CHICAGO -- Without thinking about the bigger picture, Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews summed up his team’s playoff series, which they trail three games to one after another overtime loss Thursday, against the Phoenix Coyotes.
“We played well enough to win but it never really felt like we took control of that game at any point,” Toews said.
Does that describe the series so far or what?
Three times the Hawks have scored first only to lose the lead each time. Three times the Hawks have scored in the closing seconds of regulation to force overtime, but they have lost three of four in the extra session. For the second straight game, goalie Corey Crawford couldn’t stop a rather simple scoring attempt -- this time on a mini break by Mikkel Boedker, who beat him from a bad angle in Game 3.
“I have no clue,” Crawford responded when asked how the puck squeaked in. “Once I see the replay I’ll figure out how that went in.”
Soft goals, furious late finishes, poor power-play attempts. By definition, going to overtime in four straight games means a chance to win, but it doesn’t mean control. Three 1-0 leads were nice, but Phoenix had no issue dealing with those deficits, nor a problem when they blew a 2-0 lead on Thursday. It’s as if nothing fazes the Coyotes.
“The last month we’ve been preparing for tight games,” Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. “This has been going on for a long time. Our guys are thriving under the pressure.”
Can’t the opposite be true of the Hawks?
Yes, those last-second goals are fun, but they aren’t the formula for winning. They’re more a result of good fortune than great hockey.
“It seems like we get more motivated when we get down a goal or two and we see how well we can play and how much pressure we can put on them,” Toews said. “And we seem to be less afraid to make mistakes.”
Most of this rhetoric applies but at the end of the day if anyone knew this series was going to be this tight, then the edge had to go to the Coyotes for one reason: their advantage in net.
Sometimes the 82-game season tells you exactly what to expect. And for the Hawks, they entered the postseason with the least successful goaltending in the playoffs. Only 17 times out of now 86 games have they held their opponent to less than two goals. And when the other guy is giving up nothing, soft overtime scores aren’t going to cut it.
“Tough break again,” Quenneville said. “Kind of comparable to the last game. Brutal ending…Both games ended on a tough note for us. We didn’t give up many chances tonight.”
Those sentiments point a finger right at Crawford. Nothing is probably more demoralizing for a team or coach. Battle hard in a comeback, get it to overtime, then give it right back on the softest of shots. Yes, Nick Leddy misplayed his poke-check at center ice, but that’s what a goalie is there for, to cover up. Leddy did enough to thwart a great attempt. But it still went in.
Crawford’s miscue is a microcosm of the Hawks' problems all season. Poor power-play execution, bad defensive zone coverage and mediocre goaltending dropped them to the No. 6 seed. And now to the brink of elimination.