Six minutes into the 3rd period Thursday night, the Blackhawks were playing arguably their best hockey of the game. Down 1-0, shot on goal after shot on goal from white sweaters had 17,000 in Bridgestone Arena sweating, and Blackhawks fans everywhere begging for just one of them to find the back of the net and give them a reason to believe that this team could crawl out of the hole that they'd dug themselves in over the last week. Moments later, Colton Sissons fired a shot off the crossbar that deflected back under Crawford's right pad and later into the net to put the Preds up 2-0. As soon as the puck crossed the line, the sleep timer on my TV began to tick down ready to turn this game, this series, and this team off. I almost let it.
While watching the seconds count down, I grabbed my remote and decided to keep the game on because I knew that I could be watching the final few minutes of one of the greatest dynasties in Chicago sports history. After all, losing would mean the second straight year of a disappointing first round exit. Just over a minute later, Roman Josi's second goal of the night made that thought in my head seem more real. Jonathan Toews' first playoff goal since the 2015 final gave the Hawks a glimmer of hope, but it wasn't enough as Viktor Arvidsson's empty netter sent Bridgestone Arena up for grabs, Broadway into a frenzy, and the Chicago Blackhawks into a future of uncertainty.
We don't need to spend much time here talking about the regular season. 109 points and the 2nd most wins in franchise history tells all you need to know about how special this year was prior to April. A 4 game losing streak heading into the playoffs certainly didn't make anyone feel good, but we also all knew that this was a veteran team at the core, and believed that they'd be able to turn it on for game 1 and give us a deep run to remember for awhile. We DEFINITELY expected a performance better than last year's first round exit to everybody's favorite neighbors down I-55.
Even after the 1-0 loss at home in game 1 I personally didn't even think it was time to panic. Tip your cap to Nashville for walking into your building and playing lights out zone trap defense and go beat them in game 2. Coming out and losing 5-0 definitely was a sign that something was wrong, and blowing a 2 goal 3rd period lead in game 3 was the nail in the coffin. Game 4 was played because you need to beat a team 4 times to advance but this Hawks team never had a chance Thursday night.
Corey Crawford was for the most part great the whole series, but you can't win if you can't score and this team scored 3 goals through 12 periods this series. Also worth noting that only Rasmussen's game 3 goal came when Nashville was at full strength. I get it that the Preds got a lot more bounces than the Hawks and that absolutely played a big factor in game 3. You need bounces to go your way to go deep in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. However that is not an excuse as to why the Hawks, the best team in the western conference, got swept in the playoffs for the first time since 1993. If you're not getting bounces you have to play harder to make up for it and as a whole, these guys just didn't do that. I've seen Toews and Kane get a lot of heat for not doing enough, and that's fair. When you sign mega deals you take on major expectations and you have to perform on the big stage. However those two are certainly not the only reason the Hawks were shutout twice in 4 games, and calling for their heads is pretty ridiculous considering all they've done for this franchise and city. I still think with the right supporting cast, they along with the other core guys have the chance at cup #7, so we'll see what moves Stan Bowman makes.
All of that being said, a first round exit like this will definitely make for an interesting summer. Bowman has yet to give us a reason not to trust him, but fixing a team that didn't really need to be fixed up until a week ago will be a unique challenge. 9 Blackhawks are set to become free agents, 4 unrestricted, so we'll see soon who stays and what new faces come in. The draft will be held in Chicago in late June, so I'll make sure to get a blog up then as well as more periodically throughout the offseason. Until then I hope everyone continues to read my “Blog 1060” about the Cubs, and hopefully next year's season ending of the Tomahawk Blog comes out a few days before a victory rally in Grant Park.