There was always the very real possibility that the Hawks’ season could come at the hands of the Kings, but there would have been few that would have thought it would happen so swiftly and emphatically. But regardless of the circumstance, the Hawks now find themselves in a must win game on West Madison this evening to continue playing.
For the Kings, there’s little to no reason for them the change a damn thing they’ve been doing, as it’s worked pretty thoroughly to this point with game one proving to be the outlier in the series. Their speed and depth at forward, something the Hawks used to rely upon, has pushed an overmatched Hawks group back on their heels and forced them to defend more than attack. And given the size of the Kings’ forwards respective to the Hawk defensemen, it’s not something the Hawks were built to be able to endure for any length of time.
That attack has allowed Darryl Sutter to get away with continually icing the likes of Willie Mitchell, Matt Greene, and the defensively challenged Alec Martinez with imputnity, as the Hawks have been unable to use their speed since the first period of Game 2. But of course, it helps to have the safety net of Drew Doughty being able to play over half a game in every situation and making things happen every time he touches the ice.
It’s all masked the fact that Jonathan Quick’s raw numbers basically mirror those of Corey Crawford, both at even strength (.915 to Crawford’s .921) and while shorthanded (.894 to .893), but Quick hasn’t had to work nearly as hard because his team has the puck more. Once again, if this formula sounds familiar, it’s because it should.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, it looks like no matter what happens, someone is going to have to pry Joel Quenneville’s blankie from his cold, dead, eliminated hands. That of course being Michal Handzus, he of less than 5 minutes of ice time on Monday night in Los Angeles. After seeing that a lack of Handzus was clearly the reason for defeat, Quenneville has now charged him with centering Patrick Sharp and Kris Versteeg, whose excellent and consistent combined play together this post season is sure to form a forceful third line with Handzus. Brandon Bollig will also draw back into the lineup and reform the Human Shield line, which actually makes a whole shitload more sense than having Handzus anywhere near a player whose objective it is to score goals. At least at home that line (if used as it has been all season) serves a distinct purpose. But with the way the Hawks have been playing, there are bound to be a lot more defense zone draws for Marcus Kruger to take.
After a season of harping on Brent Seabrook, it all became perfectly crystallized on Monday as well. But that was really only confirmation bias, except that it wasn’t and hasn’t been. There’s at least a top end to Seabrook’s game that he might be able to harness for a finite stretch, and that’s basically what the Hawks are left with as far as options on the blue line, is hoping that he, Johnny Oduya, and Michal Rozsival all forget that they are old/fat/tired or some combination thereof now.
And after three straight bad performances, it’s also now time to just simply hope Corey Crawford finds whatever it is that’s been vacant from his game since the third period of game 2. Granted, of the four goals he saw none of them he really had a chance on, and his PK save percentage of .950 was always coming back down to Earth, but it’s been a violent and spectacular crash over the last 140 minutes of play. Of course, avoiding dumbass penalties and actually pressuring the Kings’ mobile point men on their now seemingly unstoppable power play would help matters, but one thing at a time.
It’s gotten to the point where a win in this situation would only serve as positive reinforcement to the coaching and management for how they chose to construct this version of the team and how they have been deployed this entire year. For being a franchise that espouses whatever proprietary metrics they have, they’ve certainly played some very low percentages in hoping to recreate performances from guys who just don’t have that much left anymore, or never had much to begin with, and playing favorites with them over parts with the clear potential to help.
The Hawks are being beaten at their own game by the Kings with waves and waves of speed that just can’t be handled because the legs are younger and more skilled. The Kings have only played two fewer games than the Hawks in the last three years with largely the same core, and played two more games prior to this series even in this playoff year. So the fatigue angle is bullshit, at least insofar as the short term is concerned. They got younger and more skilled while the Hawks stood basically still and what was sown is now being reaped.
What the Hawks are left with is basically relying on the raft of their individual talent that still has a pulse (Toews, Kane, Hossa, Keith, Hjalmarsson) to win the day through the force of sheer willpower and individual skill, which is basically the Toronto and Colorado Avalanche models that have been so widely derided. And the pisser of it is they still could very well pull it off in that method too, if only as a “fuck you” to everything else that has fallen apart around it.
This team has shown time and again that it can and will bring its best when the situation is at its most dire. And the situation remains the same as it has from Game 2’s final horn: hold serve at home and get one there. That is still completely within the realm of possibility. Along with the Kings having lost three straight twice already in this very playoff year. It’s a mountain, but it’s not an unclimbable one, and the Hawks have the individual talent to do so even if their structure has been obliterated. And the chance to reclaim some if not all of that has to be capitalized on tonight or it’s going to be a long spring. This team was built with the expressed purpose of winning another championship, and to get to the Hardware Rounds as the highest remaining seed and go home without a parade would be an embarrassment to squander, even against this formidable Kings team with equal pedigree.
Take it back or go home. It’s as simple as that. Let’s go Hawks.
If you’re going to the UC tonight, make sure to pick up a copy of our gameday program. If you’re not, you can grab the PDF right here: