by J. Tortorici and Nick Goehrke
The Stanley Cup goes to Pittsburgh, and rightly so. The final two games of the championship series revealed a physically and mentally spent Nashville team. Adrenaline can carry a team only so far.
Two key moments in the game six final stay with me. The Nashville goal in period two was nullified by a curiously quick whistle. Say what you will, it was within the rules and so it goes. “What-ifs” begin to fly from every direction…stop. The only salient issue is the team’s ability to overcome a questionable call and dig deeper into the well of mental resilience. In the world of pro sports, every person on the field (rink, court…) is a groomed physical specimen that fulfills unique needs for the game at hand. It’s an exclusive club. Championships are won between the ears of each competitor.
The second key issue is the Predators went 0 of 4 with the man advantage, including 32 seconds of a 5-on-3 in the third. You won’t win a championship by squandering a 5-3 advantage. What are you waiting for? Attack, attack, attack!! Whether it was confusion, lack of confidence, lack of strategy, or plain physical depletion, it cost the Nashville Predators a real chance at the Cup.
Let’s not forget a fresh Nashville team shut out the Blackhawks in the first round. We were muscled off of the puck at every turn.
The Hawks scored three times in four games. They managed only one goal skating five-on-five. Imagine, a team with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov and Duncan Keith, scored only one stinking goal at even-strength.
Nick: Toews was hurt and would never admit it. He was key to winning face-offs. You have to win face-offs otherwise you chase the puck.
JST: I kept looking for Kane to step up. Was he the problem?
Nick: No. Kane was third in the league in points. If anything, Kane was frustrated and tried to do too much.
True that. My research began with the intent of blaming someone. Kane’s stats were stellar. What’s more, he is not the guy to be checking the opponent with any authority.
JST: Stan Bowman was pissed. Was Coach Kitchen scapegoated?
Nick: It was the team-play as well, but yes. The PK (penalty kill) numbers took a dive from last season. (24th in the league!)
“The Kitch” received the ax in what seemed like moments after the playoff elimination. Stan Bowman appeared to have some firm ideas about responsibility. In the post-game press conference, a visibly furious Stan Bowman repeated the word “unacceptable” several times…just to make certain everyone understood.
“A complete failure,” as he dismissed 50 victories, 109 points and a Western Conference championship during the regular season as immaterial. Harsh? Yes, to say the least. Much has transpired since the playoffs and much is yet to reveal itself.
It is with great sadness we must anticipate the end of a career for Marion Hossa. The downright freakishness of his skin condition will cost him physical conditioning he is unlikely to recover. Kane’s soulmate, Artemi Panarin, was traded to the Bluejackets in return for alum Brandon Saad and goalie prospect Anton Forsberg. Saad is a sensible replacement for Hossa. The Hawks are gambling a potential loss in scoring for a re-balance in defense. Saad knows this team and the taste of a championship…it’s a good fit. And, helps with the dreaded salary cap.
JST: Darling went for the big money!
Nick: He should have. Is he as good as Crawford? Probably not. He will be very good for Carolina and he will be a starter. He proved himself able to play at this level.
JST: Panik got a good contract.
Nick: He deserves it. He worked his ass off.
True again. Panik is being rewarded after a career season. He posted career highs in goals (22), assists (22), and points (44). The left-handed shooter played on the Hawks’ top line with Toews for the majority of the season. Let’s hope his star continues to rise.
The season of adjustments is only beginning for our Blackhawks. We have only scratched the surface here. In coming articles, we will look at the class of rookies acquired in the recent draft.