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.

Coyotes Take Game 1 in OT

The Phoenix Coyotes beat the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 of their Western Conference Quarterfinals series last night by a score of 3-2 in overtime. This game could have easily been 5-4 had it not been for the play of both goalies.

The scoring started about 4 minutes into the game when Jonathan Toews scored on a backhand shot from about 10 feet to Mike Smith’s left. This was a great sign for the Hawks, seeing as how this was just Toews’ second shift on the ice after missing the previous 22 games due to a concussion. The Hawks seemingly had the momentum the rest of the first period, but just couldn’t muster up another goal.

Just over 7 minutes into the second period, Taylor Pyatt tied the game on a wrist shot from abut 4 feet in front of the net. This goal came after the Coyotes kept the puck in the Blackhawks’ defensive zone for about a minute and a half straight, which did not allow the Hawks to make any line changes during that stretch. Right before the goal was scored, Blackhawks’ defenseman Sean O’Donnell, who had lost his stick on the play, made a hand-pass to Corey Crawford with the hopes that Crawford would be able to freeze the puck and get a much needed whistle. Unfortunately for the Hawks, defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson slapped the puck in behind the net right as Crawford was reaching for it, thus leading to the eventual goal by Pyatt.

Later in the second period, Antoine Vermette beat Corey Crawford on a wicked slap shot from straight out, and just atop the circles. This came moments after the Coyotes got away with having too many men on the ice without the referees noticing. The second period really seemed to be the deciding factor in the game as Phoenix outplayed Chicago in just about every aspect of the game.

The third period was an equally contested period by both teams, but neither side was able to score until there were just 14 seconds left in regulation. Being down 2-1, the Hawks pulled Corey Crawford to get the extra attacker on the ice with just over a minute left in the game. They generated a few scoring chances in the first 50 seconds or so that they had the 6th man on the ice, but nothing great. Then, with 14 seconds left, Brent Seabrook tied the game after a wrist shot by Patrick Kane hit the post and bounced right to Seabrook for an empty net goal. This goal wouldn’t have been possible if it hadn’t  been for the patience of Patrick Kane to hold onto the puck until a good scoring chance presented itself.

In overtime, Martin Hanzal scored to win the game on a deflection off the shot of Adrian Aucoin. This came just seconds after Marcus Kruger iced the puck, and then lost the ensuing face-off in the Hawks own zone.

So, what did we learn after watching Game 1?

Well, first and foremost, the Blackhawks need to play better when they have the lead. Going back to the regular season and then into Game 1, they seem to let down their guard when they are leading in the game. They almost fall back into a defensive approach, rather than trying to build on their lead and put sustained pressure on their opponent. The second period last night was a perfect example of this. The Blackhawks entered the period leading 1-0 in the game and should have been playing with momentum and more aggression to try and increase their lead. However, they did the exact opposite. They put little to no pressure on the Coyotes defense and basically let Phoenix come at them with their best shot. No team should ever have possession of the puck for a minute and a half in the offensive zone, but that’s just what Phoenix was able to do last night, and it led to their first goal of the game.

Secondly, the Blackhawks must get better in the face-off department heading into Game 2. They lost 57% of the face-offs last night, which is unacceptable. One would think that having Toews back in the lineup, who is arguably the best face-off man in the league, would increase the Hawks’ face-off percentage. I don’t see this being as big of a problem heading into Game 2. The Blackhawks are better than that.

Lastly, the Blackhawks must step it up physically. Phoenix out-hit the Hawks 48-22 last night. I know physical-play is not in the Hawks DNA, but they need to do better in that area of the game moving forward in this series. Aside from the hits, they need to win more board battles. Winning the puck battles along the boards gives your team possession of the puck, thus leading to more offense. The Coyotes killed the Hawks in this area of the game last night, which goes along with them being a better team physically.

Looking ahead to the rest of this series, I don’t think the Blackhawks should be too worried. This was only the first game of the series. They were able to out-shoot the Coyotes 45-34, which is always a good sign. If they can win Game 2 tomorrow night in Phoenix, then the Hawks will be in great shape. If they lose Game 2, then they still have the next 2 games on home ice in Chicago, where they had one of the best home records in the NHL this year. However, if the Blackhawks want to win this series, they are going to have to win at least one game in Phoenix. I think they can do that.

