CHICAGO – By now, you know the symptoms.
Your head starts spinning. Your stomach starts turning somersaults like it does after a bad, late-night burrito. Anxiety sets in. You start twitching. And no, we’re not talking about another heart-pounding overtime thriller that sent your body into convulsions late Saturday night – even before the Boston Bruins evened the Stanley Cup Final with a 2-1 overtime win over the Blackhawks.
The cause: The Hawks’ power play.
The uneasiness starts almost as soon as the referee raises his arm, which is your signal to reach for the antacid. It continues when the Hawks start their two-minute stretch of futility.
Three times during regulation and into overtime, you felt it. So did the sellout crowd of 22,154 at the United Center, who rose to their feet at the start of every power play, hoping that a special teams unit that entered Game 2 having converted on a whopping 13.7 percent success rate with a one-man advantage would finally, somehow, find the error of its ways.
It only got worse.
Fans remained standing through each chance. The Hawks couldn’t be this bad. Could they? Fans crossed their fingers. They waved their red playoff towels and rubbed their lucky rabbit’s foot and said a dozen Hail Marys.
Nothing worked. And for Boston’s part, it was almost like the Bruins were daring the Hawks to score, knowing nothing, in all reality, was coming. That brought excuses from the Hawks’ locker room afterward.
“They’ve got a good power kill, and so do we,” captain Jonathan Toews reasoned. “It’s tough to go out there and do everything you want every single time you get the chance.”
Hawks’ players toyed with the puck on the point. They sent errant passes across the ice to no one in particular. On the Hawks’ final power play chance in the second period, Marian Hossa snapped his stick in two and by the time he returned with a new one, the puck was skimming out of the Hawks’ zone and out of harm’s way.
Fans moaned. They groaned. They booed. Tweeters cursed, using every adjective imaginable to describe the Hawks’ lethargic power play. They used words like fruitless, powerless and many more that aren’t fit to be printed in a family newspaper.
But none of them were inaccurate. And worse yet, no one was surprised.
It’s hard to imagine that a power play unit built around some of the Hawks’ biggest stars could be worse than it was in the Western Conference finals against Los Angeles, when the Hawks scored one power play goal on 15 chances.
After two games against the Bruins, the Hawks are 0 for 6. Toews said there are areas (insert power play here) of the Hawks game that can be better. He said it will make a “world of difference” if said area improves.
Toews and others who tend to speak for the team are tired of being asked to address a unit that has somehow been down-graded from dreadful.
It will come, the Hawks insist. We’re getting chances, coach Joel Quenneville has repeated throughout the playoffs – a stretch when the Hawks are a combined 7 for 58. No matter how bad your math is, that’s not good.
Here’s the plain and simple truth from Saturday night. The Hawks let the Bruins do whatever they pleased and didn’t put up much of a fight after the first period. The let up on the gas and got pushed around at home. The issues on the power play only made matters worse. Players insist fatigue isn’t a factor. They swear, while frustrated with “giving that one away” in Toews’ words, that they’ll bounce back.
Now the series is tied one game apiece heading into two games in Boston, where things certainly won’t get easier. If the Hawks are to hoist their second Stanley Cup in four years, something’s got to give. The chances that Quenneville is so fond of saying are coming have to be cashed in. The goals that Hawks players swear are coming off the power play chances have to come.
The intensity the Hawks started Game 2 with has to stretch through three periods – and if Games 1 and 2 are any indication – into at least one overtime. But as evenly matched as the Hawks and Bruins appear to be while playing five on five, the areas (namely the power play) that Toews alluded to needing improvement need to, well, improve.
In a hurry. But until they do, keep the antacids close.
• Jeff Arnold is a sports reporter with the Northwest Herald. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @NWH_JeffArnold.