A little over two weeks ago, a cocky Blackhawks team took their 8-game winning streak for a little sun and fun in Miami, and promptly got their asses handed to them in a 3-goal first period melt-down that resulted in a 3 – 2 loss to the team sitting 26th out of 30 in the league. It was the anemic start to a dismal 3-game road trip that yielded a mere two out of a possible six points. Humiliating. Eye-opening. Infuriating.
It’s time to get some payback, gentlemen.
Fairly large amount of news coming out of the Blackhawks’ practice today, so I thought I would pass it along. This is, more or less, a good-news/bad-news situation, so bear with me.
First of all, Patrick Sharp’s knee injury is ~not~ season-ending. That’s the good news. The bad news is that he will miss several games. This puts the Blackhawks down two top-six forwards as we hit the final 10 games of the season. More on that in a minute.
The two points we needed. The injury we didn’t.
As is frequently the case, Blackhawks’ fans are faced with a good news/bad news headline following an important game against a Conference rival. The Blackhawks played a tight game, allowing only 23 shots on Corey Crawford in a 2 – 1 victory over Phoenix, but suffered what may be a back-breaking loss in Patrick Sharp if his injury proves to be serious.
With the bulk of the hockey headlines coming out of southern Arizona being about legal battles and ownership changes and Gary Bettman stomping his feet like a child being told he can’t have candy at the supermarket, it’s easy to forget that there’s actually a hockey team there.
A team that is in fourth in the Western Conference, nipping at the heels of Division leader San Jose. A team on a five-game winning streak. A team that has scored the seventh-most goals in the league, yet has not one single 20-goal scorer. Although with two of their players named Lauri and Adrian, I’m not sure how seriously we’re supposed to take them.
Corey Crawford was pulled less than half-way through the game against Dallas, giving up 3 goals on 10 shots. And it wasn’t his fault.
I wish there was more time to celebrate these wins. After handing the San Jose Sharks their jock straps and a bus ticket on Monday night, it would have been great to sit back and savor the moment a little longer than just two days. But alas, there’s business to attend to, and tonight that business is in Dallas.
What’s the best thing about Corey Crawford starting every game for the past month? The meatballs haven’t been able to voice their blind hatred for Marty Turco.
OK, OK … it’s not the best thing. Crawford’s 10-2-3 record and 2.66 goals-against average takes that title. But despite those numbers, I’m still going to lobby for him to don the baseball cap Thursday in Dallas.
Here’s part of the reason why:
Finally, the Blackhawks got to Antti Niemi.
The 6-3 win Monday night boosted the ‘Hawks up to the 4th spot again in the West and ended a three-game losing streak which had many talking “Must Win” against San Jose. I don’t care how bad ass or bleak things look, every game is “Must Win.” Get used to it.
Patrick Sharp had four assists in the second period alone, tying Jim Pappin’s franchise record set in 1973 – with two of them coming on the power play to Marian Hossa, who put both through Niemi’s five-hole. Hossa’s goals gave him at least 20 for the 11th straight season. Boom.
And who better than Jonathan Toews to provide the goal which ran Niemi. The Captain seems to have his hand in everything, setting a career-high with 71 points in the victory.
Seeing Niemi trudge toward the bench was bittersweet, in a way. Him getting the hook tonight gave me little satisfaction. Yes, it was nice to get back at him for the three defeats earlier this season. However, I would’ve felt the same way if it was Antero Niittymaki getting pulled. Going out for revenge at this point in the season is senseless. Sharp admitted it was nice to get to Niemi, but everyone made a point to say the win is what matters. There’s just always going to be a soft spot for a guy who really, truly wanted to stay in Chicago.
Speaking of goaltenders, Corey Crawford gets yet another win despite pretty much everyone lobbying for him to get a rest. Though he got the W tonight, he’s given up 16 goals in the last five games. And if he lost to Niemi, wouldn’t you believe Crawford’s confidence would have been completely shot, especially heading into the playoffs? Well, David Haugh sure as hell believes it.
Here’s what sent me into a rage:
Yet of all the Hawks, rookie goaltender Corey Crawfordperhaps can benefit most from having success on a night defined by Niemi’s failure. Crawford was coming off one of his roughest weeks mentally. Had Niemileft town with a 4-0 record against the Hawks, Crawford could have spent the next month awaiting the playoffs suffering by comparison.
(Begin rant)Want to talk about suffering? How about seeing Haugh’s byline next to anything Blackhawks-related. When you’re being read simply so people can laugh at whatever loads of bullshit you want to make up that day, that’s when you need to stop writing about a sport you know nothing about. (End rant)
Patrick Kane hit a milestone with his 100th career goal, Viktor Stalberg even got in a nice whack in to contribute.
And with that … BOXING:
How many times can we use the phrase, “must-win” in a single year? What about “do-or-die?” Or “crunch time?” It seems I’m typing those phrases almost daily now, and this is no exception. With the Blackhawks’ OTL to the Capitals on Sunday, Chicago dropped into 7th in the Western Conference standings, just two points from having to fluff the throw pillows before playoff games.
And look who we’re playing! The San Jose Sharks, who sit first in the Pacific Division, four points ahead of us, and who are looking for a sweep in their season series against the ‘Hawks.
Long and short: if we thought Washington was a hard-fought game, this one is going to be even worse.
Once again, Jonathan Toews summed it up:
“That’s two overtime losses in the last couple of games. We can’t be happy with just getting one point in each of those games. If you look at the games ahead and we keep getting to overtime, it doesn’t do us any good. It’s just about getting beyond that point of satisfaction and finding a way to win.”
And just like that, the Blackhawks are back down to 7th in the Western Conference - one point up on eighth and two up on ninth – after a 4-3 overtime loss to the Washington Capitals. Games like this aren’t going to cut it. And the fact of the matter is that the ‘Hawks were lucky enough to salvage that one point on a 6-on-4 power play with an empty net.
We can make excuses. No Dave Bolland. Limited action from Brian Campbell. But the ‘Hawks gave up a short-handed goal and got pretty damn lucky with good bouces on all three of their goals. The Capitals scored on defensive breakdowns and were much more solid the entire day.
Oh, and the Blackhawks didn’t get ONE SINLGE SHOT on net in nearly four minutes of overtime. Crap.
I’ll send you on your way to Boxing with this thought: Please, for the love of God, play Marty Turco tomorrow, Q. Please. Crow needs a break heading into another two-game trip. The game is too big and means too much to be strolling out a tired goaltender. It won’t mean you’ve lost faith in Crow, Q. It means your guy needs a break. Give it to him.
If I could do some hockey betting on this, I’d say Q still starts him. Damnit.