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updated: 4/27/2011 12:57 AM

Brilliant Crawford not enough for Hawks

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It would be tempting to wonder how different this series might have been had the Blackhawks started at the same time as the Canucks.

But it's just as easy to wonder how the Hawks even made the playoffs, won three games and put Vancouver's $10 million goalie on the bench three times.

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All while playing with half an AHL roster.

The answer is easy: Corey Crawford.

The more talented team won, but not the most honest or courageous, as the Canucks eliminated the Hawks with a 2-1, Game 7 overtime victory Tuesday night at Rogers Arena.

Crawford was undoubtedly the best player in the series for either team and the rookie goaltender put on a playoff show worthy of the great Tony Esposito, stopping a penalty shot and at least a dozen point-blank chances against the top offensive team in the NHL.

He was simply brilliant, but Crawford had no chance on the game-winner, as Alex Burrows took advantage of a Chris Campoli turnover, walked down the slot and fired a rolling puck just past the outstretched blocker of Crawford.

The reality is the Hawks were outplayed the entire game, save a few minutes of the third, and it was the captain, Jonathan Toews, who got them to OT and then nearly handed them the victory.

As exhausted as he was, Toews dug deep to find a short-handed chance with less than two minutes remaining, dancing off the boards through two Vancouver defensemen and slipping a pass to Marian Hossa, who chipped it off Luongo.

As surprises go, Luongo serving up a huge rebound at the most crucial moment of the game falls directly between the sun rising in the East and setting in the West.

He boxed it right to Toews, who swept it past "The Waiter" while diving at the puck, tying the game at 1-1 with only 1:56 to play in regulation.

Oddly enough, the Hawks scored to tie the game while Duncan Keith was in the box, a direct result of a line change as Patrick Kane was slow getting to bench after getting slammed in the head by Ryan Kessler, yet another dirty play in a long list of them by a gutless group of Canucks.

That landed the two teams in overtime, and then the Hawks nearly won it early on a power play when Toews shoveled a pass to Sharp, who hit Luongo right in the stomach from close range.

You knew then it probably wouldn't end well, and it didn't for the Hawks.

They ended up outscoring Vancouver 22-16 in the series, but the Canucks won three games by a goal and another by a pair, as the Hawks were just too late getting to the postseason party -- and then had little left in the tank when they arrived.

It wasn't shocking to see the Hawks completely out of gas after three straight elimination games and a couple months straight of playoff-type contests.

It's rather amazing that the Hawks were still defending their title Tuesday, though most fans knew it was over last summer when they lost half their team due to a long forecast, salary-cap disaster.

The lack of talent beyond their best players was obvious, and you could see it on nearly every breakout pass that didn't involve the top-tier skaters.

Let's face it, the Hawks have a lot of borderline NHL players trying to make plays they can't make, so it's a credit to Crawford that the Hawks took this series to seven games.

Going forward, the Hawks will need more size, grit and -- above all else -- talent, and they'll need their highest-paid players to act like it more often.

But hey, at least against a filthy team that must have set some kind of series record for head shots and elbows, they pushed Vancouver to the brink, and forced the Canucks to change their shorts on more than one occasion.

For a week, it certainly was entertaining.

That's going to have to be enough to get you through the summer.

brozner@dailyherald.com

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