The Chicago Blackhawks had every opportunity to win Game 1 of their series with the St. Louis Blues, but they were unable to get the job done as David Backes scored the game-winner in overtime to put the home side ahead 1-0 in the best-of-seven series.
On Friday night, the Hawks will look to grab a split of the two games in St. Louis when they contest Game 2 against the Blues, and they’ll do so with a key reinforcement, as Duncan Keith will return to the team’s lineup after serving a six game suspension.
So how can the Blackhawks win the game and move the series back to the United Center tied at a game apiece? We have three keys to victory for the Hawks as they look to steal home ice advantage from the Blues.
Get Keith Involved Quickly
Keith has been practicing with the team in recent weeks, skating with Brent Seabrook as he prepared to come back from his suspension, and although the Hawks did do a nice job defensively without him in Game 1, they’re going to need to get him active in the game plan right away.
The power play is one area where Keith is going to be absolutely critical. The Blackhawks couldn’t get anything going on the man-advantage in Game 1, and they had five different opportunities to beat the Blues in that key area. Adding Keith back will give them a steadier hand at the point, and he should be able to improve this team’s puck-cycling ability and get the Blues’ defense off-balance.
Keith will also be an important player at even strength too. Taking away minutes from players like Viktor Svedberg and Michal Rozsival is always a welcome strategy for Joel Quenneville, and if Keith can play between 25 and 30 minutes in this one, the coach will certainly be okay with that.
Adjust to Whatever Strategy St. Louis Uses
The Blues didn’t have a lot of puck possession in Game 1, settling for just 18 shots and hitting the Blackhawks at every opportunity they got in the game.
After that contest and in the run-up to Game 2, Ken Hitchcock has been adamant that his team is going to only ratchet up the physicality, joking that they wanted to get upwards of 70 hits per contest against the defending Stanley Cup champions.
That strategy would be an interesting one, considering how thoroughly the Hawks dominated the proceedings in possession and shots on goal, but Chicago has to be wary about all this public talk being a ploy. The Blues are capable of pushing the tempo on offense (as they did late in the second period of Game 1), and if they think the Hawks are going to play more passively for fear of a physical approach from St. Louis, they could take advantage of that.
The Blackhawks have to be prepared for whatever the Blues throw at them, and they would be well-advised not to simply take Hitchcock and the Blues at their word.
Keep Up Forecheck Pressure
The one thing that the Blackhawks did to really shield against any consequences of Keith’s absence in Game 1 was to amp up the pressure of their forechecking. Just about every forward had a very aggressive approach throughout the game, and as St. Louis tried to fire shots toward the net, the Blackhawks would routinely close out and either break up the shot before it was taken or block it en route to the cage.
That strategy was a tremendously effective one, and one the Blackhawks should keep doing in Game 2. Guys like Teuvo Teravainen and Marcus Kruger were especially noteworthy in this area, as their speed and discipline came in handy against a Blues team that clearly wasn’t ready to be pressured on the puck as much as they were in Game 1.