Blackhawks top Wings; Set franchise record

160210212_slideIt looked like tonight’s game between the Hawks and Wings was going to be a runaway victory for the home team after Duncan Keith’s powerplay goal just 2:24 into the game. As it turned out, this game was just the opposite.

The Blackhawks got off to a quick start in this one when Keith hammered in a missile of a slap shot past Jimmy Howard to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead and yet another powerplay goal. From that point on in the first period, the Blackhawks controlled the game and spent much of the period in the Red Wings’ own zone. You would have never known that the Hawks played a bruising game in Columbus just 24 hours earlier.

Once the second period began, the momentum almost immediately shifted in Detroit’s favor. The Hawks committed 4 penalties in the second period resulting in 4 Red Wings powerplays, including a 43 second 2-man advantage. While taking 4 penalties in a period is never a recipe for success, the Blackhawks killed off all 4 penalties with relative ease as their penalty kill continues to stay red hot. The Hawks ended up killing off all 6 penalties that they took in the game.

The third period evened out a little bit more compared to the second, but the Wings still controlled most of the play. Once the third began, you could definitely tell that the Blackhawks were fatigued from their game in Columbus on Saturday night. Johan Franzen scored 4:30 into the period to tie the game at one. The Blackhawks clearly had no legs under them and just couldn’t seem to skate the puck into Detroit’s zone, which resulted in a lot of play down by Crawford. Once they ended up getting it into Detroit’s zone, the Hawks couldn’t generate much offense. About 11:30 into the third, Jonathan Ericsson took a holding penalty on Jonathan Toews that gave the Hawks their second powerplay of the game. Even with the man advantage, the Blackhawks still struggled to get any kind of offense going and came up empty. Around a minute after that powerplay ended, Henrik Zetterberg was called for holding Jonathan Toews, again. This time around, the Hawks got a little bit more offense going and a couple shots on Howard, but again didn’t score. The game headed to overtime tied at 1.

In overtime, a nice rush into the Detroit end led by Viktor Stalberg resulted in Nick Leddy getting a snap shot by Jimmy Howard for the game winner. It was Leddy’s first goal of the year, and it gave the Blackhawks their 6th straight victory to being the season. This is the first time in franchise history that the Blackhawks have started a season 6-0.

While the Hawks clearly did not have the energy or strength in them that they had through their first 5 games, they still managed to find a way to win. This was the type of game that they would have almost certainly lost in either of the past 2 seasons. For whatever reason, they just seem to have found another gear this year and are playing with incredible confidence, speed, and skill.

They will need all of the speed and skill they can get in the next 2 weeks as they head out west on a 6-game road trip that takes them to Minnesota, Vancouver, Calgary, San Jose, and Phoenix. While the Hawks are currently 4-0 on the road, these next 6 games will be a huge test for them and a great evaluation of where they are at compared to some of the best teams in the Western Conference.

Advertisements

Toews Lifts Blackhawks to Game 5 Victory

Heading into last night’s Game 5 against the Phoenix Coyotes, the Blackhawks knew what they were up against. Either win, or go home. The Hawks were facing elimination for the first time in this series, and they knew that Game 5 was a must-win.

I’ll be honest with you right now. I had a good feeling heading into last night’s game that the Hawks would prevail and send the series to a sixth game. You know why? After yesterday’s morning skate, Jonathan Toews kept all of the players on the ice for a players-only meeting. This was the first time all year that this had happened. As we all know, Toews is one of the best captains in the game, and so when he decides to take matters into his own hands, good things usually happen. Well, guess what? The players responded to Toews’ message, and the Blackhawks turned in maybe their best game of the series last night.

The first period went pretty much the same way that every other first period has gone in this series. The Hawks out-played the Coyotes by a wide margin. They out-shot Phoenix 12-4, but weren’t able to get one past Mike Smith for a goal.

Much like every second period these 2 teams have played, the Coyotes out-played the Hawks. The shot totals were even at 10 apiece in the second, but Phoenix was able to score to take the lead. Gilbert Brule found himself with the puck on a 3 on 1 rush, and decided to take a slap shot rather than pass, which ended up being the right decision as he beat Crawford for the goal. This made it 1-0, and it stayed that way heading into the third period.

Just under 10 minutes into the third, Nick Leddy scored on a slap shot from a few feet inside the blue line to tie the game at 1. This was Leddy’s first goal of the series, and a big turning point in this game.

As the period progressed, both teams found themselves with decent scoring chances, but neither team was able to score the go-ahead goal. This meant that for the fifth straight game in this series, overtime would be necessary.

Both Phoenix and Chicago were just getting themselves situated in overtime when Jonathan Toews grabbed a loose puck near the left boards, skated in on Smith, and fired a nasty wrist shot over Smith’s right shoulder to win the game only 2:44 into overtime. This was Toews’ second goal of the series, and maybe the biggest goal by either team in this series.

With the win, the Blackhawks have forced a Game 6, which will be played in Chicago on Monday night at 8 PM CST.

The Blackhawks had to turn in their best game of the series last night in order to win the game, and they did just that. Their defense as a whole was very good, they got good goaltending from Corey Crawford, and they doubled the Coyotes in shots, 39-18. Even though this was a great game for the Hawks, there are still some issues that they need to work on.

Chicago is just 1/17 on the powerplay in this series, which simply needs to be better. I know that their powerplay in the regular season was ranked 26th in the NHL and they still ended the year with 101 points, but in the playoffs you need to step it up and score powerplay goals. Luckily for the Hawks, Phoenix is a meager 2/15 on their powerplay chances so far in the series. With that said, if the Hawks can start to get some more goals with the man advantage, that will really put the pressure on Phoenix to not only score on the powerplay as well, but to score more 5 on 5 goals.  Each game in this series has been a winnable one for both the Blackhawks and the Coyotes, and so if one team can start clicking on their powerplay in Game 6 or 7 (if necessary), odds are that they will win that game.

I’ve mentioned it a couple of times now throughout this series, but the Blackhawks MUST start to play better in the second period. They cannot continue to let the Coyotes dominate the play. The Hawks have been fortunate so far in these first 5 games that Phoenix hasn’t really capitalized on most of their scoring chances that they have been given during the second period. If I’m the Blackhawks, I can’t rely on only allowing 1 goal while being completely outplayed during the second period. They need to step it up and play a full, tough 60 minutes of hockey.

Lastly, the big stars of the Blackhawks have to get going. Yes, Toews scored the game-winner last night, but him, along with Sharp, Kane, and Stalberg need to become more productive and put more goals on the board. In this series, Toews has 2 goals, Sharp has 1, and Kane and Stalberg both have 0. Kane especially needs to start thinking shoot more than pass. Too many times throughout this series has Kane skated with the puck into the offensive zone and tried to make a “pretty” pass, rather than take the open shots he has been given. When he does try and make the “pretty” pass, he ends up turning the puck over, which has lead to a few scoring chances for the Coyotes.

With the series now shifting back to Chicago, the Hawks need to take advantage of playing on their home ice and win Game 6 to stay alive. Game 5 has put a lot of momentum back on the Hawks’ side, but now they really need to use it. They were unable to ride the momentum that they gained after Game 2 heading home for 2 games, so let’s see if they capitalize on it this time. I think they will.

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.

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.