Blackhawks turn on the talent, and now Blues are gone
BY RICK MORRISSEY Staff columnist April 27, 2014 9:05PM
Updated: April 28, 2014 5:32PM
When Blues coach Ken Hitchcock waxes poetic about effort and desire, we all nod in agreement because it’s an idea worth believing: If we try as hard as we can, we’ll make up for whatever we’re lacking in talent.
But everything else being equal, talent usually wins out. I’m not Hemingway, no matter how many hours I put in at the keyboard. You’re not Bono or Aretha Franklin, no matter how loud you sing in the shower.
And the Blues aren’t the Blackhawks, no matter what.
St. Louis understands that now, having been blitzed right out of a first-round playoff series, thanks to four third-period goals in a 5-1 Hawks’ victory Sunday. After losing the first two games, the Hawks went on to win four straight and send their foe back to Missouri.
The Blues wanted this series, too, but the Hawks are the most talented team in the NHL. That tends to get lost in the preferred narrative of the sport, a narrative that is all about willpower and character.
If “talent’’ isn’t a dirty word in hockey, it’s at least in need of a shower.
Let’s agree that the Hawks are very skilled and that, combined with oodles of drive and playoff experience, they are going to be very difficult to beat in their quest for a second consecutive Stanley Cup.
“I think our top four forwards, I think that’s a pretty special top group of forwards,’’ said defenseman Duncan Keith, who is pretty special himself. “It’s tough to compare those guys with another top four on any other team. But I think at the end of the day, what wins you hockey games is that determination. You can be talented, but it’s just that will and determination that pushes you over the top.’’
Provided they’re not too beaten up from six games against the Blues, the Hawks should be the favorite in any future series. They’ll get the winner of the Colorado-Minnesota series next. A lot of people got lulled into thinking they were somehow lesser this season, somehow reduced. Those people saw struggles. They saw a third-place finish in the division. They saw something wrong, quite possibly because we were nitpicking.
Here’s all they need to know: The Blues outshot the Hawks 17-3 in the second period Sunday and — this can’t be overstated — did not score a goal. That sort of thing can plant a seed of doubt in a team.
When the Hawks were done being dumb with penalties in that ugly, beautifully dispatched period, they turned on their talent, with goals by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Andrew Shaw and Keith in the third. Those goals finished off the Blues, who had the best record in hockey for much of the season. By the end of the game, the seed of doubt looked like a redwood.
Toews started the third-period scoring for the Hawks, taking a Keith pass from across the slot and beating Ryan Miller on the power play. Noise pollution suddenly was a real issue at the United Center.
The prettiest goal, and the one that might best illustrate the talent-effort debate, came from Sharp, who got hooked, chopped, sliced and otherwise feloniously assaulted on a breakaway, yet still managed to hang on to the puck and beat Miller. That’s a combination of want-to and can-do.
The Hawks are 11-2 when presented with a chance to close out a series during Joel Quenneville’s tenure as Hawks coach.
“We just love the playoff hockey,’’ Shaw said. “We don’t want to be embarrassed or ashamed of being beat out early.’’
Oh, and they’re good. Did I mention that? Desire might give a push, but talent does the driving.
Toews said it was as tough a first-round series as he has encountered.
“It doesn’t get any more difficult than that with the physicality of the series, the things that happened in the first couple games,’’ he said. “I think there’s maybe some hatred between those two teams. I think you always see those story lines develop throughout a series, but probably especially in this one.
“I can’t give them enough credit for how hard they played.’’
The elephant in the room, the one the more talented team would prefer not to discuss, is that the Hawks are elephants. They can go where they want, sit where they want and often impose their talent when they want. It’s not the hockey thing to say. It sounds boastful.
But it happens to be true.