Wait a minute, where did the Hawks' season go?
Chicago Blackhawks' Corey Crawford saves a shot by Vancouver Canucks' Alexandre Burrows in 3rd period during Stanley Cup Playoffs' Round 1 Game 7 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia. (Scott Strazzante, Chicago Tribune / April 26, 2011)
How could it be over?
How could the Blackhawks not complete the miracle? They had gallantly fought back from a seemingly impossible three-games-to-none deficit. They had to win Game 7 after that. After coming back three times in Game 6 before winning it in overtime. After Jonathan Toews had scored an impossible shorthanded goal from his stomach to tie Game 7 with less than two minutes remaining in the season.
The Hawks had everything their way. They had a shaken opponent they had sent home the last two springs. They had a goalie they were torturing for a third straight year. They had the momentum of Capt. Serious’ first goal of the series.
And then Chris Campoli gave it away in overtime.
To be fair, the Hawks' defenseman had played well this series, but he’ll be remembered for not clearing the puck that Alexandre Burrows stole inside the blue line and promptly drilled over Corey Crawford’s right shoulder for the winner at 5:22 of the first overtime to end the Hawks’ season.
How could it be over? How could it be over like that?
Crawford deserved better. Crawford deserved a second round. He was the Hawks’ best player all series. He was flat unbelievable. Crawford positively stoned Christopher Higgins and Mason Raymond in the second period. But that was nothing compared to what he did in the third.
For starters, he faced a penalty shot in the first minute, but deftly denying Burrows to the stick side. Later in the period, Crawford made three outstanding stops in a row, the last a brilliant glove save on Ryan Kesler, who faced a yawning net with less than five minutes to go.
As resilient as the Hawks had been, it was impossible to imagine coming back if Kesler had converted. After all, they hadn’t scored all night and would’ve had to do it twice against a goalie and a team that was playing with confidence and skill not seen for more than a week.
In all, the rookie netminder made 34 saves in regulation to give Toews the chance to be a hero with a goal that might’ve turned out to be as important as Patrick Kane’s shorty in Game 5 against Nashville in last year’s first round.
But no. The chance to become only the fourth team to win a series after losing the first three games died. The dream of repeating is done.
And not just because of Campoli’s gaffe. A lot of other Hawks can shoulder blame early and late.
For all the great things the Hawks had done to climb back into this series, they came out in an improbable Game 7 and committed one of the worst mistakes an experienced team can make.
They gave up an early goal.
The rule in a raucous opponent’s rink is to survive the first 10 minutes, especially against a team as tight as the Canucks. But the Hawks got caught in a line change and Burrows -- he was everywhere -- buried a nifty backhand centering pass from Ryan Kesler less than three minutes after the opening faceoff.
Not only did the goal put the Hawks down, but it gave a meltdown-prone Vancouver team some freedom from the asphyxiating pressure of it all.
Worse, though, was the blown power play in overtime. How many chances like that could you expect? That man Burrows hooked Duncan Keith in the first minute of OT, and the Hawks were primed to meet history.
But no. They failed. They had a glorious ticket to San Jose, but they failed. Toews slipped the puck to Patrick Sharp alone at the backdoor, maybe the Hawks’ favorite power-play move, but Roberto Luongo said no.
A couple minutes later, pfft. A couple minutes later, Vancouver would party.
The weak-willed Canucks showed character. The demonized Luongo gathered himself to flash his $10 million form. They stood up to the Hawks the way the Hawks had owned them the last two years and the previous three games.
How did that happen?
How could it be over?