That is it for the season for the Chicago Blackhawks. The curtain has fallen on a season that would best be described as a roller coaster. The Hawks fell to the Los Angeles Kings Sunday night in a Game 7 overtime thriller to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
The Hawks did come back and did a great job in the final three games of the series, but there was one thing that kept holding the team back, defense. The Hawks’ defense looked pretty lackluster in the Game 7 loss to the Kings, and that seemed to be the only downfall. The offense was putting points on the board, Corey Crawford had some great saves, and the whole team for the most part was staying out of the penalty box. The defense; however, never did look consistent enough to win a Game 7.
The defense looked like they refused to hit anybody in front of the net. It seemed that every time the Hawks had the puck in the Kings’ zone, they were always contested and met with a body check. The Kings would take the puck into their offensive zone and seemed to have all the time in the world to set up a play or take a shot. Crawford did get some unlucky bounces that led to rebounds and then goals, but there was one that could have easily been avoided.
Tyler Toffoli scored to tie the game at three in the second period. Toffoli had a wide open net to shoot on with Crawford on the other pipe defending a shot from Matt Greene where Michal Handzus blocked the shot. Toffoli was handed a gift of a goal after the ricochet off Handzus. Lucky bounces are part of the game, but defender Brent Seabrook left Toffoli wide open with all the time he needed to send off a shot into the net past Crawford.
The other big blunder by the defense was on the goal scored by Marian Gaborik to tie the game at four. All three forwards were sent up on the forecheck that left the Kings with an odd man rush. The push by the Kings ended up with Gaborik scoring off a Dustin Brown rebound. Nicklas Hjallmarson and Marian Hossa are standing right in front of Crawford no more than a foot away from each other leaving the speedy Gaborik open right where the rebound ended up. Hossa was way out of position and should have been the one keeping tabs on Gaborik over by the faceoff circle rather than trying to get the puck in front of the net.
Nick Leddy had an overall disappointing final shift in overtime. He had his stick knocked out of his hand and after picking it up; he camped in front of the net in a sense screening Crawford. Leddy acted as a wall for Alec Martinez’s shot to bounce off and into the net. Leddy needs to work on his awareness on the ice if he wants to keep getting playing time next season. A plus/minus rating of -2 in a Game 7 just isn’t going to cut it.
The Hawks did a good job coming back in this series after being down 3-1 and even had a good showing in Game 7. The defense wasn’t necessarily terrible, but they did make some mistakes that proved costly at the end of the game. The Kings are a team where one mistake can and WILL cost your team the game. This can be a learning experience for the Hawks though for next year. They have the offseason now to tighten some screws and tie up some loose ends before the doors of the United Center open in October.