Time for Hawks' stars to step up


Time for Hawks' stars to step up

There are a few things you just automatically expect in the postseason. You expect tight, close games. You expect big hits. You expect good goaltending. And you expect your top players to perform as such.

The Blackhawks have had plenty of the first two, so-so of the third and not enough of the fourth.

And if theyre going to pull this series, in which theyre currently down 3-1, out of the fire, they need a heck of a lot more of the fourth.

The Blackhawks stars havent been dazzling enough in their first four games against the Phoenix Coyotes, who have a commanding lead and could eliminate the Hawks in Game 5 on Saturday night. And as several of them talked on Friday before heading out to Arizona, they knew they had to be better.

Even if the point production, goals and assists are where I want them to be, theres always a thing or two you feel you can do more, said captain Jonathan Toews. I dont think Im the only one in the room right now; we all need to feel that responsibility. If every guy takes that responsibility its going to pay off.

Toews had as strong a start to this series as anyone couldve asked including himself after missing 22 games with a concussion. He came out with a goal and an assist in Game 1, getting the Blackhawks on the board early. But hes been quieter since, recording just one assist in the past three games.

Patrick Kane leads the top guns with four assists, including two in Game 1. Patrick Sharp has just one goal in the four games, his deflection of Brent Seabrooks shot that sent Game 2 to overtime. The Blackhawks lost Marian Hossa early in Game 3 on Raffi Torres hit. Theres no doubt they miss his presence on the ice; hes someone opponents have to account for when hes out there. But Hossa was nevertheless sputtering down the stretch. He had no points in the first two games of this series, and has just three assists in his last 10 games.

The Blackhawks have gotten much of their production lately from their role players. Bryan Bickell had two goals in Game 2, including the winner. Michael Frolik has two in as many games. Brandon Bollig, Andrew Brunette and Brendan Morrison a late add in Game 4 over Jamal Mayers, a healthy scatch have also scored.

Sharp took responsibility for his part, too, although he didnt want to dwell on the slump.

I always try to score, try to help the team win whatever way I can. If fingers are pointed at me, Ill accept it, he said. But Im not wasting time on negative energy. Ill focus on playing the best Game 5 we can.

In some cases its not for lack of trying. Sharp had 11 combined shots in Games 1 and 2 against the Coyotes. Toews had six in Game 3. Regardless, the Blackhawks need their big guns. Secondary scoring is great, and the Blackhawks will take it. But the primary scorers have to be the difference makers in this series.

Or in this case, they have to be the series extenders.

Some nights its like that. Other nights (you shoot) one or two shots and they go in, Toews said. Ive said it many times before: as a captain credit when things go well but youre going to be the guy in the middle of it when things are going south. Were in a tough position as a team, in the series, thats the way it is. I want to bring a little extra effort to help us get over the hump.

Griffins hope to avoid 'sick feeling' going forward after blowout loss to Bradley

Griffins hope to avoid 'sick feeling' going forward after blowout loss to Bradley

Not all losses are created equal.

When Lincoln-Way East suffered a 35-30 defeat in Week 3 to Homewood-Flossmoor, the Griffins took positives away from the loss. They had held a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, battled back from adversity in the second half and had a chance to win the game in the final minute. Even that loss in retrospect appeared acceptable – if there ever was an acceptable loss – as the Vikings are currently 8-0 and in their other seven wins have outscored their opponents by an average of 38 points.

By Week 3 the Griffins were still acclimating to the unique situation of playing at game speed with a host of Lincoln-Way North students who had transferred in the offseason. They had a defense made up almost entirely of first-year starters, and the offense was still rotating quarterbacks Jake Arthur and Max Shafer to figure out how to maximize their talent. By many standards the Griffins went toe-to-toe for 48 minutes with a team also considered to be a favorite for a state title.

The same couldn’t be said for the Griffins’ effort last Friday night in Bradley.

An esteemed program with a 2005 state title and 16 consecutive playoff appearances to their resume, it isn’t often the Griffins are embarrassed on Friday night. But those were the words head coach Rob Zvonar used in his postgame speech to the team following their 38-21 loss to the undefeated Boilermakers.

“We chose to play the game,” Zvonar began. “Which means you play it to the greatest of your ability and you honor each other, God, everybody by your play. And we didn’t do that tonight.”

There were plenty of reasons the Griffins suffered their second loss of the season. That is came in such blowout fashion was the bigger surprise. The Boilermakers found the end zone on their first two possessions, rallying behind a raucous home crowd hoping to see their team go 8-0 for the first time in school history.

The Griffins defense, which had allowed 27 points the previous three weeks combined, were on their heels as the Boilermakers used misdirection and a few trick plays to set up the short touchdown runs.

The Griffins offense moved down the field on their fourth possession, moving inside the Boilermakers red zone looking to get on the board. But Iowa commit Camron Harrell stepped in front of a Griffins screen pass on 4th down and returned it 89 yards for a score. On the final play of the first quarter, with the Griffins moving again, Damien Williams read a route and picked off Jake Arthur, returning it 53 yards for a score to give the Boilermakers a shocking 28-0 lead after 12 minutes.

After a spirited halftime speech from Zvonar, the Griffins came out firing in the second half, scoring on a touchdown run from Nigel Muhammad and a Jeremy Nelson 27-yard reception from Arthur. But the Boilermakers weathered the storm each time Lincoln-Way East attempted a comeback. The Griffins only got as close as 14 points late in the fourth quarter.

“I think we came into this game not ready,” said Muhammad, who finished with 164 yards on 24 carries. “But we’re all a team and we all accept this loss together.”

Added senior Jack Carroll, who finished with a team-high nine tackles: “We have this sick feeling in our stomach right now but the best thing is (next) Friday we can come back and get it out of our stomach. If we lose again in the playoffs then we’ll have that sick feeling in our stomach for the rest of our lives.”

That’s now the reality for the Griffins, and a silver lining if there ever could be one for such a blowout loss. With the playoffs a mere week away – the Griffins defeated Lockport on Friday to finish the regular season 7-2 – the feeling each of them felt getting on the bus back to Frankfort will linger with them and act as a reminder of how quickly things can slip away.

“We’re trying to put this behind us,” said Max Shafer. “We’re going to try to get hot and make a run in the playoffs.”

In a loaded 8A class, the Griffins’ two regular-season losses have already knocked them down in the seeding process. While any loss before Week 9 means little in the long run – the Griffins locked up a playoff berth weeks ago – it also means a more difficult road to Champaign. But that’s the reality for Zvonar’s group, and whether it’s a defense playing faster or an offense avoiding costly mistakes, the Griffins are running out of time to right the ship.

But Zvonar believes such a loss as the team suffered last Friday night can act as the catalyst to doing just that. The Griffins have established themselves as one of the state’s premier programs, and that means not riding the highs too high, and not breaking apart when the lows come. Last Friday night was as low as Zvonar had seen any of his 16 teams, but the silver lining occurred in that his squad now knows what it has to do to avoid it when it’s win or go home.

“What we also think is that the program is built on a solid foundation, so when you take a little hit like that you battle back and you go back to what you believe in and what you know can be successful. And that’s fundamentals and keeping things simple, and the kids have bounced back and they’re not acceptable to them what occurred to them, so very proud of their effort and the way they’re working.

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