PHILADELPHIA -- The Blackhawks' postseason run is stirring like few others in our lifetime. We see a young, talented team blossoming right before our eyes. Development and contention for a Stanley Cup at the same time -- what a dream world.
But as you grind your teeth that the Hawks did not set up a four-game sweep of the tough, rough Flyers with their 4-3 overtime loss Wednesday night here, just remember the Jonathan Toewses and Patrick Kanes of the world are learning on the job.
So they'll have slip-ups. They'll dodge some, as they did in the third period in Game 2. And they won't survive others, the end result of the Flyers taking it to them with 15 shots compared to the Hawks' four in the final period Wednesday. Where was the Hawks' attack both periods? Why couldn't they camp out in the Flyers' zone and subject Cinderella goalie Michael Leighton to a shooting gallery? They should thank Leighton counterpart Antti Niemi profusely -- otherwise this series might be reversed.
There have been some breakdowns throughout the postseason. The good news is the Hawks kept winning through the occasional tripping. Imagine how good they'll be as a mature team who has been through the ringer several times.
Unlike some of our other franchises, the Hawks know they must be better, and how to do it. Knowing the character of this team, they'll put the words into action. Your stomach may churn as they try, and sometimes stumble, but rest assured this is a team with the right character development.
The Hawks were their own worst critics after Game 3.
"I don’t think we were hungry enough," said forward Tomas Kopecky. "Today was a tough game. In overtime it could go either way. I think we have to keep going to the net more. Play better offensively. The more we hold onto the pucks in their zone, it will be tougher for them to score. We have to protect the puck more. We got a fast team enough to push the pace."
Defenseman Brent Sopel also gave the effort mediocre grades.
"As defensemen and forwards, we have to do a better job handling it," he said. "We need to make plays handling the puck. We’re throwing away the puck when we don’t need to."
There's a concern about exhaustion. Patrick Kane was taken off his line for a few minutes in the third period of Game 2. That gave Ben Eager a shot at the eventual game-winning goal in his place. You wonder if the long, long season, which began last September and included a full slate of Olympic games, is starting to tire out the younger Hawks. It's almost like a kid pitcher who hasn't gone 200 innings before. He needs to build up to it. The Hawks have added massively to their workload.
Somehow, the Hawks have to get on the attack early and often, then play defense in front of Niemi to hang on for just two more victories. The odds are dramatically in their favor with just two teams out of 33 who had won the first two Finals games at home blowing the lead and the series. Unfortunately, one of them was the 1971 Hawks, who had their own Bartman Game in the Final finale against the Montreal Canadiens at Chicago Stadium. No need to rehash that disaster here as old-timers know it by heart.
That history should not weigh at all on the Hawks kids. I still believe Marian Hossa is the key to the series. The best-paid Hawk is the veteran who has to come through while the kids are still in the classroom. A two-goal game by this prodigious lifetime scorer will deflate the Flyers.
The Stanley Cup is still very near. It's up to the Hawks themselves to go out and grab it through their own aggressiveness, 60 minutes each game.