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Coffman: It's Not OK, Blackhawks Fans

Hawk hangovers suck.

And a sizable portion of the fandom has a big one this morning.

I'll leave it up to the local TV "news" cheerleaders to tell the fans it's OK, this series Is still far from over, the Hawks trailed 2-1 against the Ducks too and look what happened there. Tune into any local newscast in the 24 hours after a Hawks loss these days and you can feel the raw determination to reassure the populace: All is not lost!

And all is not lost of course. But the Hawks lost a game they shouldn't have in large part because they failed to cash in on enough of their scoring chances in the first period.

To project what "would" have happened in a sporting event is a fool's delight. If the Hawks would have scored the goals they should have scored, say, just on the wide-open net chances that Marian Hossa and Teuvo Teravainen choked away in the first 20 minutes, no one with brain cells says "We would've won." Because who the heck knows what would have happened if the score had been that much different.

But if the Hawks had taken a two-goal lead into the second period - which they should have, minimum - their chances of victory would have been sky high. Can anybody out there tell me what the official "win expectancy rate" is (I get a royalty if that phrase is ever applied officially in this context) for playoff hockey teams taking two-goal leads out of the first intermission?

Instead, the score was tied after 20 minutes, and then after 40 as well. And eventually Tampa, led by superstar defenseman Victor Hedman (who knew? This is why I call myself a Hawks fan, not a hockey fan - because I didn't know anything about Hedman before Tampa made the Cup finals; unfortunately we're getting to know him now, eh?), set up the winner with 3:11 on the clock for a 3-2 win and a 2-1 lead.

Another reason for anxiety rather than reassurance is that it was clear all game that the line of Hossa, Brandon Saad and Jonathan Toews, the combo that is a giant reason the Hawks have been to two Stanley Cup finals in the last three years, was thriving. And it was doing so at least in part because coach Q was using the last line change to get the match-ups he wanted.

At this point most of us know that the home-ice advantage has been severely diminished at just about all NHL ice rinks by big-money, no passion "fans" filling the lower bowls and arena designs that put luxury suites first and push the fanatics in the upper decks further from the action. But the advantage still exists in the one critical way - the home coach's ability to decide who skates against whoever the foe has on the ice when there is a dead puck situation.

And let's be clear that it wasn't my amazing hockey observational skills leading to insights about this - it was NBC Sports analysts Eddie Olczyk and Pierre McGuire who pointed out time and again that this was happening.

So the home-ice advantage was working! Except it wasn't (in terms of goals actually being cored) until Saad fired a perfect top-shelf wrister to give the Hawks a 2-1 lead in the third.

And then it wasn't again as the Lightning scored the equalizer before most fans had finished celebrating the Hawk tally, 13 seconds later.

In the end, the Lightning has the home-ice advantage again after at least splitting Games 3 and 4 in Chicago. The Hawks face a must-win on Wednesday.

A picture from the game on the front page of the Trib today tells a depressing story: a Lightning forward can be seen racing to join the celebration of the eventual game-winning goal. Blackhawks Patrick Kane (still looking for his first Finals point), Kyle Cumiskey (not good enough again on defense) and Patrick Sharp, who should be benched for Kris Versteeg next game, all skate away. If they didn't have helmets on, you could probably see goat's horns on their heads.

I'll bet they aren't feeling well this morning either.

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See also:

* NHL.com: Blackhawks' Killer Instinct Deserts Them In Game 3.

* ESPN: Lightning's Third Line Making Life Tough For Blackhawks.

* New York Times: Ben Bishop Helps Tampa Bay Lightning Pull Ahead In Stanley Cup Finals.

* Los Angeles Times: Ben Bishop Helps Lightning Take Control Of Series With Blackhawks.

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