With memories of their Game 1 loss fresh in their minds, the Chicago Blackhawks will head into their Thursday matchup with the Vegas Golden Knights looking for a measure of revenge when the series resumes in Edmonton.
The Blackhawks trailed the Golden Knights by just a goal after two periods of play, but two third period tallies by Reilly Smith changed all of that, putting the Blackhawks in a 1-0 series hole and facing a raft of questions about whether they could make enough changes to keep up with a deep and talented Vegas squad.
Now, as the team looks to tie up the series at a game apiece, there are three key questions that the club will have to answer when they hit the ice against the top-seeded Golden Knights on Thursday afternoon.
Will Jeremy Colliton Switch Up Line Combinations?
One of the big concerns going into the Vegas series was whether the Blackhawks could get some of their key scorers going, including Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome, and that question still looms large after the team managed just 20 shots and one goal in Tuesday’s loss.
Without a morning skate to see how the Blackhawks are lining up for Thursday’s game, it’s still unclear whether changes will be in the offing for Chicago, but one senses that Colliton will likely have to make some changes to the squad in order to give some of his best forwards a chance to get going again.
One of the potential options would be to reunite Strome and DeBrincat, although the question of which skater would then link up with them remains to be answered. Patrick Kane, who has had an up-and-down postseason so far, could also be on the move, with Colliton potentially linking him up with Jonathan Toews in an attempt to get the team’s best scorer rolling again.
Of course, all of these potential moves could have the consequence of screwing up the rhythm that players like Dominik Kubalik and Kirby Dach have settled into, but the team is much more likely to win if players like Kane and DeBrincat are effective weapons, so Colliton may not have a choice.
Which Version of Corey Crawford Will We See?
After recovering from coronavirus and rejoining his teammates, Crawford was visibly rusty in the team’s first few games against the Oilers, but seemed to find his stride in Games 3 and 4, with strong performances and some incredible saves in those contests.
He seemed to take a step back in Game 1 against Vegas, giving up a rough short-side goal to Shea Theodore in the second period and a goal to Smith in the third that hit off of his shoulder and rolled into the cage for Vegas’ third tally of the evening.
It’s not exactly clear at this point which Crawford Blackhawks fans will see in Game 2, but it’s obvious that without a strong Crawford performance, the team’s chances of scoring an upset drop dramatically.
Will the Blackhawks’ Defensive Strategy Change in Game 2?
The Blackhawks did a few things well in Game 1 of the series, including keeping Vegas’ forwards in largely low-danger areas of the ice through the first two periods of the contest. Possession numbers in the game did favor the Golden Knights, but the Blackhawks narrowed the gap considerably in the second period and early in the third period of the game, giving fans some hope that the team can figure out a way to slow down the Knights’ incredibly deep forward group.
The big question now is whether the Blackhawks will want to try to get into a more “high-event” type of contest with the Golden Knights, surrendering more chances in exchange for being able to get up and down the ice in transition more easily.
That seems to be the way that the Blackhawks are better able to get their offense going, but it could come at a price if players like Max Pacioretty, Mark Stone and William Karlsson can get more room to operate.