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Great series can’t erase Hawks’ issues

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Go Bulls?

As far as Chicago winter-sport entertainment goes, that’s it, unless you’re into breaking down the Blackhawks’ hopes in the NHL entry draft. On Tuesday, the Canucks finally dispatched of the pesky Hawks, who once upon a time were great, not just pesky.

Once upon a time was a year ago, when they won the Stanley Cup. They get points this time around for showing resolve when life looked grim. They took an 0-3 series deficit and fought back to force a seventh game.

There’s something to be said for that, something to be said for a never-say-die attitude, even when it might have been on the tips of their tongues. So give the Hawks that. They made life hell for the team with the NHL’s best regular-season record.

But in the end, Vancouver out-skated and out-hit the Hawks on the way to a 2-1 overtime victory. That the Canucks are happy to be done with them is not just an understatement. It’s probably Vancouver’s new civic slogan: Thank Goodness They’re Gone!

The talk that the Hawks eternally had Vancouver’s number finally was silenced Tuesday night. The Canucks played the way they had in the first three games of this series.

Alexandre Burrows beat Corey Crawford 5 minutes, 22 seconds into overtime for the game-winner. Crawford had been brilliant up to that point.

When Jonathan Toews beat Roberto Luongo from his knees with 1:54 left in the game, it knocked the wind out of an entire stadium. Understand: Toews had been absent statistically all series. Understand, too: The Hawks had owned Vancouver for the better part of three years.

And now this.

But the Canucks had been out-skating the Hawks for the latter half of the evening, and they started right up in overtime. And Burrows, who had knocked down a clearing pass, finally beat Crawford with a hard slapshot.

Overall talent finally won out. It’s something general manager Stan Bowman needs to address in the offseason.

There was nothing Bowman or anyone else could do about Luongo on Tuesday. The Canucks goalie was excellent, and he finally exorcised the Hawks, who had been living in his closet.

As good as this series was, it shouldn’t wipe away the memory of an up-and-down regular season, nor should it stop the Hawks’ brass from upgrading the roster. Don’t let what happened in a first-round series erase the fact that the Hawks needed help on the final day of the season just to get the last playoff spot in the Western Conference.

The problem moving forward is a lack of size and depth. The Hawks have a wonderful core, and they’ll tell you about it at every turn. But what this season has taught us is that a core of stars isn’t enough. Victor Stalberg isn’t Kris Versteeg. Fernando Pisani isn’t Andrew Ladd.

And nobody is Dustin Byfuglein in front of the net.

Role players matter. A lot.

When the Hawks sent John Scott out onto the ice in Game 3, it was an act of desperation. His 6-foot-8, 258-pound frame would matter if he could skate. You can’t hit what you can’t catch, and Scott can’t catch much. After him, the Hawks don’t have much of a physical presence on the ice, especially with Bryan Bickell out after hand surgery.

OK, the positives. Michael Frolik looks like a player, and he looks slightly demonic with his arched eyebrows and missing teeth. You can’t teach that combination.

While Vancouver couldn’t decide definitively on a goalie when things got hairy in the playoffs, Crawford was very good for the Hawks. These things change quickly in the NHL, of course, but he looks like the goalie of the future. The Canucks sprayed him with pucks late in the second period Tuesday night, and time after time, he stopped them.

About 30 seconds into the third, he stopped a penalty shot by Burrows, who had been knocked down from behind by Duncan Keith on a breakaway.

Not that anyone needed reminding, but Dave Bolland brings a combination of heart, desire and antagonism that the Hawks don’t have otherwise. Only when he returned from a five-week absence due to a concussion did it became glaringly obvious what he means to this team. He’s the Joakim Noah of the Hawks.

And those stars. They should be in Chicago for a while, unless the Hawks decide they’d like to trade Keith to add some depth. Is that crazy talk? Probably, but the team’s salary cap restrictions are going to make it difficult to address all the roster shortcomings. Could the Hawks live without Keith? In essence, they lived without the 2009-10 version of him for most of this season.

Keith also figured in the Canucks’ first-period goal Tuesday night. The Canucks’ Ryan Kesler got past Keith and backhanded a pass to Burrows, who beat Crawford from the slot to give Vancouver a 1-0 lead.

Whatever happened last is freshest in your memory. Thanks to the Vancouver series, there are good feelings about this season. But to call it a successful season seems too easy now, too convenient. The Hawks are the defending champs. It was a long way down to the eighth seed.



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