active roster following Tuesday night’s Game 3. He was called up from the OHL to take the place of Marian Hossa in the lineup.

The end of Saad’s OHL season could not have come at a better time. His team’s playoff run came to an end this past week, thus allowing the Blackhawks to bring Saad up to join the NHL team for the remainder of the playoffs. Most were not expecting Saad to get any playing time, but rather to simply be around the NHL guys and get some playoff atmosphere experience. However, most people were also not expecting Raffi Torres’ hit on Marian Hossa.

Due to the injury(s) that Hossa suffered from the hit by Torres, he has been forced out of the Blackhawks’ lineup. This left one spot open for the Hawks to fill. Rather than going with Jimmy Hayes, who has played a handful of games this year in the NHL for the Hawks, they have decided to dress Brandon Saad. Their reasoning? Well, Saad is more of a skilled player and a scorer.

In just 44 regular season games in the OHL this year, Saad recorded 76 points (34G, 42A). In the OHL playoffs, he recorded 8 goals and 9 assists in 12 games. Those are some staggering offensive numbers, especially for a 19-year-old.

The hope is that Saad will bring some much-needed offense to the lineup that was lost when Hossa left Game 3 with what appeared to be a head injury. Blackhawks’ coach Joel Quenneville has not disclosed his lines for tonight’s Game 4, but odds are that Saad will be placed on one of the top 2 lines for the Hawks. His style of play fits the play of those 2 lines better than it does on either the third or fourth line. My guess is that Saad will be on the first line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. By placing him with the two most talented players in the lineup, Saad is bound to find himself with some scoring opportunities. Also, with the way that Sharp, Kruger, and Stalberg finished up the season together, it would be hard to imagine Quenneville splitting up that line. I am very excited to see what Saad will bring to the table for tonight’s game.

The Blackhawks are going to need their top 2 lines to produce points on a consistent basis from here on out with Hossa being out of the lineup. Even though he hadn’t been scoring many goals of late (0 in his last 10 games), Hossa is still one of the most dangerous players in the NHL, not to mention his skill on defense as well.

Tonight is a must-win game for the Blackhawks. They do not want to go back to Phoenix down 3-1 in the series.

Blackhawks Lose in OT

I am not going to get into too much detail about last night’s Game 3 between the Blackhawks and Coyotes, because to be quite honest with you, I’ll get too upset if I think about it that much.

Around half way through the first period, Raffi Torres sent Marian Hossa to the hospital with a completely illegal hit to the head. A perfect example of what the NHL is trying to take out of the game. Less than a second after the puck left Hossa’s stick at about center ice, Torres launched himself off his feet into Hossa, sending Hossa down to the ice while possibly unconscious. Hossa stayed down on the ice motionless for about 5 minutes before the medical staff was able to get him onto a stretcher and wheel him off the ice.

With around 30 seconds left in the first, Patrick Kane’s wrist shot hit off the body of Andrew Brunette and made its way past Mike Smith to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead heading into the first intermission.

The second period featured a few scoring chances from each team, but no goals were scored. At the end of the period, Jonathan Toews shot the puck at Mike Smith right after the horn had blown, thus leading to a big confrontation between every player on the ice, including the goalies. Only Toews was assessed a 2-minute roughing penalty.

In the third period during a 4 on 4 for 2 minutes, 3 goals were scored! Rostislav Klesla scored the first one that tied the game with a slap shot that beat Crawford. Just over half a minute later, Michael Frolik scored to give the Hawks a one-goal lead. Then, just 32 seconds after that, Ray Whitney added another goal for Phoenix to tie the game at 2. At the end of regulation, the game remained tied and it headed to overtime for the third straight game in this series.

In OT, Mikkel Boedker scored from the goal line to Corey Crawford’s right to win the game and give Phoenix a 2-1 lead in the series. Crawford admitted after the game that this was a terrible goal to give up.

Now, let me say a few words about Raffi Torres.

This guy is a disgrace to the game of hockey. He has zero respect for any of his opponents, and now he has no respect from the fans. He simply goes out onto the ice head-hunting, looking to literally knock guys out. In fact, it was exactly a year ago last night that he put a violent hit to the head on Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook in Game 3 of the Canucks-Blackhawks first round series. Torres has been suspended twice in his career, with the first one coming on April 11, 2011. He committed a violent head-shot on Jordan Eberle of the Edmonton Oilers, and was suspended 4 games, including the first 2 games of playoffs against the Blackhawks. Then, this past December 31, he was suspended 2 games for charging Nate Prosser of the Minnesota Wild.

