The short-handed Chicago Blackhawks will look to pull a bit of an upset on Wednesday night as they battle the St. Louis Blues in Game 1 of the teams’ first round playoff series.
The Blackhawks will be without defenseman Duncan Keith for the game, as he sits for the final game of a six-game suspension that he was handed late in the regular season. Keith has been skating with Brent Seabrook during practices in the lead-up to the playoffs, but he won’t be available for the Blackhawks as they look to steal home ice advantage from their Central Division rivals.
So how will the Blackhawks go about trying to get the series off to a good start? To answer that question, we’ve identified three keys for the Hawks as they try to grab a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
1. Avoid Defensive Mismatches
The Blackhawks will open the series on the road, and that means they won’t have the benefit of last line change when it comes to selecting which players are on the ice.
That could be especially critical in Game 1, with Keith out of the lineup. The Blues will likely try to catch guys like Michal Rozsival and Trevor van Riemsdyk on the ice in the contest, and if they can, then they will their best offensive lines at them.
The Blackhawks’ defensive depth has been a big issue all season long, but in this game, they’ll have to be very careful about where they start their blue liners, as they don’t want to put too much pressure on their lower-tier guys right away.
2. Keep Crawford’s Life Easy
In a similar vein, the Blackhawks are going to have to make it a priority to protect Corey Crawford as he plays in his first meaningful game since he suffered an upper-body injury in March.
It’s unclear just how healthy the goaltender is, and it will be up to the Blackhawks to minimize the quality scoring chances that the Blues can muster against him. He did show some decent lateral movement in the Hawks’ loss Saturday to the Columbus Blue Jackets, but with St. Louis’ penchant for crashing the crease and getting rushes in transition, Crawford will be under some strain, and it’ll be up to Chicago to stay in their defensive lanes and minimize the damage as the goaltender tries to ease back into the swing of things.
3. Get Secondary Scoring From Top Line
The Blackhawks’ even strength scoring issues this season will certainly be a factor in this series, as they look to prove that they are more than just a one-trick pony when it comes to offense.
That will become even more crucial because of the Blues’ strength on the penalty kill. They were ranked second in the league this season in killing off penalties, and with a good number of the Blackhawks’ goals coming on the man-advantage, they’ll have to find other sources of offense if they are going to win this series.
That starts on Wednesday night, and there are several players worth keeping an eye on. Teuvo Teravainen is skating with the team’s third line on Wednesday night, but the Hawks will likely get him some minutes with other forwards in an attempt to get him to take charge offensively in the game.
Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa will also play a key role as they try to prove that they are still capable of putting the puck in the net. The duo has generally been used in more of a shutdown role in recent months, but with Marcus Kruger back in the lineup, that pressure will ideally be lessened on both players, and they can focus on trying to put the puck in the net as the Hawks look for other scoring sources.