While Chicago Blackhawks fans are looking ahead and talking in varyingly excited and fearful tones about a Stanley Cup Finals matchup with the Boston Bruins, the team on the ice is committed to going about its business and finishing off the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night.
That task is a lot easier said than done, as the Hawks surely know. The Kings are a team that isn’t going to give up easily, and they will surely come out of the gates with the kind of intensity that they displayed in their Game 3 triumph over Chicago.
In that game, the Hawks seemed to take a while not only to react to the punch that LA threw early on, but they also seemed to get muscled out of their offensive gameplan. In similar fashion to the way the Detroit Red Wings clamped down on the Hawks in the neutral and defensive zones in Games 3 and 4 of their series, the Kings forced the Hawks wide on nearly every possession, and made Chicago’s zone entries nearly impossible to execute.
Chicago did come back to score a goal and put on some great pressure in the third period of that Game 3 loss, but at the same time, they cannot afford to give the Kings a two period head start like they did in that game. That means that they will need to come out with the same urgency that they did in the third period of Game 4, putting offensive pressure on Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick and punishing a Kings team that may end up making some mistakes in their haste to score.
With that in mind, the Hawks will need to get continued production out of guys like Patrick Kane. He came out of his shell in a big way in Game 4, aggressively pursuing the Kings’ puck carriers and assertively finding open areas of the ice to attack from on the offensive side of the puck. His pairing with pal Jonathan Toews definitely helped him open up the throttle on his game, and he will need to do that again in this one.
In addition to Kane, the Hawks will also need their defensive group to step up like they have throughout the series. Even lower-rung guys like Michal Rozsival have been contributing to the team’s success, and if he and Johnny Oduya can hold down the fort on the tough defensive assignments in this one, then the Hawks will have a great opportunity to win.
Finally, the Hawks will need to stay disciplined if they are going to win. Yes, they managed to kill off a huge penalty late in the third period with ace penalty killer Michael Frolik in the box, but that isn’t something that they can afford to repeat in this contest. The Kings’ power play is going to be playing with an extra kick tonight, and giving them chunks of uninterrupted possession time isn’t the best way to go about closing out the series.
Obviously, the Hawks are going to come out tonight brimming with a confidence that comes with knocking off the Kings on Los Angeles ice on Thursday. There are still 60 minutes of hockey to be played before they can claim the Western Conference crown, and they’ll have to stick to their game plan for that entire time in order to cancel their hotel reservations for Monday night.