Chicago vs. Detroit: Is the Blackhawks' Dream Season About to End in a Choke?
Remember that 24-game point streak the Chicago Blackhawks had at the start of the regular season?
It not only did put the Blackhawks in the record book, it also set the stage for a remarkable season that could only end with head coach Joel Quenneville's team raising the Stanley Cup if the season was going to be considered a success.
That brilliant start is now mocking the Blackhawks.
The team that couldn't lose in regulation has now dropped three straight games to the Detroit Red Wings in the conference semifinal series. The Blackhawks dropped a 2-0 decision in the fourth game of the series.
Detroit owns a 3-1 edge with the series heading back to Chicago.
Even if the Blackhawks can win the fifth game, they will have to find a way to beat the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena. They scored one goal in the two games at the Joe.
The Blackhawks are having a problem putting the puck in the net. They have scored two goals in their last three games. The team that scored 155 goals in the regular season—second to the Pittsburgh Penguins—suddenly can't find the range.
Making matters worse is the plight of Jonathan Toews. The Blackhawks captain has not scored a goal in the postseason. The Blackhawks have now played nine games, and his inability to get on the score sheet is hurting this team badly.
In addition to not finding the net, Toews' frustrations are starting to boil over. He was called for three consecutive penalties in the second period, and the Red Wings capitalized on the second one to score a power-play goal on Corey Crawford.
The postseason is turning into a nightmare for Toews. He is watching the Blackhawks' dreams go up in smoke.
During the regular season, Toews was called for 11 two-minute minor penalties. His hat trick of penalties in the second period came in a span of 5:34.
Toews was yelling at officials from the penalty box. That's common for some players, but Toews rarely reacts that way to officials' calls. It seems clear that his dry spell and his team's plight are getting to him.
I'm not going to say anything about the officiating. Obviously, I disagree with the calls. It's in the heat of the moment they see what they see. I have to be careful with my stick. That doesn't help our team. Emotions run high in some of these games. My stick got a little loose there. I was playing hard. Sometimes that happens.
Who would have thought the Red Wings would be 3-1 up against the Blackhawks? Chicago loses 3 in a row for the first time this season.
— Dmitry Chesnokov (@dchesnokov) May 24, 2013
The winning goal was scored by defenseman Jakub Kindl on a blast from the left point. While the Red Wings were putting fairly heavy pressure on goalie Corey Crawford, the Kindl slap shot beat him on the short side.
Crawford should not have given up the post on that goal. It was a shot that he could have stopped.
The Blackhawks put significant pressure on Jimmy Howard throughout the game. Howard finished the game with 28 saves, and many of them were remarkable.
His best came in the third period when Dave Bolland tried to finish off a 2-on-1 from Michael Frolik with a hard wrister that appeared to be going to the open side of the net. However, Howard spread-eagled with his pads, and that kept the Blackhawks off the scoreboard.
When Dan Cleary added an empty-net goal, it meant the Blackhawks had lost three games in a row for the first time all season.
They have been pushed to the brink by a team that they had dominated all season.
Come to think of it, the Blackhawks had dominated nearly everyone all season.
Now they are complaining about the posts they hit and the bad breaks they have gotten.
Can the Blackhawks save their season and win three games in a row against Detroit?
"Three off the post and they get one (Kindl's goal) off the post and in," Crawford said. "That pretty much sums it up for the last couple of nights for us."
That does not sound like a team that is preparing to bounce back from this adversity and win three games in a row.
During the season, the Blackhawks could have done that in the blink of an eye. But now it seems like that kind of task that is too much for the best regular-season team in the league.
That honor, as so many teams have learned, means nothing once the playoffs start. The 2007-08 Red Wings are the last team to win the Stanley Cup after recording the best record in the regular season.
It seems that the President's Trophy has become a huge burden. One that leads to choking when it matters most.
The Blackhawks are hoping to avoid that fate, but their chances are fading quickly.
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