9:00 AM CST, March 7, 2012
You know what’s worse than the Blackhawks getting beaten by the Blues?
It’s letting the Blues beat the good out of the Hawks and replace it with scared and lame, that’s what.
The Hawks crawled out of St. Louis with a dreadful 5-1 loss Tuesday night and headed home with little that resembled a spine.
How does this happen? How do you come up so limp in a critical game against a rival that is not only contending for the top of the division but the top of the NHL, as well?
The Hawks roared into St. Louis having won consecutive 2-1 games on the road against playoff teams with the magic postseason combination of puck possession, discipline, timely goals and great goaltending.
Then came St. Louis. Shameful. The Hawks played badly, slow and soft. Too many turnovers, too many passengers, too many fraidy cats.
What’s worse, their best players were some of their worst. Just look at the power play.
No, wait, don’t. You’ll retch.
Not only did the Hawks go 0-for-5 with the extra skater, but they gave up a game-turning short-handed goal. Marian Hossa was particularly awful, especially on the short-hander, getting banged off the puck in the neutral zone.
The 5-1 final looks like the Hawks got run over, but a couple late goals accounted for the four-goal bulge. The Hawks, however, did get run over physically all over the ice, all game. The slot, the corners, the neutral zone, pound, pound, pound. The Blues abused the Hawks.
The Hawks took it and took the power plays that went with it. That can be seen as playoff discipline.
The Hawks then stunk on those power plays. That can be seen as an early playoff exit.
But here’s something else that happens when you choke on the power play: The opponent abuses you even more without fear of paying for it.
The Hawks’ inexplicable lack of energy and intensity with the extra man fueled the Blues’ crushing style. What did St. Louis have to worry about? Most Hawks wanted nothing to do with the boards or the tough areas around the net, so they weren’t dangerous, and the Blue got more free shots, legal and otherwise.
It’s always troubling when your top players stink, especially down the stretch when nothing is guaranteed. But it becomes exponential when the whole team gets punished.
It’s not just that the Blues have become a terrific team. It’s their style. The Blues play like they’re one of those table-top, rod-hockey games you had as a kid. Up and down their lanes, none of the big, crossing circles like the Red Wings. Straight ahead, straight back, and it doesn’t matter who’s in the way, especially at center, where the Blues roll out guys who use Patrick Kane for floss.
You can play faster than the Blues to avoid contact or you can inflict your own pain on the power play.
But no. The Hawks turtled all over the ice.
And before you bring up the exiled John Scott, shut up. This is not solved by one guy fighting for everybody. This is a matter team-wide toughness. Team-wide ferocity. Nos. 1 through 20 on the roster.
Truth is, there were moments where Hawks goalie Ray Emery looked feistier than bigger teammates in front of him.
Look, here’s the rule: Get tough or get a power play.
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