Morrissey: Hawks can’t get anything past Coyotes’ Mike Smith
BY RICK MORRISSEY firstname.lastname@example.org April 23, 2012 10:32PM
Chicago Blackhawks' Brendan Morrison (17) reacts as he wipes his face after missing a shot during the second period of Game 6 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series against the Phoenix Coyotes in Chicago, Monday, April 23, 2012. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Updated: May 25, 2012 8:17AM
As the game wore on and the Blackhawks piled up shot after empty shot Monday night, one bizarre possibility became more and more likely:
The other team, the team that could manage only two shots on goal in the first period, was going to win this game. You knew it. I knew it. And the Hawks, if they were paying attention to the voices in their heads, knew it, too.
It became a reality because the Coyotes had a goaltender with a force field around him capable of repelling pucks. Mike Smith was spectacular, stopping the Hawks at every turn in a 4-0 victory.
But he doesn’t deserve all the credit for what happened at the United Center. The Hawks often were their own worst enemy, throwing shots into Smith’s glove and pads as if they were making charitable donations. After two periods, they had 28 shots on net and 16 missed shots. If you can’t find a goal somewhere in that barrage, you don’t deserve to win.
It’s why the Hawks’ season is over, a victim of a six-game first-round series loss to the Coyotes. It’s the second consecutive year the Hawks have failed to get to the second round of the playoffs. The Stanley Cup season feels like eons ago right now. Count on more votive candles being lit in memory of former general manager Dale Tallon.
There wasn’t a noticeable lack of talent from the Hawks in Game 6. Goals? That was another story.
“We worked so hard, and we had so many chances,’’ captain Jonathan Toews said. “And every time we had a chance and it didn’t go in, you kept saying, ‘Keep working; we’ll get another one; it’ll go in eventually.’ We just didn’t get the bounce.’’
That explanation is too easy. Saying the puck didn’t bounce your way or that the other team’s goalie was “standing on his head’’ implies that events were beyond your control. That was not the case for the Hawks.
The Coyotes couldn’t get the puck out of their end, a clinical case of hockey constipation. The Hawks outshot them 16-2 in the first period. Do you know how hard it is to do that? Almost as hard as failing to get a goal out of it. The scoreboard said the teams were tied at 0-0.
Smith was especially good in the first period, stopping point-blank shots by Andrew Shaw and Jimmy Hayes. But the Hawks were guilty of making it too easy on him, putting the puck in places where he could stop it.
Early in the second period, Brendan Morrison had about as easy a chance as you’ll get for a goal in the NHL. Looking at an open net from five feet away, he shot the puck right at Smith’s left pad. A few moments later, Smith stopped Niklas Hjalmarsson’s shot and ended up flat on his back in his own goal.
That’s how it went. Time after time, the Hawks fired pucks at Smith. Time after time, he swallowed them like M&Ms. He stopped 39 shots in all.
“You’ve got to give him a lot credit, but I think there are things we can do better to just try to score some goals,’’ defenseman Duncan Keith said. “It’s hard to do, though.’’
The Coyotes scored on their sixth shot — 13 minutes, 14 seconds into the second period. Oliver Ekman-Larsson beat Corey Crawford from the point on a power play to give Phoenix a 1-0 lead.
The Coyotes scored on their ninth shot. It came 2:24 into the third period on a shot by Gilbert Brule.
Once Phoenix got that 2-0 lead, the Hawks found themselves in a dark, dark place against a team that knows how to strangle the life out of the clock.
The Hawks heard boos during a power play late in the second period and deservedly so. Whenever they had a man advantage, they seemed to lose all their powers, just as they had most of this season.
“We can’t just come into the playoffs and expect to turn on the switch and see a better power play,’’ Toews said.
You can say that about the Hawks as a whole two years removed from their Stanley Cup. They’re not good enough to flip on a switch and win anymore. General manager Stan Bowman is going to need sunglasses from the glare of the spotlight this offseason.
The Coyotes, meanwhile, advance to face Nashville.
“The hockey gods are probably looking down on us,’’ Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said.
Nah. A hot goalie made a pretty good Hawks team look very, very average. No divine intervention was necessary.