After losing two games in a row, the Chicago Blackhawks will be looking to defend home ice on Sunday night when they welcome the Minnesota Wild back to the United Center for Game 5 of their second round series.
With those two defeats still on their minds, the question for the Blackhawks is a simple one: how can they beat a team that is going to be flying high with momentum after two really solid wins on home ice?
Traffic, Shots Both Key Components to Hawks’ Effort
Over the four games the Blackhawks have played against the Wild, they have been outshot twice and have only managed an average of 21 shots per contest in the series so far. The goals scored total for both teams stands at 11 after those contests, but the Blackhawks aren’t putting much pressure on Ilya Bryzgalov, and that has to change as Game 5 gets going.
In a few instances on Friday night, the Hawks saw what putting pressure on the goaltender could do. Down 2-1 just a few minutes into the second period, the Blackhawks got a good possession going in their offensive zone, and eventually the puck found its way out to the point. Brent Seabrook took advantage of a screen in front of Bryzgalov, and blasted a shot towards the net. Michal Handzus ended up deflecting it past the goaltender, tying the game at 2-2.
The play was a perfect representation of what the Blackhawks need to do against the Wild. Getting guys like Handzus, Bryan Bickell, and Ben Smith to the front of the net will not only provide opportunities for the Blackhawks’ blue liners to take big shots from the point, but it will also open up chances for rebound shots near the crease. It doesn’t matter whether a goal is pretty or ugly at this stage of the playoffs, and the Blackhawks need to get them in any way that they can.
Crawford Must be Sharper in Game 5
If one was to be honest about Corey Crawford’s effort in Game 4, they would admit that it was a subpar one. He hasn’t had many of them in this year’s playoffs, and his resiliency in past postseasons is a good indicator that he could bounce back strong in this one.
The goals he allowed to Jason Pominville and Nino Niederreiter in the second period were especially bad. Caught out of position about four minutes into the period, Crawford lost sight of a puck after a shot attempt by Ryan Suter, and he drifted a little too far away from his post to try to find it. Pominville bounced a shot off of him from behind the net, and in an instant the Wild took a 2-1 lead.
Just 44 seconds after the Hawks had tied the game on Handzus’ goal, Crawford let in another soft goal on the rush. Niederreiter flew up the ice after a nice pass from Charlie Coyle, and Crawford’s “bad glove hand” (a narrative from last postseason that really didn’t hold much validity) was the culprit as the shot beat him to the near post and into the net, giving Minnesota a lead they would never relinquish.
Crawford has been largely sharp this postseason, and while the defense didn’t help him in Game 4, he has to be playing at a higher level when the puck drops in Game 5 if the Hawks are going to have a good chance of winning.
Hossa, Keith Have to Play Like Savvy Veterans Again
One of the most striking facets of the game on Friday was the fact that the Blackhawks were playing with a tentative approach that the Wild took advantage of. Two of the players most affected by this seemed to be Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith, who each were guilty of several poor plays that cost the Blackhawks some key opportunities to score.
Whether it was blind passes to the middle of the ice or passing up open shots, both players showed some bad habits on Friday that have to be reversed on Sunday. The Hawks play better when they are skating with confidence and speed, and Hossa and Keith are two of the key components to that style of play. If they are playing responsible defense, moving the puck quickly, and most importantly of all, creating scoring opportunities with their quick shots and great ice vision, then the Hawks are in good shape. If they are playing like the puck is a hand grenade, then the Hawks are in trouble.