CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 27: Corey Crawford #50 of the Chicago Blackhawks makes a save against the St. Louis Blues in Game Six of the First Round of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the United Center on April 27, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
The Chicago Blackhawks are in the midst of a two-game losing streak against the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Final, and despite getting some great scoring punch from their top line in both Games 2 and 3, they still find themselves in a difficult spot as they try to tie the series up before the scene shifts back to Chicago for Wednesday’s Game 5.
So how can the Blackhawks win Game 4 and set up a pivotal Game 5 that will determine which side controls the series? Here are our Three Keys to victory for the defending champions.
Role Players Must Step Up Defensively
The Toews line has been one of the most effective lines in terms of stopping the Kings’ scoring attack so far in this series, but outside of their efforts, the Blackhawks aren’t doing a very good job. The Kings’ second line, featuring Jeff Carter, Tanner Pearson, and Tyler Toffoli, has gone to town on the Blackhawks during this series, racking up goals and proving to be one of the most dynamic groups in the league through these playoffs.
If the Blackhawks are going to bounce back and win Game 4 of the series, then they are going to have to figure out a way to slow that line down. Whether it’s the third line or the fourth line, one of the groups needs to step up and play more responsible defense than they have been in previous games, and while that’s a tall order, it’s a necessary one for the Hawks if they want to win.
Crawford Has to Have a Big Game
Over the past few games, Crawford has had his fair share of miscues and bad goals, and Saturday’s Game 3 loss was no exception. Despite the Blackhawks limiting the Kings to just four shots on goal in the second period, Crawford still surrendered two goals to cough up the lead, and the Kings cruised from there as they won a 4-3 decision.
During his career with the Blackhawks, Crawford has consistently bounced back from adversity, and this is going to be one of his sternest tests yet. The team’s defense hasn’t been playing great in front of him, but as he showed during the previous series against the Minnesota Wild, as well as the first round series against the Vancouver Canucks way back in 2011, Crawford is capable of standing on his head in crunch time, and that’s what the Blackhawks will need him to do against the Kings on Monday.
Kane Must Find His Game
Through the first three games of this series, Kane has gone from being one of the most clutch players on the ice to one of the most invisible. Whether it’s because he’s been struggling to find chemistry with Michal Handzus and Patrick Sharp, or because the Kings are focusing their defensive efforts on limiting his effectiveness, the winger has been handcuffed in a big way in this series, and he doesn’t look comfortable when he has the puck.
In order for the Blackhawks to win Game 4 on Monday night, Kane has got to not only be more assertive, but he needs a bit of help from his teammates as well. With guys like Sharp and Ben Smith on his line, Kane gets a bit more space on the ice to work with, and that should be the trick to getting his scoring back on track. Open ice equals more passing lanes for the quick-handed forward, and even if he decides to shoot, more space will mean he has more of an opportunity to pick his spots against Jonathan Quick.
If Kane is engaged, the Blackhawks are in great shape. If he’s limited, then Los Angeles can focus their energies on stopping the Hawks’ other scorers, and that would spell doom for Chicago.