The Chicago Blackhawks have come back from the brink of elimination on numerous occasions during their current run of success, and on Monday they’ll attempt to do it once again as they take on the St. Louis Blues in a winner-take-all Game 7.
To get to this point, the Blackhawks had to overcome sloppy play to win Game 5 in St. Louis on Thursday, and they had to overcome a two-goal deficit on Saturday night before winning a 6-3 battle at the United Center to force Monday’s contest.
So how can the Blackhawks complete another improbable comeback and advance to a second-round date with the Dallas Stars?
Third Line Forechecking a Must
One of the big advantages the Blackhawks have had in their last two games has been their newly constructed third line, which has played a huge role defensively for the team as they’ve largely kept the Blues’ offense at bay.
That line, which features Marian Hossa in a new role, has been a big factor because of their ability to relentlessly forecheck and force turnovers both in the neutral zone and in the offensive zone. The team as a whole did a good job of doing this in the final 40 minutes of Saturday’s game, but that third line was the straw that stirred the drink in that regard.
With the Blues likely focusing their defensive resources to stopping the Blackhawks’ top line, it will fall on the team’s third line to play the stopper role against the Blues’ top offensive players. Guys like Hossa and Andrew Ladd will be key to stopping Vladimir Tarasenko and company, and their ability to battle will help determine the outcome of this game.
Take Care of the Puck
The Blackhawks have minimized turnovers after a couple of disastrous outings in Games 3 and 4, but Game 6 saw some worrying trends. A few turnovers led to big St. Louis scoring chances, with players like Richard Panik helping to minimize the damage.
If the Blackhawks are going to finish off this comeback, then they absolutely must take care of the puck. Crisp passes out of the defensive zone are an absolute must, as are passes at the point during even strength and power play situations. The Blues are incredibly aggressive in deploying both forwards and defensemen to jump passing lanes, and careless passes are likely to get intercepted and turned around for great scoring chances for St. Louis.
Avoid Dramatic Momentum Swings
If there was one thing that was at fault for the Blackhawks’ first period deficit on Saturday, it was the effect of momentum on the proceedings.
After all, Andrew Desjardins’ narrow miss of a goal in the offensive zone was immediately followed by the Blues’ first goal of the game at the other end of the ice. Two more goals quickly followed for St. Louis, who took full advantage of some lethargy on the part of the Blackhawks.
In order to stay in Game 7 and ultimately win it, the Blackhawks have to try to avoid such drastic swings of emotion and game play. The Blues are going to come out firing to start the game, and they’ll look for any opportunity to prove that it’s the Blackhawks that should have their collective backs against the wall. It will be crucial for the Hawks’ veteran presence to be a factor and to avoid digging themselves into a hole with an inconsistent effort.