The biggest criticism of the Chicago Blackhawks coming into the playoffs was that they weren’t a physically imposing team.
Fans and pundits alike worried that if the Hawks came up against a team with bigger bodied forwards like the Vancouver Canucks or Los Angeles Kings that they would have a tough time setting their offense, and it was viewed as a serious weakness in terms of their Stanley Cup hopes.
On Tuesday night, the Hawks flipped the script on that narrative. They actually ended up outhitting the Minnesota Wild 40-35, and benefitted greatly from one hit in particular, the Andrew Shaw shot on Torrey Mitchell that forced a turnover, which Bryan Bickell ultimately turned into the game winning goal in overtime.
The increased physicality on the Hawks’ part is a by-product of the way the playoff intensity manifests within certain players. Guys who aren’t likely to score goals aggressively try to find ways to contribute to the team’s success, and throwing around their weight is a good way to get the attention of the coaching staff, and in the case of guys like Brandon Bollig, a good way to stay in the lineup with a slew of talented alternatives waiting in the wings thanks to end of season call-ups.
While the improved hit totals likely appeal to the “HIT HIM” demographic of Hawks partisans, the reality is that the physical game isn’t where Chicago needs to be dominant in order to be successful. Yes, the players need to be able to force their opponent off the puck at times, especially in the corners, but the Hawks’ game is predicated on puck possession, not blunt force. Because of this, if the Hawks are hitting a lot, it means that they don’t have the puck as often as they should, and that neutralizes the many offensive weapons that the team is blessed with.
In terms of how the Hawks will need to adjust their play in Game 2, the answer is a fairly simple one. The team looked a bit out of sorts in terms of passing and zone entry, with a slew of icing calls and offsides plays that hampered the quality of their possessions. It is possible that the heat outside the arena could have affected the quality of ice, and the Bulls game on Thursday probably won’t help either, but when a team holds as big a speed advantage as the Hawks do over the Wild, a more deliberate approach will neutralize both of those factors while still allowing Chicago to play like the Stanley Cup favorites.