Blackhawks: nostalgia, perhaps yet to come | Bleader

Friday, April 20, 2012

Blackhawks: nostalgia, perhaps yet to come

Posted By on 04.20.12 at 03:21 PM

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Corey Crawford: Brutal plus brutal equals doubly brutal.
It's funny how the outcome colors the drama of a sporting event—funny yet somehow sad. Here the Blackhawks are playing one of the most exciting, dramatic Stanley Cup playoff series in memory. Each of their first four games with the Phoenix Coyotes has gone into overtime, and three of those regulation ties came with the Hawks scoring after they had pulled their goalie for a sixth attacker in the final minute or so. There's been conflict, in the form of Raffi Torres's savage hit on Marian Hossa in the third game, and there's been beauty, with the two teams playing oftentimes at an urgent, breakneck pace back and forth—the sport at its gorgeous best.

There are moments in these games that would be as fondly remembered as Hossa's game-winning goal coming out of the penalty box in overtime in the fifth game of their series against Nashville two years ago—if only the Hawks hadn't lost three of those games, the last two at home on very soft scores surrendered by goaltender Corey Crawford.

I wrote a column this week suggesting that coach Joel Quenneville had nursed Crawford along perfectly in his second full season as an NHL netminder. Quenneville never wavered from Crawford as his number one goalie, but at the same time he played the hot hand, going to backup Ray Emery for extended stints as the starter when Crawford went through a couple of rough patches. For the most part, Crawford rewarded the confidence come the playoffs, performing brilliantly at times in goal. The Hawks wouldn't have gotten to overtime in those four games without Crawford's heroics.

Yet there's no getting around that his lapses in overtime cost the Hawks the last two games. The first, in the third game, was miserable, an extreme low-angle shot that got past Crawford before he could get his stick down. Thursday's might have been worse. Nick Leddy committed himself to the puck, not the opposing forward, just beyond the center line, allowing Mikkel Boedker a breakaway. Leddy hounded Boedker from behind, so that the Coyotes forward couldn't even get off a shot, but somehow the puck carried on its own momentum until it slid under Crawford as if it had been a well-placed shuffleboard shot and wound up in the net.

Look, it's Stanley Cup hockey, and there are no easy saves. But no one should lose sight of the detail that, at the basics, it's a very simple game: defense, play the man; goalie, play the puck.

Crawford himself called the winning goal in the third game "brutal." Quenneville used the same word to label the fourth game.

If the Hawks can somehow revive and win the last three games of the series to advance, this will all become the stuff of legend, like Hossa's potentially costly penalty followed by his game-winning goal two years ago. For now, however, it's just an aggravation, great drama being squandered by a couple of brutal scores.

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