After what's felt like an interminable 47 hours, it's finally here, the Hawks' last gasp at regaining some footing in this series, lest they be sent home where some uncomfortable off-season questions will need to be asked. The path to redemption fittingly has them going through the desert twice, where they earned a split in the opening two games of the series. Standing in their way will be a Coyotes team which, while playing well enough to win the three games they have, has certainly received its share of breaks, but give credit where it's due, they've maximized every one of them.
That streak may have come to a halt this morning, when the Encyclopedia Brittanica (back when it was still printed) got thrown at Raffi Torres to the tune of a 25 game ban. It's of little solace to Hawks fans as it does nothing to secure the future of Marian Hossa, but at least now there might be some closure on the issue. On the flip side, two of the Coyotes' better defensive forwards in Martin Hanzal and Lauri Korpikoski are both listed as game-time decisions once again, and their presence would make things all the more difficult for the Hawks. The Coyotes have fared just fine results-wise without them, but both have been integral to their success up until the last 2 to 2-and-a-half games, and a continued absence certainly isn't advantageous. As far as game plans are concerned, nothing should change from the Desert Dogs, as their formula for success is simple: clog the neutral zone, prevent entry, forecheck the Hawk D into making mistakes, and rely on Mike Smith to stop a boatload of shots, preferably from the outside. While Smith has come out on the positive side of the ledger, in three of the four games he has coughed up leads late. The numbers might look good, but when it gets down to crunch time, he's been less than inspirational.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, the brief goalie debate has been settled, and Corey Crawford is going to get one last shot at redemption after allowing two inexcusable overtime winners in a row. While those goals are disheartening, this is the right choice, as Ray Emery is a known quantity, and that ceiling is significantly lower than Crawford's. Furthermore, a choice of Razor for tonight was a no-win situation regardless of the result, as the off-season would have to lead to Crawford getting traded or Joel Quenneville getting fired, or both. Quenneville's not had a storied history of developing young goaltending talent in this league with one of the quickest hooks around, and if he had trotted Razor out there tonight, it would be hard to envision a world where either Q would ever have confidence in Crawford, or Crawford would ever have confidence in himself under Q again. But Crawford has to prove him right with a dependable if not sterling performance tonight. Routine saves, rebound control, and a big save a period are all this team has ever asked of Crawford, and tonight may be his last chance to provide that.
Regarding the men in front of Crow, it's time for them to pick things up as well. While Dave Bolland's line has been a force any time they've been on the ice, the Illuminati of the forward corps has yet to be heard from for the most part. With Marian Hossa out, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Patrick Sharp have combined for just two goals so far. That has to change in a hurry if the Hawks look to survive the evening. These three have in the past shown themselves to be the true killers on the roster; someone who at any time can be tapped on the shoulder and be told to go out and will the team a goal, and then come through. That has not been present yet, save Sharp's redirect late in Game 2, and there have been now four overtimes in which to re-establish that status. It must be done tonight.
On the blue line, there's not much more that can be asked of the top pair of Keith and Seabrook, so the responsibility lies primarily with Johnny Oduya and Nick Leddy, who had been so stable in the waning games of the regular season, to calm the motherfuck down. This also includes Niklas Hjalmarsson and whoever else he's paired with (hopefully Sami Lepisto, but don't hold your breath). There has to be support from the forwards on breakouts with a much smaller gap to prevent the need for the defensemen to just blindly fire the puck up the wall, where it has had a pretty high probability of getting held in so far. Tape to tape or regroup.
This series has had a microscopically thin margin for error for either team to this point, and the Hawks have come out on the wrong end of it so far. Things have to be cleaned up, but ultimately the talent gap is in favor of the Hawks, and they have one final opportunity (for now, hopefully) to illustrate that. Short passes, neutral zone patience, dumping the puck away from Smith and elevating the puck on him when shooting are all paramount. Oh, and a power play that were less than a parsec or two away from scaring anyone would be nice, too.
The Coyotes/Jets franchise has never made it to the second round. They are 0-12 in opportunities to close series out. The Joel Quenneville led Blues came back on the 1999 Yotes from being down 3-1. The Doomsday Clock might read 11:59, but this can be done.
Let's go Hawks.