LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 26: Peter Regin #12 of the Chicago Blackhawks with the pcuk against Jake Muzzin #6 of the Los Angeles Kings in the third period in Game Four of the Western Conference Final during the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Staples Center on May 26, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
The Chicago Blackhawks currently find themselves in a position that they’ve become slightly familiar with over the past few years: on the verge of elimination from the playoffs.
During Joel Quenneville’s tenure with the team, the Hawks have made the playoffs in six consecutive seasons, and during those campaigns, they have faced elimination from the postseason 10 times. They have a record of 7-3 in those games, including three consecutive wins over the Vancouver Canucks in 2010 (a series they ended up losing in seven games) and three straight victories over the Detroit Red Wings in 2013 (a series they won in seven games).
Before talk of a comeback can really take place, the Hawks have to take the first step, which is winning Game 5 on home ice on Wednesday night. With a look at how they can do that, we have our Three Keys to a Blackhawks victory.
Defensive Discipline Must Improve
As we detailed in our Panic Meter post on Tuesday, the Blackhawks’ defense was utterly atrocious against the Kings on Monday night, giving up countless goals on bad breakdowns and costing the team what would have been a series-changing victory.
If the Blackhawks are going to succeed in Wednesday’s tilt, then they must cut back on those mistakes. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are at the head of the line there, as they were the ones that frequently were leaving players like Jeff Carter and Dustin Brown wide open in front of the net on power plays. Marian Gaborik also got inside positioning on Seabrook on his even strength goal in the first period, and it’s that inability to keep players from establishing position near Corey Crawford that is really costing the Hawks.
If the Blackhawks can address that issue and maintain control over the area near the net, then the Kings won’t have the myriad of easy chances they had in Game 4. If Chicago continues to vacate that area and let guys like Brown and Carter run amok, then it’s going to be a long night in the Windy City.
Stay Out of the Box
Several Blackhawks players committed silly infractions in Game 4 of the series, and that is a tendency that has to end when the teams hit the ice for Game 5.
Key among those offenders was Andrew Shaw, who cross-checked Willie Mitchell in the offensive zone and ended what had been one of the Hawks’ best possessions of the game up until that point. Shaw also was whistled late in the second period for holding Drew Doughty’s stick, thus ending another potential scoring opportunity.
Add to that Patrick Sharp’s stupid roughing penalty in the offensive zone in the first period, and it’s easy to see why the Kings largely dominated the tempo and pace of the game in the first 40 minutes of play. Giving them frequent chances on the power play not only has cost Chicago goals (the Kings had two more power play tallies on Monday night), but it also prevents them from settling into an offensive rhythm at even strength.
Kane Must Play His Game
Kane hasn’t had the best series for the Blackhawks, with only one assist through four contests against the Kings.
After being reunited with Jonathan Toews for a game on Monday, Kane will likely be bumped back down to the second line in Game 5, skating with Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw if the practice lines were any indication. That means that head coach Joel Quenneville is likely trying to help create space for Kane by using the speed of Saad to draw defensive attention, and if Kane can hold onto the puck long enough on zone entry, Shaw will be asked to get to the front of the net to create screens and go for possible rebounds and deflections.
Those strategies seem to be smart ones, but it’s all a matter of execution at this point for Kane. If he can get his game going, then things will be different for Chicago. If he can’t, then the mountain the team must summit to come back in this series becomes even more arduous.