Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Ouch. Just... ouch.

If the Blackhawks want to swap wins with Nashville, they might want to remember that the Predators won first in the series, which would put Chicago at the short end of the stick.

This has been a strange post-season for the entire NHL, however, and not simply just the Men of Four Feathers. Most heavy favorites are struggling to just keep their series even; the only "never-was-a-doubt" team out there right now are the Washington Capitals.
Still, there's little doubt that the teams who barely squeaked into the playoffs and/or are regarded as the "weaker" teams are making things as challenging for the "favored" teams as possible. Most people in Chicago (and, let's face it, throughout the Western conference) wasn't too anxious to face Detroit; I was most uneasy about facing Nashville. It's hardly reassuring to see that prediction come to fruition.

The Hawks can still win this, can still pull things together, and make it to the second round. But if you watch the first three games of this series, you can be forgiven for having doubts.

Nashville has pushed the team to the edge, and games 1 and 3 have been sloppy messes, where goalie Antti Niemi has mainly been left to attempt to save the Hawks from total annihilation. Tonight, for example, Niemi started out looking strong, while the rest of the team seemed to be battling to find their footing.

Excuses? Can't blame travel fatigue, altitude, or schedule. Nashville actually seemed to be playing a slightly faster game, which should've played to the Hawks strengths. 

Instead, we saw a lot more of what we saw in game 1: bad passing, messy puck handling, defense scrambling to get back in their own end, racking up penalties. How often was Niemi left standing there with a Predator bearing down on him and a Hawk racing to catch up? Or, on their few really good chances to score, they either couldn't place it in the net, or it got deflected by Rinne. By the time in the third period that the Blackhawks began showing life and pep in their skates, it was already too late, and the Preds were pushing hard to close it out.

It doesn't help, either, that Coach Q was shuffling the lines like he was dealing five-card stud. And, like poker, all that crazy shuffling simply favored the house, not the guest.

The players have repeatedly said that they have total faith in their goalies; but how much does it affect them to constantly have their lines tinkered with? Take the lines that work best, with the players that are most comfortable together, and put them in, and allow them to settle down and do their jobs, and do them well. When the team gets nervous in front of the goalie, then that's going to transmit back to him, and he's going to wonder just how much he's going to have to stand on his head to make up for the mistakes and errors littering the ice in front of him. No matter how you cut it, this constant line shuffling is NOT a winning proposition for the Hawks.

The Predators have made it crystal clear that they want this series - and the Cup - very badly. They're in it to win it.
And for all the talk we've heard from the Blackhawks about "One Goal", with the goal being Lord Stanley's silver cup, but they've been taking the "one goal" a little too literally as of late.

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