You know you care about a team when your heart is pounding like Henry Hill’s at the end of Goodfellas. You know you care about a team when you stare at the tv for a good 3 minutes after Chris Campoli channeled his inner Cub. How could it end this way? How could the defending champs lose after Jonathan Toews miraculously tied the game at 1 with under left in the decisive game 7? I was convinced that they would crawl up from the canvas one more time Rocky style and put the Canucks away in overtime. It wasn’t meant to be. What a shame.
After the Canucks’ Alex Burrows(he was everywhere) scored the game winner, I had flashbacks to ’94. That gut wrenching-instant depression feeling I had in May of that year when the Bulls lost a game 7 to the Knicks. I still adore that Bulls team as much as any of the 6 title teams because of how they dealt with adversity and fought like champs. It wasn’t their fault that best player to ever dribble a ball retired a week before training camp. And it wasn’t Hawks fault that their previous GM put them in salary cap hell to the point where 9 players had to be jettisoned before this season.
Similar situations, similar miserable endings. In ’94, it was a crooked ref(Hue Hollins) who took the series from the Bulls with an asinine call on Scottie Pippen at the end of game 5. With the Hawks, it was the former GM sabotaging any chance at a repeat.
Losing in the playoffs is never a good thing, but this Hawks team will be back atop the western conference as soon as next season. How do I know? Well, they won’t be getting rid of 9 players this off-season, and have found some young keepers to add to the core that won them a cup last spring.
Let’s start with Corey Crawford. Crawford was the best player in this series, and is, undoubtedly, the Hawks goalie going forward. He was brilliant again in game 7 stopping 36 shots and keeping the undermanned Hawks in the game(and the series). Maybe now, after almost a year, David Haugh’s stupid ass will realize why the Bowman’s let Annti Niemi go. For a rookie to show the poise and character that Crawford did answers one of the questions as the Hawks re-tool. Roberta Luongo wishes he had the poise Crawford has.
Youngsters like Ben Smith, Michael Frolik, Jeremy Morin, and Nick Leddy give the Hawks the young talent that teams need to have continued success in the NHL’s hard salary cap era. With the exception of the injured Morin, the rest of the young Hawks gained invaluable playoff experience against one of the top teams in the league. As we saw with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah the last two years, playoff experience matters. Now having gone through a 7 game war, they will know what to expect as they prepare for next season.
The longer than wanted summer vacation will do wonders for Duncan Keith, and the rest of the Hawks core players. This team was playing elimination games for seemingly the past two months and looked beat down. They had the long run to the conference finals in ’09. They played until the last game of the worthless Olympics last winter. That was followed by a run to the Cup and developing a party problem in an all too short summer. The longer off-season will allow Keith, Seabrook, Kane, Sharp, & Toews a chance for their bodies to recover so that they will be healthy in the fall.
Don’t discount what this sinking, losing feeling will do for their drive & determination. It is quite possible that guys like Kane think that winning the Cup and making deep playoff runs comes easy. We all know the summer Kaner had after winning the Cup. Losing in the playoffs is always a great motivator to want to recapture your title(see the ’95 Bulls playoff loss to Orlando). You think Jordan would have killed himself the summer before the 72-10 FU season if it wasn’t for the playoff loss to the Magic? Not a chance.
With a GM who has a clue, young players ready to step in, a goalie of the future, and one of the best captains in the sport, the Hawks will be back in 2012. You know Toews will be ready to get that Cup back. And with this loss, Keith and Kane will put in a summer’s worth of work instead of resting & drinking respectively. As much as this feeling sucks right now, it will be worth it when the Hawks come back with a vengeance next fall, and not with a hangover.
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