As Sam stated in the preview and in the Indian, no one could have foreseen that tonight's game against the Coyotes would have ended up being a battle for Western Conference supremacy, not to mention bordering on must-win territory for our Men of Four Feathers who are/were currently in the midst of their most prolonged period of sub-par hockey this season. While it wasn't an overly emphatic statement, it was certainly one that told the rest of the league that the Hawks aren't that far from righting things.
The start of the game had a somewhat tense playoff feel to it, with both teams keeping things relatively close to the vest and not opening things up offensively. An early penalty gave the Hawks an opportunity to jump out ahead, but Ilya Bryzgalov had all the answers for the few Hawk shots that actually were on net, though the best opportunity came on a couple of cross ice passes through seams that found Bryzgalov cutting off a goal mouth pass from Marian Hossa to Jonathan Toews that would have undoubtedly dented the twine. Shortly thereafter, the Hawks caught a slight break when an apparent goal on a wraparound by Shane Doan was nullified by Taylor Pyatt pushing Dave Bolland into Antti Niemi, which kept things knotted at zeroes after twenty minutes.
At the outset of the middle frame, the Hawks came out with a bit more jump in their step, and started pelting Bryzgalov with a fair amount of rubber, almost all of those aimed high. Patrick Kane finally connected when he picked up a slick drop pass from Lowen-Brouw at the Phoenix line on the left wing, and snapped it past Breezy. Hossa gave the Hawks a two goal cushion after sliding one past Bryzgalov on after a nice cycle by Dave Bolland and Patrick Sharp with just a little more than 12 minutes to go in the frame. The Dogs would turn the tide a bit as a result of some careless play, on a couple occasions specifically from the Bolland line, and got a couple of good chances, including a netmouth scramble that ended with shots being fired high and wide, and the Hawks took a two goal lead into the room at the end of two periods. But we all saw how safe THAT was on Saturday...
The third period saw more of the same, with the Yotes basically throwing the kitchen sink at the Hawks, aided by a string of Hawk penalties, which saw the PK getting more than a little scrambly at times. Fortunately, Niemi was on his game tonight, punctuated by a pants-shittingly awesome save on Pyatt, who had the whole top two-thirds of the cage to fire the puck into from the right post, and a belly flopping Niemi was able to snag it with his glove. Hawks hold on for the 2-0 win, and stay in sole possession of the Western Conference lead
- I really liked what I saw effort-wise from the Hawks this evening. As was pointed out in the broadcast by Pat and Edzo, the emphasis was to continue skating with back pressure and to get bodies and sticks in shooting lanes, which the Hawks did in fact do. And while it was certainly an improvement and the effort was clearly there, they did run around a bit at times, which is likely still a function of having three top-6 regulars out of the lineup. But that's by no means an excuse or a crutch. Fucking tighten it up, boys.
- Brent Seabrook had his first good game since seemingly the early Cretaceous period tonight, making solid decisions and playing physical. Just ask Vernon Fiddler (whose name sounds like he should be playing D&D and not professional hockey).
- While the power play did not score tonight, I would not qualify it as "fucking clown shoes". They had some real decent movement early on, and Hossa seems like the best option by far if Quenneville is still hell bent on having a forward on the point.
- Patrick Kane getting told to shoot high in practice is pretty damn redundant.
- At least Ben Eager was only useless tonight, instead of being an obvious detriment.
- Who else chuckled when Foley bus-tossed Radim Vrbata for being a sniveling pussy who won't go into the corners?
- I for one am very greatful that we didn't have to bear witness to yet another annoying-ass Wojtek Wolski goal tonight.
While it I don't fully think it's a harbinger of any potential playoff performance, Antti Niemi was quite excellent tonight, stopping all 28 shots he faced, including a highlight-reel save against Taylor Pyatt in the third. And I don't think his performance could be put any more eloquently than asglass stated in the second period thread:
Are you sure that's "Aunty" Niemi...Looked more like "Uncle" Niemi the way he just molested the Coyotes