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Blackhawks Fri Apr 25 2014
After back-to-back wins against the Blues at the United Center, the Hawks have tied things up at two a piece, which now cuts it down to a best-of-three series. All things considered, this series actually should already be over with the Hawks losing late leads games one and two by a combined 1 minute, 52 seconds.
And, in all actuality, the Blues were a few close shots away from sweeping things themselves, so really there's no need to look back on the past to dwell on "what could have happened." That is unless it concerns the Hawks' play in its own defensive zone.
If you found yourself consuming enough caffeine to wire a sloth, you were able to stay awake for the 8:30pm puck drop and near-midnight finish for Game 4 in which the Hawks won, in overtime, by the final of 4-3. If that was the case, you probably found yourself yelling at the television throughout the game, due to the Hawks' inability to clear the defensive zone.
After the first period, the Hawks outshot the Blues 13-8. Even though the scoreboard read zeroes after the first 20 minutes, the Hawks looked fairly sharp offensively and defensively.
Then came the second period -- after Andrew Shaw and Patrick Kane put the Hawks ahead 2-0, it became clear this was going to be one of those offensive runs by the Hawks we saw throughout the regular season, and would put fans to bed early worry free and well-rested for that 9am presentation at work the next day.
That was until Vladimir Tarasenko cut the lead in half with a power-play goal with only 1 minute, 9 seconds remaining in the period. Then, with a mere four seconds remaining in the second, Maxim Lapierre's wrist shot got past Corey Crawford and the Hawks found themselves in a very familiar position this early postseason: giving up (very) late goals in a period. Time for another cup of coffee.
It's almost been laughable at the turnovers created by the Blues in the Hawks' defensive zone. They seem to be at the right place at the right time to cut off passes deep behind the net, only to reset and continue to fire shots at Crawford.
In the second and third periods, the Blues outshot the Hawks 10-6 and 13-9, respectively. Why? Because of poor puck possession and a flat out lack of hustle to get to the puck.
The first goal by Tarasenko was on the power play, so that was a tough one to critique. It was a great shot that simply got past Crawford with the man advantage. But the goal by Lapierre that tied it up could have been avoided.
In looking back at the play, Sharp (10) had a chance to clear the zone up high, but failed to do so. Maxim Lapierre (40) was able to keep the puck in the zone, despite Brandon Saad (20) riding his back at the blue line. Lapierre centers the puck, just behind Chris Porter (32), who happens to be surrounded by Johnny Oduya (27) Niklas Hjalmarsson (4) and Andrew Shaw (65). Somehow, Porter is able to get the puck on net, which is then swiped away by a diving Steve Ott (29), who was surrounded by a diving Sharp and charging Shaw. Lapierre collects the puck near the dot, fires it on net and the Blues tied it up with seconds remaining on the clock.
It seemed the Hawks were spinning out wildly in mud only to get nowhere slowly, while the Blues managed to find the open man even on missed shots. It boils down to positioning and anticipation.
Last year, it was painful to watch the Hawks lose face-offs consistently and muck their way through a power play (the power play numbers in this series aren't much better, but at least they're getting better looks). This year, the trend is sloppy play on defense. With Game 5 in St. Louis, you know the Blues are going to throw everything they have at the Hawks to take a 3-2 series lead. Unless the Hawks can address allowing Crawford to see minimal shots his way, the Hawks will have to win two in a row again to make it to round two.