Well, that’s one way to win on the road in the playoffs.
Superb goaltending: Check
Convert on every power play attempt: Check
Hang on for dear life: Check
See, it’s that easy. Of course, that’s not the only way to do it, but the Blackhawks have rarely chosen the easy path this season.
With the Calgary Flames facing a win-or-go home scenario, they came out in the first couple minutes trying to express their physical dominance.
After runaway criminal Todd Bertuzzi got called for elbowing on Brent Seabrook, the Hawks ‘second’ power play unit made them pay. A nice cycle from Kris Versteeg, Dustin Byfuglien, and Patrick Kane resulted in the Hawks first tally when Kane banged home a rebound to give the Hawks a quick 1-0 lead.
What made this game different from the other two in Calgary came a few minutes later. While Games 3 and 4 saw the Flames answer back quickly from a deficit, Olli Jokinen had his chance to get his team on the board. Jarome Iginla made a sweet behind-the-back pass after Duncan Keith took a lousy angle on him and sent Jokinen off to the races. With Brent Seabrook bearing down on him, Jokinen tried sneaking the puck under Khabibulin’s blocker. This time, Khabibulin made the save.
Just minutes later, Dustin Byfuglien picked up a loose puck and came down 1-on-1 against Jordan Leopold. With a full head of steam, Byfuglien used his patented move of going strong around the net. At least three Flames became hypnotized by Byfuglien and left Adam Burish alone streaking down the slot. Byfuglien put the puck right on his tape and Burish deposited it into the net.
If Kris Versteeg’s back-hander from 8 feet out didn’t hit the post a minute later, the Hawks very easily could have walked out of the first period with a 3-0 lead. Nevertheless, it was 2-0 after some timely goals and saves by Khabibulin.
The second period was not one of the better periods the Hawks have played this season. They looked tenative; they played passive; they took lazy penalties; they also had Khabibulin in net. For the period, the offensive zone time was probably 75-25 in favor of the Flames, but each time, Khabibulin stood taller. He made a couple of enormous saves after his defense left him completely naked.
Jokinen was denied twice from 2 feet out with Khabibulin sprawling to his left on his best save of the game. Daymond Langkow had a loose puck squirt to him only to put the puck right in Khabibulin’s glove.
Late in the period, the Flames got caught with too many men on the ice. After the Hawks ‘first’ power play unit did absolutely nothing, the ‘second’ unit came on and the tables quickly turned. Brent Seabrook made a nice pinch on Adrian Aucoin who couldn’t clear the puck. Kane picked up the loose puck, fed it cross-ice to Brian Campbell who, in turn, roofed it right over Mikka Kiprusoff’s glove.
In the third, the Hawks committed the cardinal sin of giving up a goal in the first minute of the period. Todd Bertuzzi scored from the goal line and just like that, Calgary had new life. For about the next five minutes, the Flames threw everything they could at Khabibulin, but he managed to turn them away every time.
From there, the Hawks took a deep breath and started to control the flow. They turned the tables on Calgary and the Flames didn’t threaten until about 7 minutes left.
Then, Khabibulin made some more key saves and sucked out any life the Flames may have had. When Dustin Byfuglien potted an empty netter with five seconds left, the Hawks and their fanbase let out a collective sigh of relief and with that, it’s on to the next round….
Leftover Thoughts from Game 6 (and the Series)
—It was lovely to see former embattled winger Dustin Byfuglien come through this whole series. After leaving much to be desired throughout the regular season, Byfuglien came through when it counted against the Flames. In Games 4 and 6, he was, head and shoulders, the best forward the Hawks had. Now if he can keep this up, fans will actually be disappointed if the Hawks ship him out in the off-season. Funny.
–Here’s something we never have to hear (or read) again and if you do, you’ll immediately know the person telling you this is hockey-retarded: The Hawks are too undersized to win in the playoffs. Well, there is arguably no one bigger, badder, or meaner than the Calgary Flames. The Hawks took their best punch, and then beat them in 4 out of the 6 games. In this case, size didn’t matter, skill did.
–Anyone calling for Nikolai Khabibulin to steal a game in this series had to wait until the end, but it finally came tonight. That, my friends, is why goaltending is so important in the playoffs. 43 saves out of 44 shots and plenty of those were of the highest quality. A performance like that is what Stanley Cup Championships are made out of.
–In case the quotes weren’t enough to clue you in, the Hawks ‘second’ unit has become their first. What makes the biggest difference is having two actual defensemen on the points rather than the confused Dave Bolland. Brian Campbell was a special teams force in this series, contributing on 5 of the Hawks power play goals in this series. The Hawks ‘first’ unit often looks like its the first time any of them have played together. Hopefully, in the next series, this gets addressed because it shouldn’t take this long for the coaching staff to notice Dave Bolland has no clue what he’s doing on the point.
–With the San Jose Sharks getting eliminated tonight, the Hawks next opponent will be the Vancouver Canucks. While there is plenty of time to break down the match-ups, let’s have a look at this knucklehead blogger who predicted a Cup Finals of San Jose-Montreal. What an IDIOT.