With last night’s 3-0 win over the Minnesota Wild, the Blackhawks now have a 3-1 lead in their first round series and will look to eliminate the Wild on Thursday night. For really the first time in this postseason, the Blackhawks actually played a “playoffs style” of hockey in Game 4, and it payed off. Joel Quenneville said after their Game 3 loss that he wanted to see a more “intense” team, while Jonathan Toews said he wanted to see the Hawks actually play like they were in the playoffs.
For the first three games of this series, it looked as though the Blackhawks were still playing like it was the regular season. They weren’t being physical, they weren’t playing with desperation or intensity, and they flat out weren’t playing playoff hockey. Minnesota, on the other hand, was playing playoff hockey. Especially in Game 3, they were hitting anyone in a white jersey without regrets, scoring ugly goals, and making life miserable for the Blackhawks.
In Game 4, the Blackhawks finally changed their style of play and played a playoff-type game. They still weren’t very physical, but they played a gritty hockey game and quit trying to be so “cute” with the puck. In the playoffs, you need to have a lot of traffic in front of the net and get a lot of shots on goal. You can’t afford to try and make highlight reel plays that often don’t even result in a shot on goal. I thought that the Blackhawks did a better job of getting away from that “highlight reel” stuff last night and just got pucks to the net instead, which was good.
While I was more pleased with the Hawks’ offense last night than I was in games 1 or 3, I am still very disappointed in their unwillingness to get physical. I can’t even begin to think of the number of times someone on the Hawks has had a chance to hit a Wild player into the glass, but instead pulled up short and tried to poke check the puck away instead. In Game 1, Andrew Shaw put a big hit on Torrey Mitchell (who had the puck) behind the Wild net, which separated Mitchell from the puck. This led to a turnover, and Bryan Bickell scored the game winning goal on the Hawks’ ensuing possession. In Game 4, Andrew Shaw again put a big hit on Adam Falk in behind the Wild net, separated him from the puck, and Bryan Bickell scored after picking up that loose puck created by Shaw’s hit. My point is that the few times that the Hawks have decided to get physical and create turnovers off of hits along the boards, good things have happened. The Wild have been doing a lot more of this than the Blackhawks, and they have generated a ton of scoring chances by doing so. This is the playoffs, and the Hawks are refusing to get physical. If they want any chance of winning another series, they’ve got to play tougher.
Defensively, the Blackhawks’ d-men have been outstanding in this series. Game 4 was probably the best defensive game that they have played in the this series, and it led to a shutout. Not many teams have all 6 defensemen playing as well as they are for the Hawks.
Corey Crawford has looked really good so far in the first round. He has come up with a number of big saves to keep the Hawks in games, and in Game 4 recorded his second career postseason shutout (the first being in Game 5 against the Canucks in 2011).
Moving forward, the Blackhawks would obviously like to finish off the Wild in Game 5 back at the United Center. To do so, they’ll need to play with speed, physicality, and more offensive zone-time. They are much more talented than Minnesota, and they need to show that in Game 5. Often the toughest game of a series is the one in which you can eliminate your opponent. I’d expect the Wild to play their best game of the series, and the Hawks need to counter their desperation.
THE REST OF THE LEAGUE
Who would have thought that San Jose would sweep Vancouver? I had the Canucks winning in 7 games. I also said that the team with the better power play would win that series, and as it turns out, San Jose had the much better PP. Alain Vigneault has probably coached his last game behind the Canucks’ bench.
The Detroit-Anaheim series has turned into a great one. The Wings took Game 4 in overtime to tie the series at 2 apiece heading back to California. I still think the Ducks will finish this one off in 6, however.
After dropping the first 2 games in St. Louis, the defending champs won both games back in L.A. and head back to the Gateway to the West looking to make it a third straight victory. Jonathan Quick has bounced back nicely after a shaky first couple of outings in this series. I will stick with my original prediction of the Kings winning in 6 games.
Out East, the Penguins find themselves tied 2-2 with the 8th seeded Islanders heading back to Pittsburgh for Game 5. New York has looked very good at times in this series, but also pretty weak at others. Like I said in my predictions before the first round started, Marc Andre Fleury could be the weakness of the Pens. He might not even get the start in Game 5 after the way he’s played. The winner of Game 5 will win that series.
Talk about a rivalry that’s started in the playoffs…. Montreal and Ottawa are engaged in what might be the most physical, dirtiest playoff series in the last decade. That being said, Ottawa took Game 4 in overtime and now leads that series 3-1. I predicted the Sens in 6, and I’m sticking to it.
After winning the first 2 in Washington, the Capitals dropped Game 3 in New York. The Rangers will look to tie that series up tonight at MSG. Henrik Lundqvist will be the key to Game 4 in my opinion. I predicted the Rangers in 7. I’ll still say this goes to 7 games, but there might be a different winner.
Boston has looked pretty good through the first 3 games against Toronto. They regained home-ice advantage with their win in Game 3, and they’ll look to go up 3-1 tonight. I said Boston in 5, and it looks like that could be the case.