The Hawks clinched a playoff spot Saturday night, beating the Predators in Nashville, by a score of 5 - 4. It is now the fourth consecutive year that the franchise has done such. Not a spectacular feat, but considering what this organization was prior to this, impressive none the less. The Hawks are currently in a tie, points wise, with Detroit. The first tie breaker, Regulation / Overtime Wins, is well preserved by the Wings, so don’t get your hopes up. This game was equally exciting as it was aggravating. I’‘m not sure if I cheered or yelled at the screen more (at 2:00 AM, after getting home from work). If this game was Chinese food, it would definitely be sweet & sour.
Let’s start with the goal tending. It was Crawford (28-17-6) against the ALWAYS tough, and NHL leading victory leader (42-17-6) Riine. To try and convince any one, that in a 9 goal game, that the goalies were amazing, is going to be difficult. You had to be there, as the saying goes. Both made some truly spectacular, point blank saves. Crawford, by far, showed athletic ability, going from post to post, and a quick glove that I have not seen all year, if ever. You come to expect this from Rinne and he didn’t disappoint.
The Hawks finished their 6 game, regular season meetings with a shoot out win over the St. Louis Blues. The Hawks took the series 4 - 2. It was Crawford (27-17-6) against Halak (25-11-6) and his NHL second best 1.90 goals against average. Halak started despite Elliot having 3 shut outs in a row. The two goalies have 15 between them. If that isn’t the quintessential embarrassment of riches, I don’t know what is! It was the usual hard hitting, physical game between Chicago and the best defensive team in the league, St. Louis.
The Hawks and their MISERABLE Power Play (ZERO shots on goal in their last 8 chances!!) managed to at least get one shot off, 2 minutes into the game. They were down to 15%, 25th in the league to start the game. The Blues had a 96% Penalty Kill in the last 23 games. No surprise that they are fighting for the President’s Trophy. Bickell put the Hawks on the board first with a hard snap shot. Just 9 seconds later, the Blues tied it at 1 - 1. The shot went off the post, hit the back of Crawford & trickled in. With 25 seconds left in the period, Shaw had a dumb roughing penalty that would carry over into the second period. The Hawks Penalty Kill is tied for 26th in the league at 78%./ When you look at the PP & PK, it’s nothing short of AMAZING that this team is about to clinch a play off spot! The Hawks out shot the Blues 14 - 8.
It was 20 years ago yesterday, that a 19 year old Martin Brodeur played in his first NHL game. Since then (pre game stats) he has notched 651 victories while playing in 1,186 games. Add 118 (wow!) shut outs, all 3 of these NHL records, and you have a solid, Hall of Fame, career. He was the difference in this game, stopping some where around 38 shots, as the Hawks lost in a shoot out, in New Jersey, 2 - 1. Brodeur (26-21-4) went up against Crawford (27-17-5) at the Prudential center on Tuesday night. Crawford played well for the Hawks, Brodeur was just better.
The game marked the return of Steve Montador, out since Feb. 7 (concussion). The usual D man was played on the wing, as the Hawks dressed 7 defense men for the game. (Hjalmarsson, Seabrook, Leddy, Olsen, Oduya, & O’Donnell) The rest of the lines were, as have been, lately. Hutton was the back up goalie (second time in as many weeks). Emery was out (upper body?)
In the first period, it was all Devils. I mean really all. The Hawks could barely get the puck across center ice for the first 8 minutes and had NO scring chances at all. !0 minutes in, Mayers tested Brodeur and it was all Brodeur from then on. The Hawks had a failed Power Play—New Jersey #1 in the PK at almost 90%. The Devils also lead the NHL in short handed goals, proving that an aggressive Penalty Kill is the way to go. The Hawks went on the PK next and Sykora scored on a nice redirect in front. The period ended with the score 1 - 0 Devils. The Hawks surprisingly out shot them 13 - 11.
Back on March 6, I wrote a blog called “Goalie Of The Future?” . It was in reference to the Rockford Ice Hogs (AHL affiliate) goaltender Carter Hutton. A couple of games ago—March 16th, against Dallas, Hutton was brought up as the back up to Crawford. Ray Emery was listed as “under the weather”.
I didn’t buy it then (refer to that recap) and I don’t buy it now. I believe it was a “here’s what the big leagues are like” walk through for the kid. Coach Q has NEVER been afraid to try kids (Shaw, Smith, Morin, Hayes, Pirri, Saad, etc). He also has never shied away from switching goalies (Huet / Niemi, Turco / Crawford, etc.) I would not be surprised to see this kid between the pipes soon. Neither Crawford or Emery has shown the want or ability to take over the # 1 spot. Hutton is 21 - 10 - 3, with a .919 save percentage as an Ice Hog. Since signing hie 1 year deal with the Hawks, he has been 11 - 2 - 1 in his last 15 AHL games. He was the AHL Player of the Week back on March 4th, and signed the contract with Chicago a couple of days later.
