For the first time this season, the Blackhawks find themselves facing some major adversity. This is something that they, nor us fans are really used to. After their 24-game point streak to start the season, the Hawks were pretty much assured a playoff spot without much doubt. Not once this year have they had to play a very meaningful game, until now. Sure, they played a 5-game series against the Wild in the first round, but not once did Minnesota actually put the Blackhawks in a hole, or threaten their Stanley Cup hopes.
With their Game 3 loss to Detroit, the Blackhawks are now down 2-1 in their series with the Wings, with Game 4 scheduled for Thursday night. Their loss in Game 3 was definitely a tough one to swallow after Andrew Shaw had a goal taken away from him early in the third period that would have tied the game at 2 apiece. According to the referee who made the call, Andrew Shaw “interfered” with Jimmy Howard and did not allow Howard a fair chance at making the save. Replay after replay of this play showed that there was absolutely no interference on Shaw’s part, and the Blackhawks got blatantly screwed. This call changed the entire complexion of the third period and gave all the momentum back to Detroit. Still, this is no excuse for losing the game, although it didn’t help.
In Game 1, the Blackhawks used their speed to their advantage and basically skated circles around each Red Wing player on the ice. They forchecked as well as they have all year long and had numerous extended offensive zone shifts. To make it simple, the Blackhawks dominated the first game of this series.
Games 2 and 3, however, were quite different. In Game 2, the Wings were the team with livelier legs and more energy, and at times they were skating circles around the Hawks. It looked as though Detroit was playing a Game 7, and the Blackhawks were playing a regular season game. Game 3 was better for the Hawks, but it still took them 2 periods and a 2-goal deficit to really get going. Even then, they just couldn’t get the job done. They eclipsed the 40-shot mark, which is always good, but ran into a hot goalie and determined defense while doing so.
Detroit is forcing the Hawks to play a dump and chase type game, and they have not allowed the Blackhawks to utilize their speed since Game 1. Along with that, the Wings are playing much more physical than the Wild ever did in round 1, and that seems to be bothering the Hawks. Almost every time this year that a team has tried to play a physical game against Chicago, the Blackhawks have lost. They are not equipped to handle such physical pressure. They get thrown off their game and end up playing in what seems like a “scramble-mode.”
The Blackhawks have been most successful in this series when they have been able to run their cycle in the offensive zone and make clean, quick passes. When they can generate their offense from the blue line and have their defensemen be effective with the puck in the offensive zone, that is when the Blackhawks’ offense is at its best. Against Detroit, this is more of what they are going to need to do from here on out. The Wings are not letting the Hawks get many two on one/three on two rushes. They are forcing the Hawks to chip the puck in behind Jimmy Howard and go retrieve it. This is why it is imperative for them to get their d-men involved along the blue line and help spread the Wings’ defense out to create more space in the passing lanes.
For the first time this year, the Blackhawks are facing a must-win game in Game 4. They cannot afford to go down 3-1 against Detroit. The Hawks need to be smart and disciplined from start to finish next game and beat the Wings between the whistles. Andrew Shaw cannot continue to take penalties after the whistle has blown, and Bryan Bickell cannot let his emotions get the best of him with Dan Cleary. Yes, the Blackhawks PK has been perfect this postseason, but you can’t keep poking the bear by taking bad penalties.
A number of people didn’t take Joel Quenneville or Jonathan Toews too seriously last round when they both said that the Blackhawks need to play with more energy and intensity. See what happens when you take a round off? Now the Hawks are struggling to find that playoff intensity that is needed to win postseason games, and it is costing them.
Expect to see a desperate and determined Blackhawks team in Game 4. If you don’t, then they’ve got a big problem and could be on the golf course next week sometime.