For the second straight game, the Chicago Blackhawks will look to avoid elimination on Saturday night when they take on the St. Louis Blues in Game 6 of their best-of-seven series.
The Blackhawks were largely outplayed in Game 5, but an overtime goal by Patrick Kane gave them a 4-3 victory and a new lease on life as they look to stay alive in the postseason.
So how can the Blackhawks win again on Saturday and force a decisive Game 7 on Monday night back in St. Louis? To answer that question, we’re once again going to look at Three Keys for the Hawks to focus on in this critical game.
Get Off to a Better Start
Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville pushed his “nuclear option” button for Game 5 Thursday, putting Kane and Jonathan Toews together on the top line. The duo did decently enough, with Kane scoring the game winner and both players registering as positive-Corsi players in the contest, but their impact was limited as the team was largely outchanced throughout the contest.
That factor was especially evident in the first period, as the Blackhawks managed just four shots on goal in the opening 20 minutes of play. Their defense did a solid job as they held St. Louis to just six shots, but the offense didn’t do a good enough job of dictating pace in the game, and that simply cannot happen again on Saturday.
If the Blackhawks are serious about wanting the Blues to feel as though they’re the ones with the pressure on their shoulders, then a big start in front of the home crowd is absolutely necessary. Activating defensemen on the rush, using stretch passes from the center to the wingers, and aggressive zone entries are all critical here, and the Hawks will need to break out their entire bag of tricks to get the Blues off of their game.
Continue to Hold Tarasenko at Bay
For the first time in the entire series, Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko was virtually invisible in the Game 5 loss to the Blackhawks. His name was scarcely mentioned on broadcasts, and he was covered very well by Blackhawks defenders and forwards throughout the game.
With that in mind, stopping him is the key to keeping the entire St. Louis offense at bay. The team largely feeds off of his energy and skill, especially at even strength, and if the Blackhawks can use their right to final line change to keep him bottled up, then they stand a much better chance of winning the game and tying up the series.
The Blackhawks’ penalty killing unit, a strength as the regular season concluded, has become a bit of a liability in the postseason, and they coughed up yet another goal in Game 5 on Thursday night. They did hold the Blues to a 1-for-3 performance, but their constant stream of penalties throughout this series has been worrisome to say the least.
In order to prevent the Blues from gaining a foothold and generating momentum, the Blackhawks have to minimize the number of careless penalties they’re accumulating. Whether it’s a late-game offensive zone penalty (Andrew Shaw, Game 4) or a late-game too-many-men penalty (third period, Game 5), the Blackhawks have to stop giving the Blues big-time chances on the man-advantage, and they’ll have to be very disciplined Saturday night.