9:53 PM AKDT, April 14, 2012
The Blackhawks were desperate. Again.
They trailed the Phoenix Coyotes by a goal and had to pull goalie Corey Crawford. Again.
With less than 15 seconds to go, they scored the tying goal to force overtime. Again.
This time, though, unlike the way they frittered away momentum in Game 1, the Hawks potted the winner to take Game 2 of this first-round playoff series, and so, the Hawks come home even. Miraculously.
I say miraculously because this 4-3 Hawks win didn’t figure as play unfolded. The Coyotes took away the Hawks’ game for most of Game 2 the way they did most of Game 1. The Hawks wanted to skate. The Coyotes forced them to the glass. The Hawks faced demanding battles along the boards. The Coyotes won of most them.
Game 2 looked like another post-mortem of moaning about officiating and missed chances, especially after Phoenix took a 3-2 lead with a power-play goal during a five-minute charging penalty handed Andrew Shaw for drilling Coyotes goalie Mike Smith behind the net.
The Hawks will argue the call, especially after Smith stayed in the game. But look, goalies are like quarterbacks. You can’t hit them. You just can’t. Ever. And Shaw leveled Smith.
What’s worse, it was helmet-to-helmet, leaving Smith sprawled on the ice for several minutes. Maybe Smith was acting, maybe not. Point is, goalies are untouchable. They’re not some random forward. Everyone has known that for a while.
So, stop moaning and start scoring.
The Hawks their chances, most notably two power plays late in the second period after Shaw’s major. But they failed to convert, looking miserable on the second opportunity.
Then Brent Seabrook unleashed a slap shot that Patrick Sharp deflected past Smith with 5.5 seconds remaining in regulation, a lifetime later than Seabrook’s game-tying marker with 14.2 seconds remaining in Game 1.
You have to wonder why they wait until it becomes so dire before their talent comes through, but at least it did.
And then in overtime, Viktor Stalberg kept the puck in along the boards, kicking it to the slot, where Bryan Bickell beat Smith five-hole to win it midway through the first extra period.
Bickell and Sharp will get the publicity, but none of that happens without some stud play by Crawford late in the third period.
With the Hawks trying to tie it, Crawford robbed Mikkel Boedker point-blank with 2:35 to go. That would’ve been the killer.
Then, with 1:34 to go, Crawford stopped Radim Vrbata from the slot. That, too, would’ve been the killer.
Crawford made 30 saves on the night, but those two are some of the big reasons the Hawks come home even. Miraculously.
But enough with the seeming divine intervention. The Hawks must change things in the United Center.
For starters, the Hawks have to use their superior speed and deeper individual talent to move the puck and get it on net, then crash the crease to make Smith regret ever getting on the plane.
To get there, the Hawks also have to work the boards with more enthusiasm than they’ve shown. The way both teams are dumping in the puck around the wall makes winning board battles perhaps the deciding factor in this series. Just the fact that these games have forced so much action along the boards tells you the Coyotes have forced the Hawks out of their preferred skating and puck-possession style.
And it would help if the Hawks’ stars showed up earlier and more often. Talking to you, Duncan Keith. You, too, Marian Hossa. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews have to be more dangerous. Patrick Sharp had a good first 10 minutes in Game 2, then really didn’t make himself known until there were less than six seconds to go in regulation.
Good thing he did. Better thing if he and the rest of the Hawks did it earlier from now on.