The Coyote finally got what he was after. Behind another stellar performance by goalie Mike Smith, who recorded his first career postseason shutout, the Blackhawks could not force a game seven last night in front of a standing room only United Center crowd.
The Hawks looked good in the first stanza as they peppered Smith to the tune of 16 shots while limiting the Coyotes to a measly two shots. Two shots! Corey Crawford may as well have sat on the bench while the Hawks skated with an extra attacker.
However, that strategy likely would have not have altered the outcome the way the Hawks have played with the man advantage, one goal on 19 power play opportunities.
A depressing statistic when you consider the offensive talents on the Hawks. The absence of Marian Hossa alone is not enough for the special teams to be so atrocious.
Facing a goalie coming of a season like the one Mike Smith has means you need to take advantage of these opportunities when they are presented.
Much like a starting pitcher in major league baseball, a hot goalie can neutralize, rather take over and dominate a playoff series more so than any other position in professional sports. Mike Smith did just that as he stopped all 39 shots he faced Monday night. Outside of a couple late third period goals from the Hawks in the series, the Phoenix net minder was near perfect. Not Phil Humber perfect, but a one man team, nonetheless in dispatching the Hawks.
Where do they Hawks go from here?
Two years ago The Hawks were a team of destiny as they hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup and paraded down Michigan Avenue. Salary cap restraints mandated that the team be broken up, and ever since the summer of 2010, Hawks Gm Stan Bowman has been trying to get the band back together. Just how much blame should be leveled at his feet? It was his decision to stand pat at the trade deadline, rather than try to fill the void of a second line center, a position that has been neglected as much as a number one receiver for the Chicago Bears.
It was also his decision to sign a number of aged, broken down, decrepit veterans that failed to show up in crunch time. A veteran blue liner would have had more composure and hockey intelligence than what Nick Leddy displayed while he was being undressed by Mikkel Boedker in overtime of game four.
I have to wonder what happens to Corey Crawford now. Despite facing a minimum number of shots for the bulk of the series, he was thoroughly outplayed by Smith. Backup Ray Emery was inked to a contract extension, but he is not a starting goalie in this league. Will a “goalie by committee” situation be what Hawks fans have to look forward to? Teams don’t win Stanley Cups with that strategy. Crawford is still relatively young and has just finished his second season with the Hawks, but how much longer can they stick with him while the team is ready to win now?
Stan Bowman has a lot of decisions to make this offseason. In many ways it can be a career defining summer for the son of the immortal Scotty Bowman.
Does he make a bold trade and trade Patrick Kane for an All-Star Goalie? Perhaps he makes a trade involving Patrick Sharp for a Defenseman.
Or maybe he makes a move that isn’t as sexy or as drastic as the aforementioned ideas and makes a shrewd move and acquires a diamond in the rough and maximizes his value and talent with the surrounding players on the roster. Something similar to what the resurgent Blues did by acquiring Jaroslav Halak from the Canadians AND Brian Elliott from Ottawa. They were two goalies that anyone could have had last summer. And now the Blues finished the season with the second best record in the Western Conference and are the highest remaining seed in the West after another early ouster from the Canucks.
Speaking of the Western Conference, isn’t it weird not to see the Red Wings, Sharks, Canucks, and Hawks not in the second round of the playoffs? One doesn’t need to do too much investigation to realize why the teams that beat them, Predators, Blues, Kings, and Coyotes, respectively, have done to win in a best of seven series. The answer is in the net. Pekke Rinne, Brian Elliott, Jonathan Quick, and Smith have had outstanding seasons and paced teams that in many ways were far less talented than the teams they defeated, yet the overriding difference maker is the guy that doesn’t score any goals or make any deft passes.
Hopefully Stan Bowman is taking notes.