The Chicago Blackhawks were able to stave off elimination against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday, and they will head to the Motor City tonight trying to do the same thing in enemy territory.
What are the keys to the Hawks being able to bring the series back to the Windy City for a potential Game 7 on Wednesday?
Defensive Pressure from Forwards a Must
A lot was made about how well the Blackhawks’ offense played on Saturday, and there was plenty of credit given to the team’s defense as well. The most interesting part of the Hawks’ performance in that game was how well their forwards did defensively, which opened up the ice for the offense to work and never let the Red Wings get settled in.
Often times, pundits will talk about backchecking and forechecking being part of a team’s strategy, and the Blackhawks get a love of coverage based on those tactics. In Game 5, the Hawks were especially potent in the former respect, with their forwards constantly attacking the Wings’ forwards as they skated the puck up the ice. This was especially noticeable in the neutral zone, and that ability to prevent the Detroit offense from getting set up with that neutral zone pressure played a big role in the Hawks winning.
If the Blackhawks are going to have success in Game 6, then they are going to have to do an equally good job of shutting things down in that area of the ice, because if they don’t, then they will be putting an even bigger burden on goaltender Corey Crawford, which is never a recipe for success in an elimination game.
Maintain a Consistent Level of Play
The Hawks have been getting off to good starts as of late, but their play in the second period of games in the series has been worrisome. Until Game 5, the Hawks’ hadn’t scored a single goal in the second period against the Red Wings during the series, and that inability to control the tempo had bad consequences for the team as they tried to play from behind in Games 3 and 4.
That all changed for the Hawks in Game 5, as they were able to completely dominate the second half of the second period. The resulting momentum swing gave the Hawks a huge boost, as they held Detroit to only four shots on goal in the third period and won the game fairly easily.
The Blackhawks will need a similar effort as the game progresses tonight.
Keep the Troops as Fresh as Possible
The Blackhawks did a good job in Game 5 of keeping their playing time well spread out, with no forward playing over 20 minutes in the game and defensemen Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith only playing a shade over 23 minutes apiece. Those numbers indicate that the team was taking full advantage of the depth that has brought them to this point in the season, and also means that the players will be fresher when called upon in clutch situations.
This is going to be especially crucial in Game 6 because of the fact that the Red Wings will once again get last line change as the home team. Since Quenneville will not be able to keep his top line of Sharp-Toews-Kane away from the Wings’ top players, he is going to need to be able to rely on the rest of the forwards in his lineup to pull their weight, and will also need his lower defensive pairings to keep up their disciplined play so that Keith and Seabrook don’t have to be overworked.