1991, 1993, and now 2017.
Those are the three most shocking first round playoff exits in Blackhawks franchise history, and out of those three this one was the worst.
The No. 1 seed in the Western Conference was thoroughly dismantled from start to finish through four straight games by the Nashville Predators. The Hawks were pathetically outscored 13-3 in the series, and nearly shutout in three of the four. An absolute disgrace to the logo.
The guillotine finally came crashing down in a 4-1 defeat to the Predators in Game 4, officially ending the Blackhawks’ season. The Hawks survived a whirlwind first period thanks to Crawford once again. The Preds broke the ice in the second with a blast from Josi, and things snowballed from there. The Hawks had some good pressure late in the period and early in the third, but once again got nothing to show for their efforts. The Preds got another miracle bounce to make it 2-0, then a pretty passing play to put us all out of our collective misery.
The Hawks’ struggles through these four games have been well documented. It’s the worst I’ve seen them play in 10 years. Everything from simple cross-ice passes to dump-ins seemed like the hardest task in the world. A team that has prided itself on doing the simple things better than everyone else couldn’t complete a simple play to save their lives.
This was a catastrophic failure by the entire organization from top to bottom, coaches, players, and front office. Granted no one could have expected the Hawks to fall off a cliff physically like they did. It was a surprise to all of us. The question now is how will the organization respond. Make no mistake, they have some major soul-searching to do this offseason. We’ll get into all of that in a season wrap-up post after the shock wears off when we can find a little perspective. But that time is definitely not right now.
Now, back to the actual game:
-I thought the Blackhawks found themselves with some pretty nice chances in Game 4. But the problem was they couldn’t hit the net with anything. I counted at least five prime chances that Rinne didn’t have to be tested on. Again, that totally sums up this series offensively for the Blackhawks. Couldn’t make chances, and when they finally did they couldn’t finish. Getting outscored 13-3 is absolutely damming.
-The Preds first goal was the result of their fourth line getting the puck deep and then skating circles around the Hawks’ D with sustained zone time. After forcing Crow to cover, the Preds won the draw and Josi’s shot found a way through to make it 1-0. Hard to win games when the opponents fourth line is having their way like that.
-The second goal was the back-breaker. The Hawks had been pressuring for a few minutes beforehand. Once again, Nashville got an incredibly lucky bounce as the puck bounced off the crossbar, landed on Crawford’s blocker, and he accidentally shoveled it back into his own net. Summed up the entire series in one moment.
-The highlight of the entire night was when Duncan Keith railroaded Viktor Arvidsson back into last week… a time when we all thought the Hawks were going to win the Cup.
-All credit in the world to the Preds. They were the better team, and it wasn’t even close. To say that their speed gave the Blackhawks fits would be a colossal understatement. They went from trapping their way to a 2-0 series lead to boat-racing their way to a historic sweep. Their top line feasted on the Hawks through all four games, and Rinne was all-world good. They were deserving winners, and could easily be the team that comes out of the West. This was the series victory that they’ve been waiting for as a franchise. They finally slayed a giant.
-With that being said, it’s obvious to everyone watching that this Hawks team was a shell of itself. It was depressing, quite frankly, to watch them trip all over themselves. This Hawks core has been beat, but we’ve never had to witness them get beaten like that. The Predators exposed the aging core of the Hawks, something we all knew was there but didn’t want to admit. We’re all guilty, myself included. The result is what we see here.
-The addition of Kempny to the defensive pairings was a risk Q had to take. Granted, Oduya did look a whole lot better than the statue he looked like in Games 1-3. Kempny definitely had some jitters but I think he settled in as the game progressed. He wasn’t the solution to the whole problem, but at least provided a little spark. The Hawks have to get younger on defense this summer. Exactly how they do that we’ll leave for another day.
-It seems that we overestimated how well Anisimov was going to be able to return following the injury. He just wasn’t even close to his normal self. He struggled from the dot as well, with an atrocious 20% in Game 4. His struggles caused that entire second line to falter. Kane and Panarin (especially 72) absolutely disappeared at times because of this.
-We also overestimated how quickly the kids were going to be able to acclimate to the grind of playoff hockey. Schmaltz, Hartman and Kero all struggled mightily. Kero had two brutal missed clearances in Game 4 that almost led to a Preds goal, Schmaltz was in over his head due to Toews’ struggles, and Hartman was essentially invisible. The Hawks could have maybe gotten away with it for a series if the veterans picked up any of the slack at all, but they weren’t able to.
-Corey Crawford once again tried to carry the Hawks back into a series. For the most part he was incredible in all four games all things considered. It’s hard to get the job done when he’s getting no offensive support whatsoever. Combine that with the lack of puck luck and the result was inevitable. Just want to acknowledge that none of the blame here is going to be pinned on Corey’s shoulders.
Well, that was a sad final note to a tremendous Blackhawks season that saw them win 50+ games with 109 points. In the coming days we’ll all try to boil down what exactly went wrong that led to this catastrophe. I guess there isn’t one answer to all of it. There are a lot of serious questions that the organization will be faced with this summer. Another cap crunch, a closing (maybe closed) championship window, and an aging roster that will need to be painfully pruned if Stan and Co. want this run to continue any longer. We’ll get to the ins and outs of all those hard conversations in a later post after the dust settles.
Until then, it’s just a really empty feeling.