After a rollercoaster year and with only four games remaining in their season, the wheels finally came off for the Chicago Blackhawks, who were officially eliminated from playoff contention by the Carolina Hurricanes last night.
Malcolm Subban would get the nod in net, but would fail to finish the game, with Coach Jeremy Colliton pulling him for Colin Delia midway through the second. Subban’s first goal-against was an ugly one, scored from an impossible angle by defenseman Dougie Hamilton. Subban would allow three more goals before his night was over, with Martin Necas scoring his 12th goal of the year and Sebastian Aho scoring twice.
Subban’s departure provided a brief spark for Chicago, with Ian Mitchell scoring late in the period to make it 4-1. Dylan Strome began the play from behind Carolina’s net, teeing up Mitchell for a beautiful one-timer. The goal was the defenseman’s third of the year and was especially significant, considering Mitchell had fallen in the depth chart after being a regular in the lineup until late March.
Alex Debrincat continued his red-hot season, cutting the deficit to two late in the third period. After a nice stretch pass by Dominik Kubalik, Debrincat sped past Canes defenseman Brady Skjei, leaving him one-on-one with goalie Alex Nedeljkovic. Debrincat completed the gorgeous move with a snap-shot, scoring his 26th goal of the season. Debrincat’s goal would be too little too late, however, with Sebastian Aho scoring an empty-netter to complete his hat trick with just over one minute remaining.
It was clear from the onset that the Hawks were simply outmatched by Carolina — a team who has been consistently strong in every facet of the game. The Hawks had absolutely no answer to Carolina’s stifling defense, as they were completely unable to enter or retrieve pucks in the offensive zone. A dump-and-chase style is something the Hawks have always struggled with, even in their dominant days; but until they grasp it, teams like Carolina will continue to simply stack their blue line and force them into that style of play.
If there was one bright spot of the game last night, it was goalie Colin Delia, who stopped all 19 shots he faced after relieving Subban. Delia’s performance was all the more impressive, considering his status as a 3rd string goalie and his extremely limited reps, not only in games but in practices as well. Although Kevin Lankinen had solidified himself as the starting goaltender the majority of the year, his struggles down the stretch have once again brewed concern as to whether he is the answer for the future. All three of Lankinen, Subban, and Delia will be entering the last year of their contracts next season.
Although the Chicago Blackhawks have been officially eliminated from playoff contention for the third time in the last four years, their season as a whole was unexpectedly fun to watch. Many analysts and fans had predicted the Hawks to be dead in the water before the year even began, but in a way, they proved those critics wrong. Instead of being a cellar-dweller all year, the Hawks did indeed make a season out of it; and looked like the real deal for a substantial portion of the year. The fact they were in the hunt for a playoff spot this late into the year was surprising to many people; and it’s interesting to wonder what would have happened this year if Jonathan Toews was available or if GM Stan Bowman didn’t sell at the deadline. Either way, one could argue that the Blackhawks actually overachieved this year, which may be a small consolation considering, but a consolation all the same.