During the first intermission last night, the Smoking Pen Crew (where you can find us between periods generally without fail) was greatly entertained by the furious Twitter debate raging between McClure and those who disagreed with his stance on Brandon Bollig taking on Ryan Reaves on a borderline hit on Jamal Mayers. I wish I had McClure's gift for stirring true emotion out of people. It's something to behold.
I have to say, this is the rare time I'm firmly in the middle on this one. I see both sides of the debate, and can't commit to one or the other. What I will disagree with is the contention by some players that the fight was the turning point of the game. I say that because I don't think the 1st period was nearly as bad as the scoreline would suggest. I know how stupid that sounds, and other than that Mrs. Lincoln and all that.
But from my seats, the Hawks were pressuring the Blues and causing Halak to make some big saves. The Blues had two chances, buried both of them, and got a gift goal when both Hjalmarsson and Emery employed a "meh" style of defense (sidenote: I can't help but fear that was the end of Hjalmarsson's season last night, and perhaps his Blackhawks career. If it is his concussion symptoms rearing their dizzy and ugly head again, you'd have to think he has to be shutdown. And with Dylan Olsen's increasing competence and much lower paycheck, he's slowly eating away at Hjalmarsson's role and making him redundant). For McDonald's goal, while it was a nifty pass from Perron to be sure, watch the replay and see how Emery drops down for an expected shot from Perron far too early, when Perron had the puck on his backhand and was skating away from the net and was covered anyway. That left him unable to move to the other side which made the entire net available for McDonald.
Did the Hawks up the tempo in the final two stanzas? Sure, but I don't really know by how much. And the Blues allowed them too, removing their foot from anywhere near the gas and inviting the Hawks onto what is still mostly a slow and dumb defense, outside of Pietrangelo and Shattenkirk. So the fight's effect to me is somewhere around negligible.
I actually thought the instigator penalty was dodgy, because Reaves dropped his gloves as soon as he saw Bollig approaching. It's not like Bollig jumped him. Whatever, considering the circumstances it was always going to get an instigator. Considering score and opposition, it's distasteful to start the 2nd shorthanded. Hard to get around that.
On the other side, that's what Bollig has been instructed to do, why he's here, and whether I think that role is useful or not, he's performing it. And the Hawks didn't like that hit, and hockey players will always respond. I don't really mind it at this time. As they say, they're the kind of penalties you have to kill off. And the Hawks did. I just don't have a huge problem with it.
But the point we keep returning to is that none of it would be necessary if the Hawks power play was functioning at near the level it should be. They would have tied the game, perhaps even taken the lead, long before Seabrook's equalizer last night had it been. The Blues would have gotten even more cautious and afraid to pull out their usual bullshit if it was. That's how you win playoff games, when players like Reaves and Bollig are either in suits or playing even less than normal.
So while I can't pick a side on this debate, the real answer is something that has nothing to do with any of it. So get the man advantage fucking straightened out already.
-Back to the goalies. As I said in The Indian, Ray Emery has a definite limit on what he can provide, and you saw it last night. There are just going to be games when his lack of movement gets exposed, and if he were to be the playoff starter, you can bet your bottom dollar that won't be the last time Crawford has to bail him out. But it's one thing to do it in a regular season game, and another when he'd have to do it in a Game 3 or 5. How's that worked out for the Flyers for the past decade?
Maybe Crawford is a lost cause. While he didn't let anything molest twine last night, it's not that he looked all that sure. He was stabbing at everything. Maybe it's a start, maybe it's not. I'm sure he'll get the start in Dallas on Friday as a first chance to stake his claim as #1. Maybe last year was an anomaly. But I've seen a superb playoff performance from Crow, and can at least cling to the hope that he can find it again. With Emery, I know exactly what the Hawks would be getting, and I'm fairly certain it's not enough.
-While Bolland's 9 shots grabbed some attention, I'm more excited by the shackling of a top line center again. David Backes was invisible last night, and it had a lot to do with a vintage Fabulous Weapon performance. Backes isn't a leading offensive light in the league, but at least it's a start.
-I was somewhat understandably giddy after last night, until McClure being the wet blanket that he is (but a very handsome wet blanket at that) pointed out to me that at this time last year, the Hawks had a better record. That team then coughed, hacked (not Adam), wheezed it's way to a 6-5-1 finish. I suppose this team is capable of fading just like that, especially if Toews is out for longer.
But then again, I don't remember last year's team summoning five points out of six available when trailing the three best defensive teams and three of the best goalies in the league in the 3rd. That's serious rocks.
I said it last night, and I still believe it. If the Hawks can maintain this level of play, with a completely healthy Toews returning, they can accomplish anything. Those are two big ifs, I know, and the goaltending and special teams have questions far outweighing the answers right now.
Because of both of those things, to me this team could be anything when the playoffs hit. 1st round exit, still going in June, you can make a case for both and everything in between. To some that may be daunting. To me it's exciting. I'm ready for the ride.