The Chicago Blackhawks are looking to tie up their Stanley Cup Final series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and before they take the ice at the United Center Wednesday night, we have four keys to victory as the Hawks look to tie up the series.
Stop Letting Up After Goals
Does the number 11 mean anything to Blackhawks fans? It should, because that’s the number of times that the team has given up a goal within two minutes of scoring one in this postseason.
To make matters worse, six of those goals came within a minute of the Blackhawks’ netting one, with the latest in that line of tallies coming on Monday night when Ondrej Palat scored just 13 seconds after Brandon Saad in the third period of that Game 3 loss.
To put matters simply, the Blackhawks have got to guard against this phenomenon, and do so quickly. Whether that means winning the ensuing face-off cleanly, or putting out a defensive line led by Jonathan Toews or Marcus Kruger, or whatever other strategy Joel Quenneville can concoct, things have to change.
Stop Bolts’ Scoring Line
The Blackhawks had the advantage of final line change in Game 3 of the series, but one matchup that kept burning them over and over again was the battle between the Cedric Paquette line and the Brad Richards line.
Those two line combinations went at each quite quite a bit in the game, and the Paquette line handled the matchups with ease. Overall in the game, Paquette, Ryan Callahan, and J.T. Brown combined for a plus-37 Corsi number, meaning that they absolutely dominated possession against Richards and his linemates Bryan Bickell and Patrick Kane.
In Game 4, the Blackhawks may have to try a different matchup if they are going to get things going against this line. Don’t be surprised to see the Kane line go out against the Bolts’ top line in the game, with the Kruger line taking some shifts against Paquette’s group.
Be Wary of the Stretch Pass
The Blackhawks are a team that loves to throw the puck up ice quickly in transition, with guys like Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson both possessing great eyes for stretch passes.
That’s what makes the team’s struggles against the tactic more intriguing. Victor Hedman has savaged the Blackhawks throughout the series with his pinpoint passes up the ice, and the Lightning have had several breakaways as a result as things have worn on.
If the Blackhawks are going to slow down Tampa’s offense, then the big key is going to be staying cautious against the Hedman defensive pairing. It isn’t ideal, because it means that guys won’t be able to pinch in as freely from the blue line as they have been in recent games, but at the very least it will limit chances at the other end of the ice, and that’s a trade-off the Hawks may have to make.
Keep Up Traffic Near the Net
On the Blackhawks’ first goal of the game Monday night, the team’s puck possession and movement around the ice got a lot of the credit, but Andrew Shaw’s screen in front of Ben Bishop was the real star of the show.
Working in front of him for most of the power play, Shaw prevented Bishop from following the puck around the ice, and in spite of the goaltender’s 6-foot-7 frame, he couldn’t see Brad Richards’ shot until it was in the back of the net and the Hawks were dancing to Chelsea Dagger.
With the goaltender still limited by an injury that he’s playing with (even if that injury is excessive tallness, as Lightning head coach Jon Cooper would likely argue), the Blackhawks have got to get pressure into the blue paint and get Bishop uncomfortable in the crease. He allowed some huge rebounds in Game 3 of this series, and those could spell disaster for him if he continues that trend on Wednesday night.