Blackhawks need to dig deep as SCF heads to Boston
The series is a long way from over, now down to a best-of-five, as the Blackhawks and Bruins head to Boston tied 1-1.
Before the series started, the series could be argued in favor of either team, although many hockey folks seemed to favor the Bruins. "Zdeno Chara will shut them down," "Tuukka Rask is riding a hot streak" - as if that was all it would take.
Both Chara and Rask have showed themselves to be human and beatable in the first two games. The first game (an instant classic, with three overtimes) displayed both sides of Rask. In that game, Chicago scored four goals on the Finnish netminder - twice as many as the Penguins had managed in an entire round. But like his Chicago counterpart, he battled through an epic game until a goal gave Chicago the win.
Chicago has played some of their best hockey in this series, including a wildly dominant first period in game two. However, despite that effort, they only came out of that period up 1-0, and eventually, their speed disappeared, the Bruins physicality took over, and Boston eventually won 2-1 in overtime. The Blackhawks have played the equivalent of of nearly five games in their past three matches, so perhaps all that playing time was finally showing.
Can the Blackhawks win this series? Of course they can, absolutely. They can do it by sticking to their game - speed and possession - but they desperately need to shake things up. There's no doubt that Chicago is very, very good, but the book is out of them.
Boston is concentrating their shots on Corey Crawford's high glove side - they've scored 4 of their 5 there, according to Steve Kouleas (@TH2NSTATSGUY) of TSN. All the teams in the league know Chicago's plan of attack on power plays, and choke off the zone entry before it can barely get a foot over the blue line - the Blackhawks' wildly insipid power play could put the worst insomniac to sleep. Their top two lines are stonewalled into a lack of productivity, although they're also doing a decent job of shutting down Boston's top two lines.
During the regular season, Chicago's coach Joel Quenneville was able to roll four lines and leave the linematching concerns mostly up to the other bench boss, but in these playoffs, the patented Q Line-Blend-O-Matic has been on "frappé", trying to outsmart the other guy. Heading into Boston, coach Claude Julien gets the luxury of last change. Instead of scrambling to match lines like a high-speed chess game, perhaps it's time to let Chicago's lines flow, and trust that all the players have the drive and willpower to rise to their best game.
This is the Stanley Cup Final, after all. If a player can't bring their triple-A, top-shelf game to the table each and every game, when will they?
Chicago's depth has been touted all year. Third and fourth line players like Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw have been highly productive, while Michael Frolik and Marcus Kruger have risen to be two of the best penalty killers on the team.
The Blackhawks have been worked over like a kid being beat up for lunch money throughout the playoffs. In typical playoffs fashion, the refs have often swallowed their whistles a bit more than they do in the regular season, and plenty of penalties have gone uncalled. They need to stop looking for penalties, and give a little of what they're getting (although being smart about it while they do so).
You can't wish for lucky bounces to save you. You can't expect the refs to call things in your favor. The best you can do is work hard, work smart, work conscientious; while looking for potential breaks, and whacking away at chinks in the other guys' armor.
But in the playoffs, those little cracks are harder to come by. Players need to be more like weeds, forcing their way down into the tiniest hairline fractures - shoveling pucks in, crashing the net, making the other guys work a lot harder to defend their crease and their goalie.
Chicago hasn't shown a huge propensity for that this season. It's something that's been regularly absent since June 2010. Yes, some games they're much better about it than others; they're just not consistent about it.
Boston is beat up, too. They're missing one player (Gregory Campbell) who helped solidify their depth. Nathan Horton is playing with a shoulder that's probably still injured, which everybody knows at this point. Chicago at least - as far as we know - is at least pretty healthy.
The Blackhawks have said all the right things as the playoffs progressed. As they head into game three tonight in Boston, they have to show that they've got the right stuff to get the final three wins that they need to once again lift Lord Stanley.
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Game 3 will be broadcast Monday night at 8pm ET / 7pm CT on NBCSN in the US, and CBC & RDS in Canada; listen in on WGN 720 Chicago radio.