Give the kid a shot, I say. See what he does. I can’t cross my fingers and hope that Crow or Razor gets hot in the playoffs. Plus what a great story it would be if this kid comes from out of no where to give the Hawks their first shutout of the year. (You heard it here first, ha ha!!)
Actually, when you wake up after a nightmare, you realize that it didn’t happen. This did. The Hawks were trounced by Nashville on Sunday by a score of 6 - 1. The game was so ridiculous that I’m not even going to waste time by breaking it down into periods. Let’s put it this way. It was Eddie Belfour Heritage Night at the United Center. The new Hall of Famer and former ex Blackhawk was honored before the game started. After the festivities and the National Anthem, it was all downhill form there. Crawford started and Emery finished. Bollig got into a fight and Stalberg scored. There’s your highlights. One of the Preds goal was pretty unique. A Weber slap shot form the blue line, broke Hossa’s stick, went off not one, bot TWO different players skates, and still had enough behind it to go in. Pekka Rinne was his usual self. The now 41 game winner continued to make save after save.This leads me to the point of this writing.
There are 3 major differences between Chicago and Nashville that put the Preds ahead of the Hawks, and not ONLY in the standings. Here they are:
The Preds have a 2.55 goals against average as a team, which ranks them 9th in the league. The Hawks are 23rd, with a 2.84.GAA. Rinne has proven many times that he can steal a game. This can’t be said for neither Emery or Crawford. The Hawks still have not even shut a team out this season. Poor goaltending will kill any team in the playoffs. The season is almost over and to me there is not a clear starting goalie on this team.
The Hawks 8-1-1 record over the last 10 games is the best in the West right now. Two more points were added to the team total on Wednesday, when the Hawks beat the Canucks, in Overtime at the United Center. It was the type of physical game that you have come to expect whenever these two teams meet. Unfortunately, for Chicago, Mayers was out sick for the contest. He was replaced by the “haven’t done a thing since being acquired via trade” Morrison, who centered the 4th line. It was Crawford again (26-16-5) against Bobby Lou, as the kids say, (27-14-7). Both goaltenders players exceptionally well in the game, keeping the score knotted at 1 - 1. As a side note, Bickell / Bolland / Shaw, the Hawks 3rd (checking) line entered the game having 13 points in the last 3 contests, and scoring the first goal in each of the last 3 also.
Just 27 seconds into the 1st period, Hansen put Vancouver on top 1 - 0—the Canucks lead the NHL in first period goals with 72. Not the start the usual sell out crowd at the U.C. was looking for. A couple minutes later, the Hawks went on the Penalty Kill. They are at 78.8%, in 26th place for the season. However as of late, 1 for 13 in the last 9 games (93%), giving some hope to the dismal performance so far. The PK was a success, as well as the next one which occurred a few minutes later. Bollig (who seems to be willing to replace Carcillo in the STUPID penalty department) got a unnecessary 2 minute roughing penalty, with a shot to the face, after the whistle. Later, Kane to Hossa was thwarted by Luongo. Sharp also failed to connect on an open left side. Another PK went un-scored upon and the period ended 1 - 0 Vancouver. Hawks out shot the visitors 12 - 6.
The Hawks and Blue Jackets played their 6th and final match up (of the regular seasons…...) in Columbus on Tuesday. 5 - 1, Hawks was the final, as Chicago completed the 6 game sweep. (Hawks outscored the Jackets 31-10) The Hawks have also taken 17 out of the last 20 available points, closing the gap on Detroit & Nashville. Their 90 points puts them 2 behind the Wings & Preds and gives them a little more breathing room from the teams trailing them. The Hawks currently reside in the 6th seed in the West.
It was Crawford - the number 2 Star of the NHL last week, 3 - 0, with a .948 save percentage and a 1.09 goals against average - in the net. Crow, who is 25-16-5 for the season, has appeared to secure the #1 goaltender position…... for now. It was Mason (13-23-3) between the pipes for the Blue Jackets, The lines were the same as they have been lately with Frolik seeing action for the second consecutive game.
The action in the 1st period began with Bollig & Boll dropping the gloves around 2 minutes in. If there was a point to this altercation, it is beyond me.The Hawks then scored 3 times in the next 6 minutes. A centering pass from Bickell went off of Shaw to make it 1 - 0. Then, Sharp with a tough angle shot, beat Mason between body and post, 2 - 0. Seabrook, with the Hawks 6th shot on goal made it 3 - 0. Crawford made some nice saves during the period. A Kane break away nearly made it 5 hole, but the score remained the same.
