This one hurts, but my emotion is more anger than sorrow. This is the first time in my life where I feel as though one of my teams had a series stolen from them. Stolen by cheap shots, stolen by the referees, stolen by the league office, and stolen by a goalie. The 2011-12 Blackhawks never really looked like a Stanley Cup contender, but they certainly looked better than the Phoenix Coyotes and they certainly deserved better than a 4-2 series loss.
The most disturbing part of this loss is that it wasn’t decided by hockey plays. The Game 2 flop by Smith, and subsequent 3 game suspension of Shaw and the despicable head shot on Marian Hossa by Torres decided this series more than anything else. Shaw deserved a penalty for his hit on Smith. You simply can’t make contact with the goalie. Shaw should have received a 2-minute minor for goaltender interference. A 5-minute major followed by a three game suspension is lunacy. Shaw was a very important player for the Blackhawks. He is a tone setter, he plays physical, and he is a spark plug for the team. Removing him for three games would have been difficult to overcome, but losing Hossa was a death-blow. There is no doubt that Torres was hunting for Hossa in this series. He took runs at Hossa in games 1 and 2, but Hossa was able to side step them. When Torres finally completed his mission, it sucked the life out of the team and the stadium. Somehow the most dangerous, intentional, deplorable hit of the year went unseen by all of the officials on the ice and the Blackhawks came away short-handed. Perhaps if the Blackhawks had received a 5 minute major power-play and Torres had been ejected the Hawks manage to win that game.
The Blackhawks are a team built around star players and Marian Hossa is one of the most important. You simply can’t replace Marian Hossa. He is an elite player in all three zones, not to mention the team’s leading scorer during the regular season. Losing him created a black-hole in the top 6 that couldn’t be filled. The Blackhawks became drastically worse in every phase of the game, while the Coyotes went unpunished. Yes, Torres got suspended for 25 games….big effing whoop. He had a whopping 26 points on the year. He was easily replaceable for the Coyotes. They would take a Torres for Hossa swap every chance they got. They simply throw some other body in the lineup. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks were left scrambling. Saad, Bickell, Hayes, Kruger, Stalberg, Frolik, Shaw, Brunette, and Morrison put together aren’t half the player Marian Hossa is. Their effort was great, but their talent just wasn’t enough. Even with two essential players missing, the Blackhawks still carried the play against the Coyotes. The Blackhawks averaged 40 shots per game in the series. So while the Blackhawks out-played the Coyotes, Mike Smith was out-playing Corey Crawford.
Corey Crawford simply isn’t a Stanley Cup caliber goalie. He was very good at times in the series and I love how Crawford stood up with his teammates and challenged Smith, but every time the Hawks needed a big save…he failed. Crawford’s soft goals were the difference in the series. In a series where everything was stacked against the Blackhawks, they needed Crawford to just make the saves he was supposed to make…he failed. Nobody ever thought the Blackhawks would need Corey Crawford to be better than Mike Smith, but he needed to give his team a chance to win…he failed. There is a lot to like about Corey Crawford…just not as your starting goaltender. The Blackhawks must find a way to upgrade the position or at least bring in a plan B that isn’t Ray Emery. Crawford certainly doesn’t deserve all of the blame, but his play simply wasn’t good enough. His .893 series save percentage doesn’t instill a lot of confidence going forward.
It’s going to be a long summer. Again, probably not a Stanley Cup team…but stranger things have happened. A full strength Blackhawks team would certainly have beaten the Coyotes and may have gone on a long run. Now…thanks to Torres, the referees, Shanahan, and Mike Smith we will never know. I will be dusting off my LA Kings swag from the early 90s the rest of the way while wondering what could have been.
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