The talking point of the Hawks “turning it on” had become just about as tedious as “Good Rex Bad Rex, “Good Jay, Bad Jay,” “Why no one goes to Comiskey Park, ” and “The Wrigley Bleachers.” It had gotten silly, and I fell into it, because the Hawks aren’t selectively playing well or not based solely on their whims. They’re inconsistent because that’s the team that they are.
And then of course they went ahead and turned it on.
Since about March 1st, and certainly since “Local Boy vs. Rich Goofy Drunk: Judgement Day” started this series, our main question has never been which goalie but when would the Hawks stop asking their goalie to be their best player night after night, and whether they could even manage that. It took five games and 10 minutes, but finally the Hawks showed off the defensive tightness that we hadn’t seen since those wins over the Kings and Canucks is succession, and haven’t seen consistently since probably The Circus Trip.
Once Crawford came in, he faced 13 shots. 13 in 48 minutes of play. Darling saw 12 in 11 minutes. Think about that change for a second. For those 48 minutes, the Hawks throttled the Preds. Their third goal was on their 13th attempt at even-strength. They managed just 22 more the rest of the way.
The Hawks finally stood up consistently at their blue line (at least after Keith got horse-donged by Matt Cullen). They made the Preds dump pucks in. They tried just enough stretch passes and high-flips to get the Preds defense to back up just enough to pick their way through their own zone (though still a touch too much for my liking, but I won’t argue with results). They retrieved their own dump-ins far better to keep the Preds back and keep them from attacking with four and five guys. Their backchecking actually kept up with a Nashville team that is not exactly easy to keep up with.
They had to wait and wait for it to pay off, but it did. Whether they can reproduce that kind of defensive effort 12-15 more times (as they might lose a couple when they do) I have no idea. But it is refreshing to see that it’s still there.
The Two Obs
-What’s even more satisfying about the defensive effort is that it came after such a shoddy defensive beginning. Both Hammer and Oduya were nothing more than crossing guards for James Neal on the 1st. Keith the same for Cullen on the third, and that came after lazy and sloppy play at the blue line. There were other turnovers in the d-zone from what looked to be a pretty nervy Hawks team. Didn’t see them the rest of the game.
-It’s a good thing the Hawks did tighten up so quickly, because Crawford looked anything but comfortable to start. He was beaten clean by a relatively tame Neal wrister that hit the post, but from there did what he had to.
It’s unfair to judge him too harshly. Since getting pulled, Crow would have only had really optional skates to work on his game and those have been barely attended. I don’t think the Hawks have had a proper practice since he exited in Game 2. However long this break is, it’ll be necessary to get one or two good practices in for him so he can find his rhythm again. This game will help the confidence, but now the muscles need to get stretched again.
And maybe we can stop with this debate for five minutes.
-Speaking of goalies, Pekka Rinne went back to trying to be Joakim Noah in net, just in time. He was overcommitted on Keith’s shot wide that left Sharp the whole net to shoot at on the other side. His angle and tracking for Keith’s winner bordered on hilarious. Keith literally had half the net to shoot at as Rinne lost where the puck was or his angles were just that off. That’s one Vezina finalist down, is another one coming next?
-Oh, so you can open a shooting lane for yourself, Duncs? Good to know.
-I see a lot of vitriol for Brad Richards during this series. I don’t know where that’s come from. He’s been good the past three games for sure, and the past two better than that.
-We kept believing Playoff Stupid James Neal would show up. There he was with an asinine cross check at least 150 feet from the puck to get the Hawks back to 3-2 and keep the building alive. We knew you wouldn’t let us down, Real Deal.
-Oduya and Keith are significantly above water in possession. Hawks win. These two things are not a coincidence.
Now we sit and wait. Better than just sitting, of course.