The Chicago Blackhawks are looking to continue one notable streak on Tuesday night while ending another. The one that they hope to keep going is their six game winning streak during the postseason. The one they hope to end is the streak of road playoff openers that they have lost, which is now up to eight games after they lost Game 1 of their series against the St. Louis Blues.
How will they go about making sure that their winning streak continues while their losing streak goes by the wayside? Here are three keys to the game for the Hawks as they look to take a 3-0 series lead.
First Period Push Must Be Neutralized
In their first two games against the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center in Denver, the Minnesota Wild played two competitive games, but ultimately the Avs came out on top. In Game 3, the Wild came out with their hair on fire, racking up 46 shots on goal and ultimately besting Semyon Varlamov in a 1-0 overtime victory.
The tone for that game was set in the first period, as the Wild racked up an incredible 22 shots on goal in the opening frame. None of them ended up beating Varlamov, but the message was clear: we are coming at you early and often.
Down 2-0 to the Blackhawks in this series, the Wild are definitely going to be looking to do the same thing, and the Blackhawks have to be ready for it. It’s highly unlikely that we’re going to see a first period effort out of Minnesota like we did in the first two games, where they looked sloppy and lackadaisical as the Hawks dominated possession and scoring chances in the opening 20 minutes. The Hawks have to keep that same mentality in mind in this one, and be prepared for the initial onslaught as Minnesota tries to send a message that they aren’t giving up in this series without a fight.
Second Period Woes Must Be Addressed
We already addressed this topic earlier today, but we’ll repeat the key point: the Blackhawks have been awful in the second period of games over the past three contests, and even though they haven’t given up a goal thanks to the stellar play of Corey Crawford, the 47 shots they’ve allowed over those last three periods are simply unacceptable.
If the Blackhawks are going to beat the Wild, they will not only have to survive an initial burst of energy from the home team, but they also have to be able to counter punch, and the second period will provide that opportunity.
Power Play Must Adjust Without Shaw
The Blackhawks’ power play has been running relatively well during the playoffs, but they looked slightly out of sync on Sunday without Andrew Shaw in the lineup. The gritty forward will be out of the lineup again on Tuesday night, and his presence in front of the net on the man-advantage is going to be sorely missed.
In order for the Hawks to beat Minnesota and grab firm control of this series, they are going to need a couple of players to step up in Shaw’s absence. First and foremost in that group is Bryan Bickell, whose netfront presence has led to several goals in recent games and is always a headache for goaltenders to deal with. The other two are Jonathan Toews and Ben Smith, who will likely alternate turns near the crease as the Hawks move the puck around the zone on the power play.
If those three players can step up with Shaw out of the lineup, then the Blackhawks have a good chance of not only punishing the Wild for their mistakes, but also of winning the game in general.