There is no doubt that Torres will receive a suspension for his hit last night on Hossa, but no one quite knows how many games he will receive, and that is why the NHL’s disciplinary system is so messed up. On a hit like the one last night, most people familiar with the game of hockey should at least have some idea as to how many games Torres will be suspended. Unfortunately, Brendan Shanahan and his crew have been all over the place this year with their suspensions, making it virtually impossible to predict their decisions.

I’ll just say this. If Torres gets 3 games or less, then this whole thing is a complete joke. My reasoning? Andrew Shaw was just given a 3 game suspension yesterday for his hit on Coyotes goalies Mike Smith. Smith was not injured on the play, and Shaw had no previous history of suspensions or fines. Torres on the other hand, does have a bad history, and Hossa was injured on the play.

Aside from the announcement of Torres’ suspension, look for Hawks coach Joel Quenneville to possibly get fined today for his comments last night about the referees. He said that they “were a disgrace,” among some other words.

Game 4 is Thursday night at the United Center. This is now a must win for the Blackhawks, and it is going to have to come without one of the best players in the world in Marian Hossa.

Thanks for reading.

Update: Torres’ hearing with the NHL has been moved to Friday. The meeting will take place in New York. Also, because it is an in-person meeting and not over the phone, the NHL can give Torres a suspension of 5 games or more if they choose to.

Andrew Shaw Gets 3 Game Suspension

Well, just when you thought Brendan Shanahan couldn’t be much more inconsistent with his handling of suspensions, he pulls this out of his hat. Shanahan announced today that Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw has been suspended 3 games for his hit on Coyotes goalie Mike Smith on Saturday night.

Here is Shanny’s reasoning:

  • It was a charging penalty.
  • Smith was not injured on the play.
  • Shaw has no history of illegal hits.

That kind of makes you scratch your head, doesn’t it? Smith was NOT injured on the play, and Shaw has NO history of suspensions or fines. So is Shanahan saying that if Smith was injured, or if Shaw did have a history that Shaw would have been suspended basically the rest of the playoffs? This is an absolute joke!

In Game 1 of the Red Wings and Predators series last week, Shea Weber of the Predators punched Henrik Zetterberg in the head, and then grabbed the head of Zetterberg and slammed it into the glass as the third period ended. He received a $2,500 fine, which is basically a tiny slap on the wrist. Isn’t the NHL trying to eliminate head-shots? Isn’t what Weber did as clear of a head-shot as they get? Yet all he got was about as small of a fine that the NHL could possibly hand out, and nothing else.

In Andrew Shaw’s case, he skated in behind the net at full speed to try and get to the puck before Smith could play it, but ended up colliding with Mike Smith. If you watch the replay, Shaw had his head down looking at the puck the entire time. When he got to the puck, his shoulder hit the head of Mike Smith knocking Smith to the ice. Smith stayed down for a couple of minutes before getting back up to play the rest of the game. Meanwhile, Shaw was given a 5-minute charging penalty, a game misconduct, and now a 3-game suspension.

After the game, Mike Smith made a statement through the Coyotes PR department that he was “100 percent.” However, Smith was held out of Monday’s practice for undisclosed reasons, and wouldn’t talk to the media. In the NHL, the only time that a player is allowed to avoid speaking to the media is when the player is under “extreme circumstances.” In this case, the Coyotes made it seem like Smith was having concussion symptoms after all even though they said he was “fine” after Game 2. Today, Smith was back on the ice for practice and is listed as a “game-time decision,” leading most to believe that he will in fact play. The bottom line here is that it seems as though the Coyotes have been milking the system the past few days to try and make it look like Smith did in fact get hurt on the play, all in an attempt to increase Shaw’s suspension length. With that said, Brendan Shanahan stated that “Smith was not injured on the play,” and that factored into the suspension of Andrew Shaw. None of this adds up or makes sense.

Here is my question:

Are players now supposed to stand by and simply watch as goalies go to play pucks in behind the net? Based on the suspension of Andrew Shaw, that sure seems like what Shanahan and the NHL want. Players are going to be scared of trying to play pucks behind the net while the goalie is back there with the fear that they might get suspended if they touch the goalie. Basically, goaltenders are now going to have free reign of the area in behind the net whenever they would like.

Brendan Shanahan has handed out a number of questionable suspensions this year, but none of them have puzzled me more than this one. He better have a new job next season, or else there will be a lot of angry people in the NHL.

