Preps Talk

Blackhawks fail to score in season-ending loss

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Blackhawks fail to score in season-ending loss

The Chicago Blackhawks were looking for one more chance, one more game to even this series up with the Phoenix Coyotes and send it back to Glendale, where anything could happen in a Game 7.

But in Game 6 there would be no late-regulation heroics for the Blackhawks. No overtime opportunity. And ultimately, no Game 7.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored a power-play goal, and Mike Smith was mesmerizing in a 39-stop shutout as the Coyotes beat the Blackhawks 4-0 to win their Western Conference quarterfinal series on Monday night. The Coyotes won the series 4-2, with three of those victories coming on United Center ice. Its the first time theyve gotten past the first round since the 1980s, when they were the Winnipeg Jets.

For the Blackhawks, it was the second first-round exit in as many seasons. And this one stung more than last season. There was no big team dismantling and no massive changes from last seasons roster. This Blackhawks team thought they had found the right pieces to win now; but against a defensive-minded team with a goaltender unwilling to give up much, the Blackhawks came up short.

We had flurries, chances. It just didnt go in, Duncan Keith said. I dont know if its the goaltender or us not bearing down or getting in front of him. Its easy to look back now. In the end, we just didnt get it done.

No, but the Blackhawks had some of their best scoring chances of this series in Game 6. There were a lot of them, too, as the Blackhawks commanded a 16-2 edge in shots after the first period; they outshot Phoenix 39-20 for the game. But Smith was impenetrable; making every stop from the ho-hum to the how-did-that-not-go-in.

Tonight Mike Smith had a special game, coach Joel Quenneville said. We come out of that first period (scoreless), that was a moral victory of them. It was the first period, the first two periods, with the quality and quantity without scoring that certainly hurt.

A few other things hurt, too. Top scorers, all of them, struggled to get points. Corey Crawford gave up two tough ones in back-to-back games. And the Blackhawks power play, which struggled all season, was a dismal 1 for 19 in this series.

Yeah, special teams are big. We talk about that all the time, Patrick Sharp said. I thought we were playing well the first two periods, they score on the power play and were chasing. It wouldve been nice to score on the power play, for sure.

And then there was Marian Hossa, or the loss of him. Quenneville said, you always look back in a series, and theres a defining situation that you can say was a turning point. That was probably the one. As for the right wings health, Quenneville said, he hasnt felt very well at all. His first day out of the house (today), hes not doing a lot. Hopefully he progresses.

But this was still ultimately about the players on the ice. The desperate Blackhawks threw everything at Smith on Monday night. He stopped it all. And when Ekman-Larsson scored in the second period, the Coyotes finally ultimately had a one-goal lead that the Blackhawks wouldnt overcome.

And as far as why the Blackhawks couldnt claim at least one game on their home ice? Nobody seemed to have an answer.

Yeah, I dont think anyone wouldve predicted that one, said Corey Crawford, who allowed four goals on 20 shots. We were so good at home through the year, I dont know. Its tough luck and some bounces didnt go our way, especially at home. I cant explain it. Its just the way it goes sometimes.

The Blackhawks had high hopes coming into this season. They thought they would contend for the Cup. And they thought they would come back, much like they did against Vancouver last spring, and force a Game 7.

They came up short.

We went through some tough times and we always seemed to come out better and stronger as a team, Jonathan Toews said. We were down 3-1 in the series, and we had no doubt wed find a way to come back and force Game 7. It got cut short a game, I guess.

IHSA Football Playoff Pairings Show Roundup

IHSA Football Playoff Pairings Show Roundup

CLASS 1A

Revealing the Class 1A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 1A Bracket

CLASS 2A

Revealing the Class 2A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 2A Bracket

CLASS 3A

Revealing the Class 3A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 3A Bracket

CLASS 4A

Revealing the Class 4A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 4A Bracket

Predicting Class 1A-4A

CLASS 5A

Revealing the Class 5A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 5A Bracket

CLASS 6A

Revealing the Class 6A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 6A Bracket

CLASS 7A

Revealing the Class 7A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 7A Bracket

CLASS 8A

Revealing the Class 8A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 8A Bracket

Class 7A and Class 8A Predictions

 

In ugly home opener, Lauri Markkanen gives a glimmer of hope

In ugly home opener, Lauri Markkanen gives a glimmer of hope

Keeping the game simple is often a tough task for rookies entering the NBA, but it seems Lauri Markkanen has been a quick learner in that aspect.

Through two games he’s probably the lone bright spot, especially after the Bulls’ cringe-inducing 87-77 loss to the San Antonio Spurs in their home opener at the United Center.

Jumper not falling? Okay, go to the basket.

“It wasn’t falling so I tried to get to the rim a couple times,” Markkanen said. “At the end, I was like let’s do it and I connected on a 3-pointer, I felt more open just because I was at the rim. I think that helped.”

He was asked what the difference was in the second game of his career compared to the first.

“I mean the crowd was chanting for us (tonight),” Markkanen said, referring to Thursday in Toronto.

He wasn’t attempting to display any dry wit but applying common sense seems to work for him, even though he’s been thrust into a situation after an incident that doesn’t make any sense.

With Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic out for the foreseeable future, playing a game-high 37 minutes will be more common than anomaly.

“Whatever your minutes are, you gotta play them to the best of your ability,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s being allowed to play through some mistakes right now. He’s gonna play heavy minutes every night.”

He only shot five of 14 but achieved his first double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds after a 17-point, eight-rebound debut against the Raptors Thursday.

No, someone didn’t open a door for a draft to come into the United Center on that three-pointer that went wide left, but it didn’t stop him from being assertive and continuing to look for his shot.

There was plenty of muck, easy to see on the stat sheet. The 38 percent shooting overall, the lack of penetration, the 29 percent shooting from 3-point range and 20 turnovers.

It’s not hard to imagine what Markkanen will look like with competent and effective NBA players around him, along with a true facilitating point guard that will find him in this offense.

“Markkanen is a wonderful player,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He’s aggressive, he’s smart and obviously, he can shoot the ball. He’s just going to get better and better as he figures things out.”

He received a crash course, facing the likes of Pau Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Gay Saturday night. On one instance, Gay drove baseline and made Markkanen buckle with a 3-point play.

Aldridge had 24 shots in 32 minutes as a new focal point with Kawhi Leonard out with injury.

So he’s not getting treated with kid gloves, nor is he backing down from the assignments.

“He didn’t shoot the ball well but he battled,” Hoiberg said. “He had a tough assignment with Pau, who’s gonna be in the Hall of Fame one day. Good experience. He guarded Aldridge, Rudy Gay some. He battled, he fought them.”

Even with the airball, had the moment that gives the Bulls fans hope, when he drove on Gasol, spun and hooked a lefty layup while being fouled by the veteran in the first half—giving the United Center faithful something to have faith in for a moment.

“Sometimes you get labeled as a shooter. That’s the label Lauri had,” Hoiberg said. “But he really is a complete basketball player. He’s versatile, he can put in on the deck. He slides his feet very well for a guy that’s seven feet tall, someone his age. Yeah, he’s learning on the fly. He’s gonna have ups and downs, as young as he is. He’s gonna have some struggles at times. But he’s played pretty darn well for everything he’s been through, understanding two days ago he’s gonna be in the starting lineup.”

And for all the bad air around the Bulls right now, from the on-court product to the off-court drama that seems to follow them around like Pigpen, it would be even worse if Markkanen’s first two games had him looking like a corpse, or someone who would be a couple years away from reasonably contributing to an NBA team.

“He’s good, he’s very good,” Gasol said. “I like him. I like his game.”