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The Beginning and The End: Blackhawks 6, Bruins 5 (OT); Series tied 2-2

Was it Al Michaels that recently described watching a hockey game like dying a thousand deaths? I think it was. Either way, I would probably describe watching this game as feeling like William Wallace as the English unstrung his intestines and lit them on fire as he watched while tied to an iron maiden.

Let’s not waste anymore time.  To the bullets.

We’ll start right where everyone else is going to. Corey Crawford. That was about as bad a game you could have on a national stage in a championship game. Ever. And for people watching that weren’t cheering for Boston, it was incredibly uncomfortable television. It’d be like if Chuck Knoblauch and Mark Wohlers faced off in a knock-the-milk bottles over carnival game in front of the nation. You can’t feel good about life watching something like that. Yeah, the Hawks had some pretty lousy turnovers, but the Bruins were still launching shots from well outside the circles with minimal traffic in front of the net. Crawford couldn’t handle rebounds; he had no idea where his net was; and worst of all, he was guessing on shots to his glove side instead of reacting to them.

Add it all up, and it was a brutal watch. I feel for him and the hounds of hell (on the ice and in the stands) that will be ready for him at the United Center on Saturday. Had the Hawks lost, you would be hard-pressed not to think Ray Emery would have gotten the start in Game 5. Joel Quenneville’s trigger finger is probably a little itchier than it was yesterday. Even with all that said, Crawford has shown the ability to bounce back this season so it wouldn’t surprise me if he looked much more comfortable in Game 5. 

–During Game 3, I thought Nick Leddy looked extremely tenative and unsure of himself. He had consecutive shifts in the second period where he looked like he wanted no part of the puck coming on his side of the ice. Apparently Joel Quenneville saw the same thing as Leddy saw a mere 3 minutes of ice. That is probably a bit extreme especially when you consider that Duncan Keith and Johnny Oduya made enough mistakes to feed a starving nation. Buuuuuuut, they were making aggressive mistakes and they weren’t afraid to get involved in the play. So I definitely get why Quenneville would be uneasy with trusting Leddy.

–The defensive positioning of Hawk wingers probably needs to be addressed at some point. They’re giving Boston defensemen way too much room to get shots through and with a shaky goaltender in front of them, it’s a recipe for disaster. See goals 2 and 4 tonight.

–A power play goal and a short-handed tally. Break out the bubbly. Unfortunately, Boston’s power play is on the verge of becoming lethal. Even with just a 30 second power play tonight, they were able to set up and get off a few quality chances. In fact, this game is probably not even remotely close if it wasn’t for Boston’s power play. The Bruins weren’t generating any offense for solid stretches of the first and second period until the Hawks went short-handed. Then things started turn in Boston’s favor.

–It really chaps my ass when people hound players for being lazy on the defensive end and in their next breath, tell you what a hockey god Jaromir Jagr is. Even if he’s slightly rejuvenated in this playoff, he’s still operating at “I don’t give a fuck about any of you.” Oh, but he made a great defensive play to help out an overtime winner 5 games ago. He gets my vote for the Selke.

–Now, on to Joel Quenneville. My theory as to why he waited so long to reunite Bickell, Toews and Kane may seem a bit of a stretch but just bear with me. In 2010, Quenneville used Toews, Kane and Byfuglien in the first 4 games of the Cup Final and Chris Pronger kept them off the scoresheet.

In 2012, Quenneville saw Zdeno Chara, another number one defenseman with an immaculate reputation. So rather than make Chara prove he could stop them, Quenneville tried to go around him and split all three of them up. Essentially, he was making moves against things that hadn’t even happened yet. Meanwhile, Chara was getting housed by a (now safe to assume unhealthy) Marian Hossa for the first two games.

Cut to Game 4. In a series where Chara has let the opposition carry the puck for the majority of the time he is on the ice, he was incredibly awful tonight. He was on the ice for four of the Hawks goals. I haven’t seen the Corsi or Fenwick numbers but I’m guessing his look like the weather in Siberia in December. If Corey Crawford’s play the rest of this series is worth worrying about for Hawk fans, this certainly has to be a concern for Bruin fans the rest of the series.

–Other than Brent Seabrook’s overtime goal (and Toews was right in Rask’s proverbial kitchen), the other five Hawk goals were all scored within 8 feet of Tuuka Rask. But please, tell me how the Hawks don’t want it bad enough or they’re not strong enough to score down low. Again, sometimes, it’s just about the right line combinations to make these things work. The Hawks had “net front” presence in Game 3 but they simply had the wrong guys in the right spot.

For example, in the first period on Monday Brent Seabrook launched a point shot, similar to where Michael Rozsival shot one tonight, that got through to Rask. Ben Smith was almost exactly where Jonathan Toews was when he re-directed his goal, a little off to the side looking to tip the shot down. Instead, Smith missed the tip and the shot went right into Rask’s chest. That’s the difference between a “harmless” shot and “net front” presence. Somewhere’s Al Pacino is shaking his head and screaming at some guys in a locker room.

I’m sure there will be plenty of people in the next couple days exclaiming that “Yes, this is what the Hawks need to do. And I’ve been telling you the whole time because I’m a hockey genius and I know more than everybody else!!!!” The truth is, the Hawks have kind of been doing this the whole time. It just so happened that the right guys were in the right spot tonight.

–The Hawks were down 3-1 against Detroit. They were 20 minutes away from elimination. They’ve had 4 huge goals wiped off the board in this post-season, one that almost cost them their season. They’ve beaten two teams on the road that were “unbeatable” at home and in one of those games, absolutely everything was stacked against them (awful goalie, awful bounces and a couple of awful penalties called). Yet somehow, they’ve always found a way when it seemed like doom was inevitable.

At some point, you have to call it like you see it and whatever ends up happening in this season, this Hawks team has absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. They are truly a championship worthy team. No matter what some dope calling into a sports radio show thinks. #TWTW

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