So, the Blackhawks ARE human after all. They seemed more robotic, dealing losses to frustrated opponents like a blackjack dealer in Vegas. Before the weekend, it seemed almost scary how good the Blackhawks had been playing this season with nothing major to fret about.
Then came the weekend. THAT is the definition of scary.
The overall consensus seemed to be the ‘Hawks were going to come out with some nasty fire in their game Sunday after blowing a four-goal, third-period lead to Minnesota the previous night. I wasn’t so quick to make that statement, rather deciding to be the pessimistic son of a bitch I am when it comes to the teams I support. Unfortunately, I was right.
Yes, the Blackhawks have lost two games in a row before. That’s not adversity, it’s normal and it happens and it won’t be the last time. But losing two games the way they did to visibly inferior opponents IS adversity. It can change the way a team plays and swing a season to the Dark Side if not carefully handled. That’s my worry.
I’m not going to discount the fact the Blackhawks outplayed Anaheim on Sunday night in every facet except goaltending. The statistics are nearly mind-boggling. However, this wasn’t the first time the Blackhawks dominated a game and lost (See: Dec. 22 vs. San Jose). I wasn’t exactly surprised, so I’m not going to focus on that nor get frustrated about a “tough” loss. No matter the stats, they deserved to lose. The score says so.
There are two key points I picked up on last night from my seat at the United Center which make me question how the Blackhawks will respond to their first true test. Everything is good when you’re winning and looking invincible. When that invincibility is shaken, it takes a true champion to respond with an Alzheimer’s-patient mentality. I don’t feel the ‘Hawks did that.
First, despite the lopsided statistics, the Blackhawks looked a step slower and didn’t seem to be playing with any conviction. The way they were skating, the passes that were made — it clearly looked like Saturday night’s loss was in their heads. And when shot after shot Sunday didn’t hit the twine, the frustration mounted. It was evident. You could almost FEEL the debacle Saturday sitting on your lap at the United Center. It was eerie. The Blackhawks seemed to play that way as well.
Just because a team dominates on paper doesn’t mean they deserved to win or were the better team. I unequivocally believe the Blackhawks won the paper battle so dominantly because they were playing the Ducks. If a team like Calgary or Vancouver or San Jose was on the ice last night, they very well may have been bitch slapped. The opponent factors into it.
Second, which further the first point, is Duncan Keith’s reaction to Anaheim’s empty-net goal which put the game out of reach. Keith whipped his stick into the net and skated away swearing. Have you ever seen a Blackhawks player show that type of frustration so clearly in response to a loss? Maybe I’m in the minority by viewing that observation as such, but I find it to be TOO uncharacteristic of the team, especially Keith.
The Blackhawks have seemed to hem and haw when asked about the few losses this season. Keith’s reaction showed me that loss meant more. The frustration from Saturday’s collapse clearly carried over to Sunday. It showed during the game, and Keith put the exclamation point on it with that reaction.
To be clear, I’m not panicking about this team. I’m more curious. I wrote last week my comfort level with how good the Blackhawks are makes me uncomfortable. This weekend is the exact reason why. Never did we think the Blackhawks would blow a four-goal lead, let alone within a matter of a few minutes in one period. And most everyone thought despite that loss, the Blackhawks would come out determined and blow the hell out of the Ducks the next night.
Remember, this Blackhawks team is extremely young with a lot of egos that can easily be bruised when the going gets tough. Well, here it is — adversity. Two tough losses in extremely winnable games against clearly inferior opponents. What’s next?
After a few days off for the ‘Hawks to stew over what the hell just happened, we’ll all find out Thursday. And Columbus won’t make it easy to rebound.