April 21, 2010
There are teams in deeper trouble and with a bleaker outlook in these playoffs than the Chicago Blackhawks. The Ottawa Senators couldn't contain Sidney Crosby(notes) even if they were legally allowed to use tranquilizer darts. The New Jersey Devils are getting outmuscled and outhustled by the Philadelphia Flyers, while making Brian Boucher(notes) look like Robert Esche circa 2004, whom they made look like Bernie Parent in that first-round, pre-lockout loss.
But the Blackhawks are getting called out by everyone with a functioning keyboard and a tangential interest in Chicago hockey after their 4-1, Game 3 loss at the Nashville Predators on Tuesday night to fall behind 2-1 to the Preds.
Their heart's being questioned. Their stars are being criticized. One of the most prominent Blackhawks blogs went as far as to say that the players "skated the whole game as if they were entitled to something," which is a stinging indictment for a franchise at times accused of that very thing.
Are the No. 2-seeded Blackhawks really in that much trouble?
Here's a sampling of what's being said about Chicago, which gives you a fairly complete picture of the Blackhawks' struggles this series.
For example, Steve Rosenbloom won't use the word panic for the Chicago Tribune, but:
At the Paris sports book in Las Vegas, where I'm watching and writing this because I'm also working a poker tournament at Bellagio, the Hawks are listed as the 3-1 favorites to win the Stanley Cup, reflective of the talent gathered in expectation of their first championship since 1961. The Predators, meanwhile, are 40-1, as long a shot as there is on the board.
Dire is here, with panic and disaster ready to hop over the boards.
What can be done? Let's start with lineup changes. The usefulness of the current fourth line has run its course and an infusion of both Adam Burish(notes) and Bryan Bickell(notes) might just help offset a Predators team that ran all over the Hawks in Game 3. The Blackhawks were outhit 32- 18 for the game and 16-6 in the opening period, when the Predators muscle for the night was established.
If Brian Campbell(notes) is anywhere near ready, this might be a good time for his return. No one player will make the difference but as Predators coach Barry Trotz put it Tuesday morning, "the little details add up." The Hawks need to break Nashville's stifling defense and one more good puck mover could only help. If Quenneville continues to believe there isn't enough traffic in front of Pekka Rinne(notes), maybe it's time to bring Dustin Byfuglien(notes) back from the blue line.
I'm only a blogger (and not a very good one at that), but I'm going to go ahead and call out Jonathan Toews. Where were you? Where have you been? Whenever this season ends, I'm not the only Hawks fans who's going to be seriously pissed if your best games came for Team Canada instead of the team that's paying you $2.7 million this year and $6.1 million next. You were a non-factor on the boards tonight. Your Corsi was even. Can't help but notice Sidney Crosby is single-handedly dragging his team across the finish line right now. Sure, you're not as dynamic, but you're supposed to be an inspiration, no? It had better come soon.
Mark Kiley also took Toews to task on Chicago Now, but felt the entire Chicago gameplan was poorly executed:
The Hawks seemed ill-prepared for a team that wanted to skate instead of trap. It was the Preds who dictated all the action and the Hawks had no response.
"It goes with our effort. We knew they were going to be better, that they were going to come with more energy in their own building," said somber Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews. "We didn't prepare. We didn't expect that enough as we came in here."
What is that captain? You weren't prepared? Well whose fault is that? Is it Quenneville who can only get his team to respond with gimmick moves? Or is it the quiet Toews who's playoff contributions have been downright silent?
Toews may be the captain, but few of the Hawks have followed his lead and copied his simple approach. The Hawks are making nothing simple. Until shooting lanes stop becoming passing lanes the Nashville fans will keep waving those silly towels. The gameplan is being preached, but nobody appears to be listening.
A lot of this criticism is hyperbolic, based on the preconception that the Blackhawks were a predestined Western Conference finalist and that the Predators were a pushover outside of Rinne.
It's much the same thing the San Jose Sharks faced after their crushing Game 3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche, with a dash of "perennial chokers" tossed in for good measure. After last night's Game 4 win in OT, the narrative has shifted: The Sharks, despite some systemic problems, have home ice back and aren't hurtling toward a first-round exit any longer. One imagines the reactions would be the same if Chicago took Game 4 in Nashville.
Bottom line: The Predators are a dangerous team, and not just because they have a higher payroll than the Blackhawks at the moment (seriously).
The gauntlet's been tossed by those watching and waiting for this Chicago club to act like a champion. If they can't find that next gear, then the brachiosaurus at the Field Museum isn't going to be the only thing in extinction wearing a Blackhawks jersey.