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Sunday, March 3

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Blackhawks Thu Apr 26 2012

Hawks: Season in Review

Chicago BlackhawksAfter so many comebacks and difficult games, the Game 6 loss was a frustrating end to the Blackhawks season. Maybe they wouldn't have gone all the way this year, but a first-round elimination was a hard letdown.

The Hawks have had a dynamic year though. Coming off another disappointing first-round elimination in the 2011 playoffs, the team had worked to recoup and make adjustments in the off-season. They looked like a promising team in October.

As the season got fully underway, however, the Hawks hit a few bumps. Long road trips tended to leave them sluggish. In mid-November their performance left something to be desired after six straight games on the road. But that was nothing compared to the nine-game losing streak that started in late January and carried on through most of the nine away games in a row, marking their record with an atrocious nine-game losing streak. But the men in red recovered, returning with a hot streak and a few stellar performances by goalie Corey Crawford. They pulled themselves up by their laces and earned a playoff spot with hard fought and well-deserved victories in March.

Injuries stacked up though. Daniel Carcillo and Steve Montador both finished the season on the injury list. Carcillo sustained an ACL tear in January while Montador took an upper body injury just a few weeks later that consigned him to the injury reserve. He resurfaced briefly in March, only to be taken out indefinitely.

Worse still was captain Jonathan Toews' concussion in late January that kept him off the ice for 22 games, though he recovered just in time for playoffs where he heralded his arrival with a goal in Game 1. Finally, the playoffs were marred by the hit on Marion Hossa in Game 3 that sent him to the hospital and took him out of the remainder of the series.

But the season wasn't all upsets and injuries. The Hawks took some incredible victories as well. Call it petty, but fans can't deny it felt good to shut down the rival Red Wings in every match up of the season. After the Hawks conquered Calgary in December, coach Joel Quenneville became the 10th NHL coach to claim 600 career wins. Showing a significant up-tic in hockey fans in Chicago, the United Center hosted nearly 200 consecutive sellout games. And whose heart wasn't warmed when Patrick Sharp scored a game-winning goal two days after his daughter was born? The Blackhawks had plenty of moments and games worth celebrating. It was a great season to witness.

Still, come playoffs, it comes down to the men on the ice, and while the Blackhawks' offense had some strong players and unparalleled skill, the defense and special teams was their undoing. Never once did the Hawks hold a shut out this season. With a 15.2% power-play, the Hawks finished the 26th out of 30 for power-play goals. They ended up 27th for the penalty kill.

These weaknesses will surely be addressed in the off-season. This wasn't Chicago's year. This wasn't the team to win the cup again. But there's something to be said for the young blood and relentless players bearing the Blackhawks logo. They never let a game go unrivaled - they never gave up when they were down. There is talent and drive, and a coach who knows how to turn that into a championship again. The off-season will be about pruning the lineup, finding the missing pieces and building for 2013.

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