Well that was a less than ideal way to open up home ice. The Blackhawks lost Game 3 to the Lightning 3-2 after relinquishing a 2-1 lead early in the third period. The Lightning now lead the series 2-1 and have stolen home ice advantage back from the Blackhawks. The Hawks now face a near “must win” Game 4 Wednesday night in the United Center. The Hawks had plenty of chances all night long, but could only put two pucks past an ailing Ben Bishop, and in the process missed two wide open nets early in the game. All that and more culminating in one of the most frustrating losses in recent Blackhawks playoff memory. Let’s attempt to break it down a little…
-Not sure how anyone can blame Corey Crawford for this. Callahan’s goal was an absolute laser that went just over his shoulder, the second goal was just an absolute calamity in front of him (we’ll get to this later), and the third goal was a product of Victor Hedman making a nice break to the outside and throwing the puck to the slot where Kyle Cumiskey was caught watching with his stick off the ice making it easy for Pacquette to redirect it past Crawford who had absolutely no chance. Crawford was shaky in Game 2, but responded Monday night with a good game overall. He made some key saves, especially on Tampa’s 5-on-3 late in the second period. Crawford is an easy target for Chicago fans, always has been and unfortunately always will be, but he has always responded. I expect his best Wednesday night.
-Palat’s goal 13 seconds after Saad scored to give the Hawks a 2-1 third period lead simply cannot happen under any circumstances… ever. Just a complete mental breakdown by the Blackhawks after getting a breakthrough goal to grab back momentum, and then just like that it was gone. It all started with a turnover in the neutral zone that resulted in Kucherov gliding in and doing the right thing by throwing the puck on Crawford, it bounced around and Palat went hard to the net unchecked to jam it in. Blackhawks fans didn’t even have time to look away from the replay board or sit down before Tampa tied it 2-2. To me, this was the pivotal moment in the game. After this goal the Blackhawks looked panicked and off balance for the rest of regulation. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, for whatever reason the Blackhawks’ achilles heel is holding leads and giving up quick goals. There have been examples of this in all four playoff series this season. Credit Tampa for being resilient and pouncing when the Hawks were at their most vulnerable.
-As many people have already alluded to, Andrew Shaw is an absolute monster on the ice right now, and is probably playing the best hockey of his Blackhawk career. He has been everywhere: making plays, controlling the puck, going in hard on the forecheck, creating scoring chances, going to the front of the net, and playing great defense. He also has avoided taking any dumb penalties. Shaw has been extremely disciplined these playoffs and it is benefitting the Hawks. He fits like a glove on this current fourth line that Q has assembled, and that line has been productive and not a liability because of Andrew Shaw’s play.
-This Ben Bishop situation just keeps getting weirder and weirder. Everyone can see that he is hurt on the ice. But Jon Cooper refused to take him out of Game 3 while he was literally hunched over and struggling to move. The reasoning? Bishop keeps telling him to leave him in because it’s the Final. If that is true, I’ve got to commend him. But that does not excuse the Blackhawks for only scoring twice on a goalie that was (maybe) at half strength Monday night.
-Everyone outside of the Chicago media wants to talk about Toews and Kane not scoring. While everyone who knows the team can see them whirling around the ice creating chances and putting pressure of the Tampa defense. Would it be nice for Toews and Kane to break the scoresheet a little more, especially Wednesday and beyond? Yes, of course. But we all know that their contribution to the team does not start and stop with just scoring goals. They are getting good looks and chances, sooner or later they will break through. They always have and always will.
-I cringe every time I see a Blackhawk defender blindly throw a puck up along the boards in the defensive zone. Has been happening way too much lately, and has resulted in prime scoring chances for opponents. Clean that up, please.
Now down 2-1, this series looks to be a little more difficult than many of us originally thought. Truthfully, it could be 3-0 either way. All three games have been extremely competitive and close. The Blackhawks have played well, and so has Tampa, and bad/good bounces have gone both ways. The Blackhawks have proven time and time again that they play their best hockey with their backs against the wall. Four of the last five times the Blackhawks trailed 2-1 in a series they came back to win it. If that isn’t encouraging for fans, then I don’t know what to tell you. Write off the Blackhawks at your own peril. Wednesday night is a must win, and I expect nothing but the Hawks’ best stuff.