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When does it become less about the goalie's abilities and more about the shooters' incompetence? During last night's Hawks season finale - the utterly aggravating 4-0 loss to net-minder Mike Smith and his Phoenix Coyotes - I would say it happened at some point in the second period.
I love Pat Foley's call of Blackhawks games and have for decades now (that's right, the youthful Foley has been at it, with a brief break during the final years of former owner Bill Wirtz's tragic and ridiculous reign, since 1980). I think doing hockey play-by-play is the toughest task in sports broadcasting. But good old Pat drives me a bit batty at times with his "BIG SAAAVE!!" calls on shots that settle comfortably into goalies' mid-sections.
When the Coyotes' Oliver Ekman-Larsson took a good pass at the end of a very good sequence during his team's questionable second-period power play last night, he put a powerful shot on net and it went in. (The power play was questionable, by the way, because Jonathan Toews' contact with a Coyote defender - the contact that led to an interference penalty - was incidental if not downright innocent.)
It was especially instructive to watch numerous Hawks fail to do the same during their even-up power play in the final minute and a half of the second period and the first little bit of the third - shot after shot missed the net. If you didn't know when that power play ended that the Hawks were doomed, you were at least deeply suspicious.
For a big chunk of this series, I thought the Hawks were the better team but they were stymied by Phoenix's ultra-defensive scheme and a hot goalie. But that feeling started to fade during Game 4 and it was gone by Game 6. The tough part about playoff hockey is that so frequently, good defensive teams are able to take the best scorers just about out of games. You can see it in multiple post-season series year after year.
So while it is easy to rip the Hawks' primary scorers, particularly the Patricks Kane and Sharp, it is true that big scorers often disappear for long stretches of the postseason. The key to this series was the fact that the Coyotes' secondary scorers (and defensemen) were able to come up with the big goals at the big times and the Hawks' secondary scorers and defensemen were not.
In particular, young defenseman Nick Leddy needs to get his butt back to work in the off-season. How about 300 point shots per day, Nick? Plenty of Hawks missed the net with prime scoring chances during this excruciating six-game series, but Leddy had to be the lead offender. Get on it man!
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But the absolute most frustrating thing about the Hawks' loss was this: Raffi Torres' savage hit on Marian Hossa paid off.
Torres' pre-meditated and barabaric hit on the Blackhawks star may have drawn a 25-game suspension, but Torres quite simply isn't that good and is easily replaced. He essentially sacrificed himself to take Hossa, the Hawks' by-far best two-way (offense and defense) player out of Game 3 and out of the series.
At this point allow me to ask if it isn't time for hockey players to communicate with each other via their union and say, "Enough!"
Obviously NHL owners think Torres' brand of hockey sells - why else would they keep giving him contracts? So, hey players! You need to police yourselves!
How many young former players have to commit suicide (three did during the last off-season alone) before NHL players say, You know what, we're going to put in a code of conduct for ourselves and if one of us threatens the long-term health of another of us, the offender will be put on absolute notice that he will be done with hockey if it happens again.
Maybe if they get the message from their union, players like Torres, a brutal double-digit repeat offender, will get the message that hits in which the obvious intent is just to injure the opposing player will finally not be tolerated.
Of course, the Hawks play this vicious game too. Despite the fact that Daniel Carcillo's what, 20-game tenure with the team was marked most by dumb-assed penalties and cheap shots leading to suspensions, he received a generous contract extension recently.
When he wasn't suspended, Carcillo kept managing to hurt himself until he finally suffered a season-ender. The guy has scored some goals in his career but let's be clear, he will be on the Hawks next year for one reason, and one reason only - to put the fear of irrational violence in the heads of opponents.
In other words, Hawks ownership has made it clear that it is happy to get down and dirty in the pigpen of hockey violence. Perhaps they are saying to themselves, "Well the other guy is doing it - we have to do the same to keep up." Except, of course, if everyone says that, nothing ever gets better.
Hey players, the owners don't really care about your long-term health. That much is clear isn't it? You better start looking out for yourselves.
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The high/lowlights direct from the NHL.
Mike Smith Stands On His Head
Mike Smith Plays Defense
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