Special Teams, Defensive Play Key as Hawks Look to Close Series Out

The Hawks need to deploy defensemen properly as they get advantage of final line change

The Chicago Blackhawks have been a very successful team in Game 6’s under head coach Joel Quenneville, and they’ll look to continue their winning ways as they try to close out their series with the Nashville Predators on Saturday night.

In Quenneville’s career in Chicago, the Blackhawks have lost just one in 12 Game 6’s, dropping only the sixth game of their series with the Phoenix Coyotes in the 2012 postseason. Whether with stellar defense and goaltending or offensive prowess, the Hawks seem to play their best hockey as a series goes on, and they’re hoping that trend continues against Nashville in this one.

Even with that past success, the Blackhawks are still facing some serious questions going into this game. Much like they did in Game 2, their third period effort on Thursday night was poor by all accounts as they gave up four goals and coughed up a golden opportunity to finish off the series and get some rest before the second round. Whether on the penalty kill or at even strength, the team’s defense had several notable lapses in the game, and they looked more like the team that struggled at the end of the season than the team that has serious Stanley Cup aspirations.

It’s fair to say that the Blackhawks don’t want this series getting to a seventh game. Their last two performances in Nashville have been rough to say the least, and without the benefits of a supportive crowd and final line change their play in Games 2 and 5 of this series has suffered. 

In order to get this series over and done with, the Blackhawks will have to make sure that they are not only ready to go out of the gate, but also keep enough in the tank to play good hockey in the third period. Having to rely on only four defensemen (Kimmo Timonen hasn’t played much outside of the first two periods of games, and Michal Rozsival is a turnover machine as he gets tired) makes that a difficult proposition, but utilizing last line change should limit that duo’s exposure and should give extra rest to the top four defensemen on Saturday night.

In addition to using their defense properly, the Hawks have got to get some production out of their special teams units. Their power play group hasn’t scored since Game 1 of the series, missing on their last 13 attempts. The penalty killing unit hasn’t fared much better, giving up at least one goal in four of the five games so far in this series.

If the Blackhawks can take advantage of opportunities on the power play and can prevent the Predators from capitalizing on their own chances, they have a really good chance at winning this game. If those trends persist, then the road becomes a heck of a lot tougher.

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