I was one of the 21,550 + fans at the United Center on Sunday, as the Hawks beat Washington 5 - 2. The game was obviously another sell out. My son & I decided to get “standing room only” tickets, since they were only $27 each. A bargain right? BUT, that is before a $6.25 X 2 convenience charge (?), a .57 X2 additional tax fee, a $5.50 order processing fee, and finally a $2.50 ticket fast delivery fee. The last charge is for me to use my printer, paper, and ink to get the tickets. THEY are charging ME to do their job. All in all, the total was almost $76. Not quite the original cost. It’s a good thing that they won.
Back to the game. It was Crawford (the hot goalie for this week) against Neuvirth for the Caps. The lines were, again, about the same as they have been. Frolik, however did play in this game. He has been a healthy scratch for a couple of weeks now (along with Morrison). Jimmy Hayes sat out this time. Frolik joined the Mayers (4th) line.
In the 1st period, Shaw scored 3 1/2 minutes in (Keith / Bickell).. That first goal has been crucial for the Hawks as of late. Stalberg (Sharp / Leddy) lit the lamp 4 minutes later. There wasn’t a lot of action for a while Caps wise. Crawford faced only 3 shots in this frame. A Hawks Power Play came up empty. The Hawks did end up with 12 shots on goal. Throughout the game however, there were too many shots that were passed up on only to give away the puck. I can remember Hossa once, and another Hawk right in between the face off dots. 2 - 0 Hawks into the locker room.
If the Playoffs started today…... The number 6 Hawks beat the number 3 Stars in Dallas at the American Airlines Center on Friday night, 4 - 1. Of course, with around a dozen games left, things could change. This would be the Hawks best, first round match up. (Hawks & Stars split the 4 game series this season) But, we shall see. Crawford, after the perfect outing in relief of Emery last game, got the start. (23-16-5) He was matched up against Kari Lehtonen (29-15-4). Lehtonen was coming off of consecutive shut out victories. (That would end rather quickly) Emery (under the weather??) stayed in Chicago and Carter Hutton, #38, was the back up. See my blog from 3/9 “Goalie of the Future for information on him. The lines and D pairings again were pretty much they have been in the last couple of weeks. It was, by the way, the largest crowd in the history of the arena for a Stars game, 19,099. There were as usual, many Chicago sweaters in the stands.
10 seconds into the game, Bolland ended Lehtonen’s save streak to put the Hawks up 1 - 0.The fastest goal to start a game in Hawks history, was Bruce Sutter, who scored in 8 seconds against the Canucks in 1995. The Hawks were 20-7-2 in the all important scoring first category. Then around a minute later, Sharp made it 2 - 0. Make that 2 goals in the first minute and a half.Crawford had some very good saves only facing 5 shots on goal in the period. It seemed like every shot they took was a scoring chance. Bolland just missed goal number 2 catching the inside of the crossbar, as well as Seabrook ringing the iron later. A 4 minute high stick Power Play was negated by a Keith penalty halfway through. This was due to some really poor puck handling. Neither team scored, still 2 - 0. Shots on goal, 12-5 in favor of Chicago.
This game had it all. An early lead, fights, goalie changes, a come back, overtime, a shootout…... The Hawks beat the NHL point leading Blues 4 - 3 at the United Center. It started off with Emery (15-9-3) against Halak (24-10-5) with his 1.84 goals against average and .928 save percentage. St. Louis was 9 -1 in their was 10 games and came in with a streak of 47 consecutive Penalty Kills. (53 is the NHL record). A mini Hawks streak was Bollig’s 3 straight games with fighting majors. When it’s Hawks / Blues, you knew that would continue. The lines and D pairings were pretty close to what they have been in the last couple of weeks.
In the 1st period, Brunette put the Hawks up 1 - 0 just three minutes in, going high glove on Halak. The play featured nice passing between him, Hossa and Kane. But, just as quickly, the Blues tied it 1 - 1, on a 45 foot slap shot that I thought Emery should have handled fairly routinely. Mayers and Crombeen dropped the gloves and went the distance. McDonald then increased the Blues lead to 3 - 1, after ANOTHER bad give away from the Hawks in the neutral zone. The Hawks first unsuccessful Power Play (15.7%, 23rd) kept the score the same. Bollig & Reaves fought again (Last game also) putting him at 4 games in a row. All this does is get around the league and make him a prime target for automatic Instigator penalties. The Hawks had a Penalty Kill that would carry over into the next period. Shots on goal 13 - 6 Hawks. Yes, the Blues scored 3 times on 6 shots. Warm up, Crawford.
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