I’m sticking with my original prediction in this series. The Blackhawks will win in 6 games.

Blackhawks Win In Shootout; Secure 6 Seed

What a game between the Blackhawks and Red Wings this afternoon in Detroit. I don’t think anyone could have scripted that outcome if they tried.

The Hawks took the lead in the first period after Stalberg scored off a big rebound let up by Jimmy Howard to make the game 1-0. Then in the second period, Andrew Shaw scored on a great one-timer from Patrick Sharp to make it 2-0, Hawks. It would remain that way heading into the third period.

Just over 8 minutes into the third, Johan Franzen scored for the Wings from a bad angle to Corey Crawford’s left, making it 2-1. With just 47 seconds remaining in regulation, Pavel Datsyuk tied the game after a great pass from Holmstrom through the middle of the crease found Datsyuk with a wide open net.

Neither team scored in overtime, and the Hawks went on to win in the shootout thanks to Patrick Kane’s nifty goal through the legs of Jimmy Howard.

So, what does this mean for the Hawks and Red Wings?

The Red Wings will head into the playoffs as the number 5 seed in the West, and they will play Nashville in the first round, with the Predators owning home-ice advantage in that series.

As for the Hawks, they have clinched the number 6 seed in the Western Conference and will have to wait and see how today’s later games play out before they know just exactly who they will meet in the first round. It will be either Phoenix, Los Angeles, or San Jose. If Phoenix wins their game, they clinch the Pacific Division and will play the Hawks. If they lose, the Blackhawks will get the winner of the Sharks/Kings game (that’s going to be a fun one to watch). No matter who the Hawks end up playing, they will not have home-ice advantage.

The common belief among Blackhawks fans heading into today’s game against Detroit was that we would rather have the Hawks not beat the Wings in regulation to ensure that we would get the 6th seed in the West. Our reasoning? The Blackhawks match-up much better against any of those 3 Pacific teams than they do against Nashville. Had the Hawks won today’s game in regulation, they would have clinched the 5 seed and a first round matchup with the Predators. It would seem that the Blackhawks themselves may have had a different mindset than us fans.

After Detroit tied the game with less than a minute left to play, Joel Quenneville pulled Corey Crawford for the extra attacker, thus making it obvious that the Hawks really did want to win the game in regulation and secure the 5 seed. However, that obviously didn’t happen.

So, looking forward for the Hawks, I think their best matchup would be against Phoenix. The Coyotes don’t have the offensive fire-power that both San Jose and L.A. have, and I just think the Hawks are flat-out the better team and should win that series. One thing about Phoenix that scares me is the recent play of their goalie, Mike Smith. He has been lights-out for the past month or so, and the Coyotes are ranked 5th in the NHL in goal-against-average.

Worst case scenario, the Kings win that division and face the Hawks in the first round. Jonathan Quick is most likely going to be a finalist for the Vezina Trophy this season for the league’s best goaltender, and he has been incredibly good against the Hawks this season. As a result of Quick’s play, and the team defense of L.A., the Kings are second in the league in lowest goals-against average. Plus, and like I mentioned a bit earlier, the Kings have some very, very skilled forwards who can put the puck in the back of the net at will. For whatever reason, they just haven’t been able to do it the rate that they would have liked for most of this season, but that could all change come playoff time.

As for a possible Hawks series with San Jose, it could be worse, but it could be better. San Jose is a very physical team, and the Hawks are not. That won’t bode well for Chicago. Of the three teams that the Hawks could play in the first round, they had the best regular season record against the Sharks, going 2-2.

Regardless of which team the Hawks end up playing, I think they have a legitimate shot at advancing into the second round. Whether or not they get Jonathan Toews back, however, could lead to a different outcome in the series. With Toews, I’d say that the Hawks should have a good chance of advancing. Without him, a series against either San Jose or L.A. could get ugly for them. I’m not saying that Phoenix would be any “easier,” but I think the Hawks could still beat them without Toews.

Check back sometime within the next day or so for my predictions on how the first round will play out for each conference. Obviously, not all the match-ups are set yet.

This is going to be an interesting evening of hockey. I can’t wait!