Here are the replays of Weber’s “head smashing” and Shanahan’s explanation for his suspension of Shaw:

 

Shanahan’s explanation video

Penguins, Canucks on brink of elimination

After losing each of their first two games at home, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Vancouver Canucks headed into their respective Game 3’s on Sunday looking to get a huge road win. Unfortunately for them, neither Pittsburgh or Vancouver were able to get a win on Sunday, and they now find themselves down 3-0 in their series’.

Many people were predicting that the Canucks and Penguins would meet in the Stanley Cup Finals this year heading into the playoffs. The Canucks had just locked up their second straight President’s Trophy, and the Penguins were finally a healthy team with Sidney Crosby back. Each team looked destined for a deep playoff run. However, both sides are now facing elimination in Game 4 of their respective series. You can blame the Canucks and Penguins for “choking,” but give credit where credit is due. The Kings and Flyers have been playing excellent hockey through their first 3 games of the playoffs, and they have earned their 3-0 series leads.

Let’s start with the Flyers. As great of a season that the Flyers had, finishing 5th in the East with 103 points, they were looked at as the underdogs heading into their first round matchup with Pittsburgh, and rightfully so. As I mentioned before, Pittsburgh was on a roll heading into the playoffs having become a fully healthy team for the first time in a long time. This did not intimidate the Flyers one bit. They came into this series with the mindset that they are the better team, and they will do everything to prove that. So far through the first 3 games of this series, the Flyers have out-hustled and out-played the Penguins in just about every aspect of the game. In the 3 games that have been played, the Flyers have 20 goals. That is pretty much unheard of. The Penguins defense has had no answer for the offense of the Flyers. Because of the high number of goals that the Flyers have scored, Marc-Andre Fleury’s confidence has been shot. This is one of the best goalies in the world, who has already won a Stanley Cup. Assuming that the Flyers go on to win this series, they instantly become a top contender for the Stanley Cup.

Moving out West now, the Canucks find themselves down 3-0 in their series with the Kings. Vancouver came into the playoffs as the defending Western Conference champions, and fresh off of their second straight President’s Trophy-winning season. The L.A. Kings, on the other hand, barely made it into the playoffs as the 8 seed following what can only be described as a disappointing regular season. People expected them to contend for one of the top spots in the West this year, but they just never seemed to be able to play consistently good hockey. Well, they are now. They have outscored the Canucks in this series 9-4, with Jonathan Quick registering a shutout in last night’s game. The Kings’ defense has proven to be too much for the Canucks so far in this series, and their offense has essentially booted Roberto Luongo from his starting job in goal. For the first time all season, the Kings seem to be putting together an all-around, consistent style of winning hockey. They definitely have the potential and the right set of players to make a deep playoff run, but it remains to be seen if they will fall back into their regular season form and abandon their current style of play. Jonathan Quick has been great all season long, but only now are his teammates playing up to their potential.

These are two shocking deficits that the Penguins and Canucks find themselves in, but don’t get too surprised by them. The Flyers and Kings are two very talented hockey teams that are playing phenomenal hockey right now, and they deserve a ton of credit for putting the Penguins and Canucks on the brink of elimination.

Blackhawks Win Game 2 in Dramatic Fashion

The Blackhawks’ victory last night in Game 2 against the Coyotes in Phoenix was one of the most improbable comebacks I have ever seen in the NHL, let alone the playoffs. After scoring with 14 seconds left in regulation to tie Game 1 at 2 apiece, the Hawks outdid themselves in Game 2.

The scoring all began just over 3 minutes into the first period when Bryan Bickell beat Mike Smith to give the Hawks their first powerplay goal of the series, and a 1-0 lead in the game. After Dave Bolland’s wrist shot bounced off of Mike Smith, Bickell batted the puck into the net out of mid-air from about 3 feet in front of the net. This was just the start that the Blackhawks were hoping to get.

About 4 minutes after Bickell scored, Raffi Torres beat Corey Crawford with a missile of a wrist shot to tie the game at 1. Shane Doan deserves a ton of credit for this goal after he battled for, and won the puck from Duncan Keith in behind the net before he fed Torres with a beautiful pass to set up the goal.

Then, just over 12 minutes into the first period, Jonathan Toews was called for goaltender interference, which led to a Phoenix powerplay. This was easily one of the worst penalty calls of this year’s postseason so far, as Mike Smith is the one who initiated the contact between him and Toews. On the ensuing powerplay, Antoine Vermette redirected Keith Yandle’s shot from the point past Corey Crawford to give the Coyotes the one-goal lead.

