Patrick Kane had a black Chicago Blackhawks hat pulled down over his head, like he was in mourning.
“It just doesn’t really feel right,” he said after Monday night's Game 7.
No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t feel right to see the Blackhawks go out in Round 1, doesn’t feel right to see the champs fail to advance, doesn’t seem right to see their season end at the hands of the St. Louis Blues.
“They’re a good hockey team. I know they’ve been looking for it for a long time, to break through and get past the first round,” said Kane.
How did it go wrong for the Blackhawks? Here are five reasons the Blues sent the Blackhawks back to Chicago for a long offseason.
Losing Game 1
Under normal circumstances losing Game 1 is no biggie, especially when the road team wins Game 2, as Chicago did.
But this was a Game 1 that was 0-0 into overtime. This was a Game 1 that saw David Backes – infamously taunted for an injury by the Blackhawks in their last postseason battle – get the game-winner. This was a Game 1 in which the Blackhawks didn’t have a suspended Duncan Keith, and yet nearly won it.
Instead of a “here we go again” situation, the seeds of swagger were planted in Game 1 for the Blues.
The Start Of Game 7
As the teams reached Game 7, the Blackhawks had all the momentum. The Blues limped back home having blown two chances to put the champs away, and the Blackhawks were looking to go 10-1 in elimination games over the last four playoffs.
Yet the start of Game 7 effectively stole that momentum back. Jori Lehtera and Colton Parayko scored in the first 13:43 of the game, and the Blues had a 2-0 advantage until Marian Hossa cut into it with a late goal in the first.
The Blackhawks rallied, but couldn’t do it a second time after Troy Brouwer’s third-period goal.
“Maybe one too many times in the hole,” said Kane.
The Defense Was Exposed
This one is on Stan Bowman.
Here’s the Blackhawks’ defense for the series, sorted by ice time:
As you can see, Keith and Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson were the three top workhorses, as is tradition. Trevor van Riemsdyk played in all seven games, and made some egregious mistakes – in particular in the Blues’ Game 4 win in Chicago, with two brutal turnovers. Rookie Erik Gustafsson played in five games, and made a pair of mistakes on the Blues’ Game 7 game-winner. David Rundblad was fine when paired with Keith. Michal Rozsival didn’t see the ice after Game 4, and Viktor Svedberg was a spare part.
Meanwhile, follow the bouncing puck: Bowman traded Patrick Sharp to the Dallas Stars in exchange for Trevor Daley, who didn’t fit at all and who requested a trade, so he was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins for cap relief and Rob Scuderi, who didn’t fit at all, so he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings for Christian Ehrhoff, who was scratched for the playoffs.
Bowman went to playoff war with three dependable defensemen, two shaky young options and some third-period-at-best guys. In the regular-season, the all-world play of Corey Crawford covered up for the blue lines deficiencies. But they were glaring in the playoffs, and this was arguably the biggest mismatch of the series.
As has been well-chronicled, the Blackhawks’ possession numbers fell off a cliff this season at 5-on-5. They had a positive score-adjusted Corsi rating at 5-on-5 against the St. Louis Blues through seven games (53.4, score-adjusted). But their even-strength scoring troubles extended into the postseason.
The Blackhawks were 20th in the NHL this season in goals scored at 5v5 with 134. That’s down from 150 last season, and down from 183 two seasons ago.
They were outscored 13-10 by the Blues at 5-on-5 in the series, and all three goals for St. Louis in Game 7 were scored at even strength. Patrick Kane, Andrew Ladd and Andrew Shaw all had one EV goal; Jonathan Toews didn’t have a goal in the series. (Where have you gone, Brandon Saad?)
“There would be an important time when I’d score a big one. I kept telling myself that, until the end,” said Toews.
Granted, Brian Elliott had a bit to do with this too, finishing with a .950 save percentage at 5-on-5.
And finally ...
The Better Team Won
Full marks to the Blues.
They lose this Game 7 in previous years, without the confidence and backbone they displayed against the Blackhawks. But perhaps that confidence was in abundance in this series, knowing that with the goaltending they were getting from Elliott and the push from the Tarasenko line they could win.
Combine that with the Blackhawks’ usual vulnerabilities in the first round, and the fact that they just weren’t the same efficient, effective and mistake-limiting side they’ve been, and they advance to Round 2.
The Blackhawks lose the series by a game and by a goal. It’s not a team that has to worry about its window closing or is looking at the implosion of its roster. It’s the usual retooling from Bowman, complete with the usual salary cap gymnastics.
Toews, Kane, Keith, Seabrook, Crawford and now Panarin have another Cup in them, at least. Just not this year. Just not against this team. Just not when things just don’t seem to break your way:
"In the games we lost in this series, it seemed to be the story,” said Toews.
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