In the pantheon of tired sports clichés, the phrase “play your own game” ranks right up there with “don’t beat yourself” and “keep your head in the game.” Despite the hackneyed nature of the phrase however, it could be an especially apt one for the Chicago Blackhawks to follow as they try to get back into their series against the St. Louis Blues.
In the first two games of the series, the Hawks have gone about as far away from their normal strategy as possible. Whether it was the conservative lead-protecting posture they put themselves into in Game 1 (a game that saw the Blues tie things up with about 1:40 to go in the third period), or the overly-physical and stupid play that they displayed in the third period of Game 2 (a game that the Blues tied on the power play with less than seven seconds left), the Hawks seem to have forgotten the style of play that has gotten them here, and the consequences have been obvious as they dropped both contests on the road.
Now though, the Hawks are being given a fresh start on home ice to get back into the swing of things. With the benefit of first line change and a raucous crowd behind them, the Hawks should have an easy time finding their rhythm in a Game 3 that is as close to a must-win as a non-elimination game can be. The question then is whether or not that will be enough to overcome a Blues team that will not only be brimming with confidence after two wins, but will also be looking to step on the necks of the team that injured their captain in that Game 2 slugfest.
David Backes won’t be on the ice for the Blues in Game 3, but neither will Brent Seabrook, the man whose hit knocked Backes out of the game Saturday. Losing Seabrook will definitely impact the Hawks on both sides of the ice, as Seabrook is just as capable of pinching in and uncorking his wicked slap shot (as he did on his goal Saturday) as he is of making a key play on defense.
His absence needs to be looked at as a similar motivation as the Blues have with Backes. With their backs against the wall and playing short-handed, the Blackhawks don’t have time to continue to struggle to get their skates underneath them. They are a faster team than the Blues, and as we saw in their final two games of the regular season against St. Louis, they can move the puck around really well even as guys like Barret Jackman and Ryan Reaves try to throw their weight around.
If the Hawks can stick to their plan of possessing the puck rather than being forced to dispossess Blues players of it, and if they can avoid carving a rut into the ice that runs towards the penalty box, then Chicago could very well get back into this series with a win Monday night. If they can’t, a do-or-die affair on Wednesday night could very well be in the cards, and that is not a position that the defending Stanley Cup champions want to find themselves in.