About 7 minutes into the second period, Brandon Bollig scored his first ever NHL goal on a hard wrist shot from the right circle to tie the game at 2. However, this lead would not last long.

Less than 20 seconds after Bollig’s goal, Andrew Shaw was given a 5-minute charging major, and a game misconduct. As Mike Smith went to play the puck behind the net, Andrew Shaw, who was also trying to play the puck, collided with Smith sending him down to the ice holding his face/head. After seemingly waiting to see if Smith was injured or not, which he wasn’t, the refs decided to give Shaw the 5-minute major and game misconduct. By rule, this play will automatically be reviewed by the league to see if Shaw deserves a suspension. On their 5-minute powerplay, the Coyotes were able to get another goal from Antoine Vermette. They now had a 3-2 lead, and it stayed that way heading into the third period.

For most of the third period, the Coyotes played spectacular defense and did not allow the Hawks any quality scoring chances. They were stacking 4 players along their own blue line, which made it very difficult for the Hawks to enter the offensive zone. Then, in what seemed like a flashback to Game 1, the Blackhawks were able to work yet another miracle.

With just over a minute remaining in regulation, the Hawks pulled Corey Crawford to get the extra attacker onto the ice. They got a few decent shots on goal in the first 30 seconds or so, but nothing great. Then, with around half a minute left on the clock, all heck broke loose. Jonathan Toews had a great scoring chance after a nice pass from Kane found Toews breaking to the net. Smith gave up a rebound on Toews’ shot, which led to multiple bodies flying through the crease, some ending up flat on the ice. Then, somehow the puck found its way to a wide open Patrick Kane about 15 feet in front of the net. He fired a wrist shot that just missed the right post. With about 10 seconds left now, Marian Hossa had the puck along the boards to Smith’s right. He sent a pass to Patrick Kane, who was standing in front of the boards to Smith’s left. Kane waited a second or two, then fed Brent Seabrook with a perfect pass for the one-timer slap shot that was redirected by Patrick Sharp and into the net with just 5 seconds left on the clock. They had done it again.

In overtime, both teams had some quality scoring chances, but neither side could beat the opposing goalie. With about nine and half minutes left in overtime, an attempted clear by Adrian Aucoin hit Viktor Stalberg along the right boards and deflected right to the stick of a wide open Bryan Bickell in the slot who’s wrist shot beat Mike Smith to win the game and tie the series at 1 game apiece.

Game 2 was nearly a carbon-copy of Game 1, except for the fact that the Blackhawks won this game. In both games, they tied the game with under 20 seconds left in regulation to send it to overtime. As I said before, this is something that I don’t think I have ever seen before. Last night’s win reminded me a lot of the Hawks’ victory in Game 5 against the Predators 2 years ago in the Conference Quarterfinals. In that game, Patrick Kane scored a shorthanded goal with 13 seconds left in regulation to send it to overtime, where Marian Hossa would eventually score the game-winner just after exiting the penalty box following his 5-minute major for boarding.

The victory in Game 2 for the Hawks has the potential to give them a ton of momentum in this series heading back to Chicago for the next 2 games. After tying both of the first 2 games of this series with less than 20 seconds left on the clock, and then winning the second one in overtime, they have to have a ton of confidence moving forward.

The unsung hero of Game 2 has to be Corey Crawford. He came up with some HUGE saves, especially in the last 5 minutes of regulation to keep the score 3-2. It was no secret that in order for the Blackhawks to be successful in the playoffs that Crawford needed to be really good in net. Well, so far he has been, and that’s a great sign for the Hawks.

Moving ahead to Game 3, the Hawks MUST play better when they have a lead in the game. I said it after Game 1, and I’m saying it again now. Lately it would seem as though they take their foot off the gas pedal once taking the lead in games. They cannot afford to do that and expect to advance to the next round of the playoffs. Once they have the lead in the game, they have to continue to put heavy pressure on the Coyotes and wear-out their defense.

As for the fate of Andrew Shaw, we shall wait and see what the league determines. I don’t think he will be suspended. The league looks at whether or not the victim on the play was hurt or not, and in this case, Mike Smith was not injured. He even said after the game that he is “fine.” However, should Shaw get suspended, expect to see Michael Frolik take his place in the lineup. I don’t think that the Hawks have enough confidence yet in Jimmy Hayes to dress him for a playoff game.

The Hawks are right where they want to be in this series heading back home for Game 3. They had the third best home-record in the NHL this season, which obviously bodes well for them.

Thanks for reading.