10 things about Hawks' trip to nowhere

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Blackhawks Coach Joel Quenneville takes questions from the media about losing Game 7. (Posted June 1, 2014)

Trying to capture the spirit of the thing that was the Blackhawks’ choke in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals that ended their Stanley Cup defense:

1. The Hawks need a second-line center. Here we go again. If it takes trading, say, Brent Seabrook and something else, then fine.

Maybe the Hawks are sold on Andrew Shaw between Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, a line that piled up 19 points in the last three games. If so, then the Hawks need a third-line center who can skate, handle the puck and score like Teuvo Teravainen might’ve done if the coach and/or the organ-I-zation hadn’t buried him.

Marcus Kruger won nine of 11 faceoffs in Game 7, but so what? He’ll never score in this league and shouldn’t play anywhere except the fourth line, which leaves no room for Michal Handzus. None. Zip. Zero.

Hawks general manager Stan Bowman needs to organize an intervention to get Joel Quenneville off this Handzus thing.

2. Speaking of dumping players, Kris Versteeg.

The Brotherhood of the Sick of Versteeg will be meeting regularly. Quenneville gave him seven shifts totaling less than four minutes in Game 7. Brandon Bollig played four shifts and not even three minutes. Seriously, why waste the sweaters?

If you want to laugh, take a look at Versteeg’s and Bollig’s Corsi For percentages. Corsi For is an advanced metric that approximates puck control by combining shots on goal, shots missed and blocked shots, and Versteeg and Bollig each had a 0.0, Mr. Blutarsky. They didn’t generate scoring chances. They only gave up opportunities, hurting their team pretty much every part of every shift. Nice job, fellas.

Quenneville obviously doesn’t trust Peter Regin, Jeremy Morin or Joakim Nordstrom. At least not yet. But he has to learn to trust them because they have speed, skill and a future. Versteeg and Bollig don’t.

I will concede that Bollig made progress this season. But not enough that I’d want him to play over those faster, more skilled offensive players.

By the end, Quenneville was playing nine forwards and the Handzus corpse in a Game 7 of the third round that required overtime. Fix this, Stan.

3. The Corsi For percentage revealed how much the Kings dominated the Hawks at even-strength: 58.2-41.8. It’s even worse when you consider the Hawks won 53 percent of the faceoffs, meaning the team built on puck-possession started with the puck most often but still couldn’t win a Game 7 at home against an opponent playing its 21st postseason game.

4. Justin Williams scored the Kings’ second goal, which meant the Hawks had blown yet another two-goal lead in this series and this postseason. But this is about Williams, who has played in seven Game 7s, has scored seven goals and has won all seven. I don’t need an advanced metric to define clutch. You either play big in big games, or you become a St. Louis Blue.

5. Quenneville contends that the team that wins the 5-on-3 power play will usually win the game. Unfortunately for him, he was right.

The Hawks had a two-man advantage for 46 seconds in the second period when Drew Doughty and Willie Mitchell took penalties. Doughty and Mitchell are defensemen who kill penalties. But they were in the box. The Hawks had a chance to break a 3-3 tie and maybe get a couple scores.

But no. The Hawks blew it. They got one stinkin’ shot on goal, and then when it became a 5-on-4 advantage, Saad took a penalty to kill the whole thing. Sometimes those 5-on-3s don’t cost you just a game but a series and a season.

6. Don’t talk about lucky bounces for the Kings after Patrick Sharp’s first goal in Game 7, and Toews’ power-play goal in Game 7, and Ben Smith’s goal in Game 6. Just don’t. The Hawks lost a series in which Anze Kopitar, the Kings’ No. 1 center, didn’t score a goal.

7. Sharp had two goals in Game 7, one on the power play. His Corsi For/Corsi Against numbers for 5-on-5 play were 12 and 28, respectively, meaning he was on the ice for 16 more chances against, which is pretty sad for a guy who scored a goal at evens. Sharp’s line with Kruger and Ben Smith, a unit Smith said was charged with being “strong defensively,’’ was on the ice for the goal that ended the Hawks’ season.

8. What was Niklas Hjalmarsson doing staring at Corey Crawford while Marian Gaborik was scoring the tying goal in the third period? Someone? Anyone?

9. With less than five minutes to go in regulation, Marian Hossa was stopped on a wrister and again as he banged at his rebound in the crease.

Of course he was stopped. Hossa didn’t score a goal for the last month of the playoffs, a stretch of 12 games going back to the opener against the Wild on May 2.

In the series against the Kings, Hossa had three assists and was a minus-4. I know he’s one of the best two-way players in the game, but Hossa had six shots in Game 7 and was a minus-2, including the shift on which Gaborik scored the game-tying goal in the third period.

We might find out that Hossa needs back surgery or something like last year, or he might’ve picked the worst time to be 35 years old, but he can’t play on the Toews line and be that impotent.

10. The Hawks blew three leads in Game 7 at home, including a two-goal lead and a third-period lead. Altogether, the Hawks blew nine leads in the Western Conference finals, three of them two-goal leads. They blew five two-goal leads total in the playoffs.

The Fenwick Differential, an advanced metric similar to Corsi but excludes blocked shots, shows the Hawks at minus-16.3 percent in the postseason. That indicates a deadly combination of losing the aggressiveness and puck control that earned those leads, failing to put away an opponent, allowing more opponent shots to get through, and sorry play in front of Crawford.

There’s no metric for the repeated failure to clear the front of the net, or if there is, you don’t need it. Just watch how often the Hawks badly defended -- inexcusably defended -- the most dangerous area on the ice.

Is that how championship teams play? No. Not anymore it isn’t. The Hawks won’t play again until next season, unfortunately and deservedly so.

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