What a series this has been. Three out of the four games have gone to overtime, last second goals, physical play, this series has had everything you could ask for as a hockey fan. Despite my disdain for the Blues growing greater and greater, I have to admit that they are a fun team to watch when they play the Hawks.
With the puck set to drop tonight at 7 PM, one team will leave the rink with the possibility of advancing to the second round come Sunday afternoon. The Blackhawks have seized momentum in this series thanks to Patrick Kane’s overtime goal in game 4. The home team has won every game this series and I anticipate tonight, the Blues will come out flying in an attempt to put the Hawks on their toes. Here are three keys for the Hawks tonight towards taking a 3-2 series lead.
Coach Q is responsible for the rapid development of gray hair on my head by continuing to trot out Michal Handzus at second line center and keeping Kris Versteeg and Brandon Bollig on the ice while Peter Regin and Jeremy Morin sit in the press box. At the same time, his line juggling and matchups have proven to give Ken Hitchcock and the Blues fits as the series has worn on. Quenneville doesn’t need to prove anything, but is beginning to show why he has been able to win over 700 games and two Stanley Cups. The man has a knack for gauging in game situations and changing up his lines when he sees fit. His brilliant move of putting Hossa up with Toews and Bickell in game 4 was a key reason why the Hawks were able to not only tie the game late, but sustain heavy offensive zone pressure.
As of yet, Hitchcock has been unable to match Q’s lines effectively, giving the Hawks the upper hand. If the Hawks walk away with a victory tonight, a major reason why will be Quenneville’s in game management.
One of the main keys to the Hawks win in game 4 was their ability to hold on to the puck for a majority of the game. The first 38 minutes of the game was all Hawks and despite the ensuing 14 minutes, they were able to control the pace and style of the play for a majority of the game. When the Blackhawks hold on to the puck more than the Blues, it almost always will guarantee a victory for the Hawks. Simply put, the Blues are unable to play the Blackhawks style of play and vice versa.
This is why it’s essential the Hawks maintain possession of the puck in game 5. The first two games of this series saw the Blues dictate the style of play and forcing the Hawks to stray away from their game plan. This was the prescription for success for St. Louis and is something they will aim to replicate tonight. For the Blackhawks, the formula is to do what made them successful in games 3 and 4. Outpossess the Blues and try to minimize the time St. Louis spends in the Hawks defensive zone.
Full 60 Minute Effort
There is an old saying in hockey that when a team is up against the ropes, you have to “weather the storm” of the first ten minutes of the first period. The Blues tonight are going to try and come out flying and establish the pace of the game within the first ten minutes tonight. If the Hawks are able to neutralize their forecheck and minimize the chances against Corey Crawford in the first ten minutes tonight, it will bode well for them.
It is essential for the Hawks to avoid giving up goals late in the period. I don’t want to look up the exact numbers because it will bring back bad memories, but the Hawks have given up far too many late period goals. They were lucky in game 4 to rebound and overcome it, but they will be doing themselves a large favor by finishing off a period without surrendering a goal.
I anticipate tonight’s game to be another war with both teams aiming to make the other play their style of hockey. St. Louis faces enormous pressure from their home crowd by attempting to avoid a second straight first round collapse after leading a series 2-0. The mental fortitude of the Blues will be tested tonight and will go a long way towards telling whether or not they have the ability to compete for the Stanley Cup, let alone make it out of the first round.
Tags: Chicago Blackhawks