The Chicago Blackhawks, fresh off of giving up five third period goals to the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday night, will look to regain their footing in the Western Conference Final when they tangle with the Kings at Staples Center on Saturday night.
While the Kings only hold a 3-3 record in the building during this postseason, the Blackhawks can’t afford to take either of the two games that will be played there for granted. The Kings are a team that thrives upon being underestimated, and their big outburst in Game 2 should be a perfect example of that.
With that in mind, how can the Blackhawks take down Game 3 and wrest home-ice advantage back from Los Angeles? Here are our Three Keys to the game.
Game 2 Has to Be in the Rear View Mirror
While it may be tempting for the Blackhawks to try to use their Game 2 embarrassment as fuel for their effort in this contest, the team would be better served trying to completely forget about it and focus on the task at hand.
The Blackhawks are a team that occasionally falls into a trap of trying to be too perfect with their passes, and if they’re pressing the issue constantly, that will only exacerbate the problem. The team is much better off when there’s flow to their game, with the puck flying through the neutral zone to avoid trapping defenses and traffic getting to the front of the net once puck possession is established in the offensive zone.
Focusing on executing that game plan, rather than trying to go for revenge in this one, will be a key as the Blackhawks try to bounce back.
Crawford Has to be Better in This Game
Corey Crawford has played plenty of excellent games in these playoffs, which makes subpar efforts like he had in the third period of Game 2 that much more jarring. Poor defense in front of him didn’t help, but a bad read on Jake Muzzin’s third period tally and his inattentiveness when Tyler Toffoli scored were both plays that a goaltender of Crawford’s caliber shouldn’t be messing up on.
Knowing Crawford though, he’ll be buzzing and ready to go for this one. After playing a poor game against the Boston Bruins in Game 4 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, Crawford bounced back with one of his best games as a Blackhawk. He has the potential to do that again here, and if he can the team will be in great shape as they try to regain control of the series.
Sharp, Kane Must Step Up
The Kings and Blackhawks have been playing a fascinating chess game when it comes to matchups, but Los Angeles will have a bit of an advantage as the home team in this one. They will get the right to final line change, and that means that Darryl Sutter’s team is going to focus their defensive prowess against one of the Blackhawks’ top two lines.
With Joel Quenneville’s recent line shuffling, that could mean that one or two of his players could be getting good opportunities with favorable matchups, and if those lines happen to include Patrick Kane or Patrick Sharp, then those stars have got to step up.
For Kane, he had one of the highlight-reel plays of the playoffs when he scored the series-winning goal against the Minnesota Wild last week, but in the first two games against the Kings he’s been relatively quiet. He only has four shots on goal in the two games, and has yet to pick up a point in the series. As for Sharp, he is pointless in his last three games, and even though he has eight shots on goal in those contests, he still is dealing with his recent cold streak.
If those two players continue to struggle to put points on the scoresheet, then the Blackhawks’ offense is going to have a tough time breaking out against a stingy Kings defense. If they can find their grooves, the Hawks will be in much better shape.