Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews is handed his helmet by teammate Dave Bolland (left) while linesman Jean Morin watches during a break in the play in in Game 2 of their Western Conference semifinal series against the Detroit Red Wings at Chicago's United Center on May 18, 2013. The Hawks have lost much of their offensive bite with Toews struggling — he has only three assists in eight post-season games.
Photograph by: Bill Smith, NHLI via Getty Images
DETROIT — The problem with two off-days between games of a playoff series is that any idea of carrying momentum goes out the window.
The previous game’s winners have their heads filled with rave reviews and testaments to their greatness, and the losers have three days’ newspaper editions in which to read (though they usually claim they don’t) what’s wrong with them.
And human nature takes it from there, and suddenly down is up and up is down.
In the case of the Chicago Blackhawks — on the short end of a 3-1 decision Monday and trailing the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 in their series, heading into today’s Game 4 (5 p.m. Pacific time, CBC) — the bad news has consisted mostly of being reminded how little adversity they faced during their regular-season romp to the Presidents’ Trophy, and questions as to their readiness for the night-and-day upturn in intensity they’ve faced so far in this series after a first-round cakewalk against Minnesota.
Also: is goalie Corey Crawford, who presumably gets a look at a job on the Canadian Olympic team come the summer camp, good enough to get them past the Red Wings?
And has the team lost its offensive bite with captain Jonathan Toews in an oh-for-the-playoffs goalless streak? And what’s up with the power play?
No one has suggested yet that Joel Quenneville is being outcoached by Mike Babcock, but one more loss and that’s sure to be on the table, too.
Meanwhile, about the only thing the Blackhawks haven’t done is score the clutch goal. They’ve had plenty of territorial play and with a bounce or two — Babcock admitted the “wide goal posts” behind his own netminder, Jimmy Howard, were a significant factor Monday — easily could have been leading the series, instead of fighting to keep their heads above water.
So the real challenge may not be in X’s and O’s or talk of lack of effort, or team identity, or any of the usual cliches.
For the Blackhawks, after a nearly historic regular season, it may be about staying the course, and trusting that the bounces will even out.
“Things are tougher in the playoffs, but at the same time, you still want to play your game and stick to what you do best,” said winger Patrick Kane. “There’s no sense going through a regular season and playing the way we did and then changing it in the playoffs. It’s what made us successful, we just want to do it with a little bit more intensity, more drive and willpower.”
There is, however, some truth to the assertion that this is the first real adversity the Blackhawks have had all year.
“Yeah, it is,” Kane admitted, “and a lot of people have said that the last few days, and we all know that. But I still think the mood is pretty good in here. I think we’re excited about proving what this group can do. It seems like maybe some people are counting us out right now, but I still think we have a great team that can come back in the series.”
“I think it’s a good test for us, a good challenge,” said Quenneville. “You’re going to get tested along the way here. It’s never a smooth road, and being behind in a series is something that’s got our attention here, and the response we’re looking for will be needed across the board. It’ll be good to see how we handle this test.”
Nobody is very excited about the idea that an entire series’ worth of bounces could go in only one direction.
“I think you earn puck luck,” Quenneville said. “Last game could have gone either way, but I thought we played good enough that we might have had a couple that worked our way.
“But you know you got to fight your way through that type of situation. We feel you earn ’em by how you compete, and the frequency of getting those chances, eventually you get your turn.”
The Hawks were all over Detroit in the third period of Game 3 but couldn’t muscle the puck past Howard, who was both sensational and lucky.
“To be honest, I liked us for the first 40 minutes, I didn’t like us at all in the third period when we got cautious and careful,” said Babcock. “You can’t give that team space, and soon as you start backing up they’ve got too much space and they really make you look bad, you never seem to get out of your zone.”
Toews, who’s kept his head up and stayed publicly confident in himself and his teammates despite his own drought, is adamant that the Hawks have more than enough of what it takes.
“There’s a reason we made it this far,” he said. “We’re a really good team and we have a lot of players with great ability in this locker room. You put it all together and play the right way, we’re an amazing bunch of guys.”
That said, he knows the breaks have not been kind.
“But if there’s a few bounces not going your way, you can’t just chalk it up as puck luck and say ‘Too bad.’ You gotta find a way to get it going your way. I think the harder you work, the more bounces you get ... we’re working hard and we’re just waiting for that one break to kind of open the floodgates.”
Hard work is always everyone’s answer, the only problem being that it implies they didn’t work as hard as they could have last time.
It’s probably not true. Effort is rarely the issue in the playoffs.
But it sounds better than hoping for a little luck.
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun