It may not be pretty, and the final scores are nowhere near an indication of the actual play on ice, but the Blackhawks are finding ways to win.
A cautious, yet encouraging viewpoint of the current state of the team as they enter into their Game 3 matchup with the Minnesota Wild tonight. This series has a much different feel to it than the Hawks previous matchup did with St. Louis, yet both teams share a similar style of play. It is my belief that the Blues were the largest obstacle on the Hawks road to repeat. This is partially why I am cautiously optimistic about the outlook of this series, even with a 2-0 lead.
Absent is the inherent hatred that both the Blues and the Blackhawks share, but the mindset of trying to take away the North-South style of play the Hawks employ is the same. When the Blues had success against the Hawks, they were able to get the puck down low below the goal line and force players to get near Corey Crawford. The Blues aimed to cause havoc below the goal line and free up space for snipers like Tarasenko & Schwartz. Fortunately for the Blackhawks, the Wild do not have snipers at the same level as the Blues did.
The Blackhawks success can be partially attributed to their ability to adapt to their opponents style of play and turn the tables (see Nashville 2010, Detroit, Boston 2013, and St. Louis 2014). Still, the Wild have been a victim of some bad luck, much like their series against Colorado.
In Game 1, the Hawks were heavily outshot by Minnesota and for that matter out-possessed as well. Extra Skater shows only eight Hawks players (Andrew Shaw & Corey Crawford notwithstanding) with positive Corsi ratings in even strength situations. What this show is the Wild not only outshot the Hawks in both shots on net and shot attempts, but also sustained much greater offensive zone pressure when special teams weren’t in play. This narrative was familiar to Minnesota as throughout their first round series against the Avalanche, they generally lead significantly in shot attempts and time spent in the offensive zone. However, this also highlights the importance of special teams.
Game 2 saw an improvement from Chicago as they led the Wild in shot attempts throughout the entire game and overall much better even strength Corsi ratings (Extra Skater breakdown here). The Hawks did an excellent job of neutralizing the Wild’s top lines and as a result forcing them to spend a majority of their time with a defensive mindset.
Time and time again the Hawks have shown their ability to win when advanced metrics suggest they shouldn’t have. For this reason alone, I would not be surprised to see the Wild take Game 3 tonight. I am not worried about the Hawks when they are down or put in a vulnerable position (and no one should be for that matter). However, the team tends to show complacency at times when they are in a comfortable position. Not always, but something that has reoccurred in past playoff series.
Much like they were in heading into Game 3 against St. Louis, tonight’s game will help which direction this series takes. All in all, I still believe the Hawks will take this series in six games maximum as their talent level simply outweighs Minnesota’s. This was apparent in their first round matchup and is becoming apparent as this series moves along.
All for now, more for later.
Tags: Chicago Blackhawks