9:12 AM CDT, April 24, 2012
The Blackhawks came into this series with the best players.
The Coyotes, however, had the right players.
Especially in goal.
The story was Mike Smith. The Coyotes blocked shots, took the body, and kept the Hawks away from their goalie much of the time. But when the Hawks did get close to the Phoenix crease, Smith stoned them. All night in Game 6 on Monday night. All series.
In a rarity, the Hawks found room to skate in Game 6. What’s more, they strafed Smith with shots and created gasp-worthy scoring chances.
The surprising Michael Frolik was right there during a first period in which the Hawks held a commanding 16-2 edge in shots. Jonathan Toews and Brendan Morrison were stoned from point-blank range in the first five minutes of the second period. Andrew Shaw had several great chances in the first two periods.
Geez, the Hawks were so dominant during one shift after Phoenix took a 1-0 lead in the second period that they managed to change lines without losing control of the puck in the Coyotes’ zone.
But still, nothing. Thirty-nine shots, and still nothing.
Early in the series, the Hawks often were one-and-done. They were unable to get to rebounds. The Coyotes boxed out the Hawks forwards well enough to make Tom Thibodeau proud.
In Game 6, the Hawks crashed the net better. But that wasn’t enough. Ultimately in this series, nothing they did was enough.
The Coyotes spent most of this series forcing the play to the boards. They consistently gave the Hawks no time, no space, no nothing.
The Coyotes waited for a mistake. The Hawks didn’t make many, but they made enough to start their summer after Phoenix ended the series with a stunning 4-0 win.
The Hawks have some hard questions to answer now. Can they trust Corey Crawford? Do they have four defensemen worthy of being considered top four? How good are their best players, after all? How good are they when they need to be good? Is Stan Bowman the right man to answer those questions correctly?
The Hawks were built on skating and a puck-possession game. The Hawks’ pretty, shiny things are faster and have more top-end offensive skill than the Coyotes, even without injured Marian Hossa.
And yet, the Coyotes are moving on and the Hawks haven’t won a playoff series since winning the Stanley Cup.
The Hawks’ best players didn’t show up. Someone named Gilbert Brule had more goals than Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp. Combined.
Antoine Vermette, a second-line center the Hawks didn't trade for, had twice as many goals as Toews, the Hawks' first-line center. Heck, some guy named Mikkel Boedker had as many as the Hawks captain. And so it went.
The Coyotes forced their disciplined, physical style into a majority of the series, certainly enough to win it. One of the many things the Coyotes did particularly well was make good, smart, short passes in their defensive zone to clear the puck and force the Hawks to chase the play.
They also killed penalties exceptionally well. Or, depending how you look at it, the Hawks’ top players failed miserably on a power play that finished 1-for-19. All that money to top players, and they produced one power-play goal in the series.
No, wait, the power-play goal came from Bryan Bickell, so the big names were a big zero with a man-advantage. The Coyotes, meanwhile, who had the second-worst power-play in the regular season, scored twice with the extra man in Game 6 alone.
Maybe next season the Hawks will have the right players.
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