Emma: Time For Blackhawks To Finally Be Better

By Chris Emma–

(CBS) One Goal.

Now, finally, the Blackhawks must consider their organizational standard. No longer a joke mocking team failures through 141 minutes of goal-less playoff hockey, One Goal again is a reminder of what this franchise strives to achieve.

The Blackhawks pride themselves as a champion, having hoisted the Stanley Cup three times since 2010. The banners hanging from the United Center rafters remind of those accomplishments, and the catchy marketing slogan serves as motivation to raise another.

But with the top-seeded Blackhawks down 3-0 to the Predators in their first-round series — that after a 3-2 overtime loss in a Game 3 ending early Tuesday morning in Nashville — that pride needs to be checked.

Now, the Blackhawks must dig deeper than ever to save their season. It’s gut-check time to avoid complete embarrassment.

“You got to ratchet it up, find a new level,” Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews told reporters in Nashville. “We got to focus on that for the next one.”

The Blackhawks always seem to find that new level. We in Chicago have seen it time and time again, but this series has seemed different.

By far the more talented team on paper, the Blackhawks have been outplayed by the Predators. They haven’t deserved to move on, despite their 109 regular-season points.

Sure, Game 3 was filled with flukes that ultimately came back to haunt the Blackhawks. There was a first-period clearance from Johnny Oduya that caught a dent in the boards and nearly ended up in net, but Predators goalie Pekka Rinne made a miraculous sprawling save.

After the Blackhawks tallied two, the Predators answered back with a bizarre goal early in the third period, as Filip Forsberg poked in a puck that took an unusual bounce off a stanchion on the board behind Corey Crawford and landed right in the crease, out of the goaltender’s sight. Forsberg tapped it home.

Then, there was the controversial call that changed Game 3 and this entire series. With 5:52 remaining in regulation and the Blackhawks attempting to hold a 2-1 lead, Forsberg fired a puck on net as Viktor Arvedsson came flying in front of Crawford.

Barely removed from his crease, Crawford was bumped by Arvedsson, which altered his angle at the pivotal save. Forsberg’s heave found the back of the net. Chicago coach Joel Quenneville challenged the call, later telling reporters in Nashville he wasn’t overly optimistic. The call remained, with Rule 69.2 leaving on-ice officials to determine if the contact was incidental as Crawford left his crease.

The Blackhawks have a right to be angry after losing Game 3 on bad bounces and a questionable ruling, but the hole was already dug deep for this team.

For all his experience, Marian Hossa skated from the corner of the Blackhawks’ offensive zone and dished a listless pass near the blue line to nobody in particular, which was skated up the ice by the Predators in an odd-man rush. Kevin Fiala took advantage of a pass in front of Crawford and slammed it by the goaltender who had made many big saves before the game-winning goal.

This was a sloppy mistake by the veteran Hossa, not one of the kids thrust onto playoff ice. Hossa can’t commit such a gaffe, but there were countless errors leading up to Game 3. The Blackhawks’ 3-0 deficit has been deserved.

On Monday night, Artem Anisimov was 2-for-17 in the face-off circle, inexcusable with him being alongside Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin. Toews hasn’t looked like himself all series long. The young players have been a liability.

Game 1 of the series saw the Blackhawks fail with opportunity. Game 2 was a miserable struggle on home ice. Game 3 revealed the slim margin playoff hockey often brings. The common denominator is that the Blackhawks haven’t proved their place as the better team.

The better team creates its own luck, doesn’t falter and prevails over any bounce. The Blackhawks have become unrecognizable.

To prevail, they must finally flip that switch.

“Everyone’s a little pissed off, a little angry,” Crawford told reporters at his locker inside Bridgestone Arena. “We should be. But we haven’t played our best hockey yet, so it’s time.”

Two days of preparation loom for the Blackhawks, now battered into their 3-0 hole. During that time of recuperation and fine-tuning, some soul searching must occur, too.

Toews, Kane, Panarin and Hossa must finally show they’re still some of the best players in hockey — and better than their foes. The defense of Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Brian Campbell needs to be faster to loose pucks and help Crawford, who has done his part this series. The team’s youth has to show its regular-season form.

The Blackhawks have been here before, but they can’t rely on past experience anymore. Being too comfortable is what got them into this situation. Urgency must finally be revealed.

Expectations in Chicago dictate that the Blackhawks must win the Stanley Cup for a season to be considered a success. It’s the prize every young hockey player dreams of attaining. For the Blackhawks, championships are their one goal.

Dig deep, finally, Blackhawks. It’s indeed time.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page.

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