Blackhawks get first win, look to even series

7327531The Blackhawks knew that Game 3 against the Blues at the United Center was a must-win game, and they won it. Going down two games to zero is bad enough against St. Louis, and going down three games to zero would be a death sentence. Now that the Hawks have won their first game of this year’s playoffs, they will be looking to even up this first round series tomorrow night before heading back to St. Louis for Game 5. If they want to walk back into the Scottrade Center with the series tied 2-2, they might want to step up their game come tomorrow night.

The Blackhawks started off Game 2 with more energy than we probably saw from them in either of the first two games of this series. A lot of that was due to the fact that they were on their home ice in front of a deafening crowd, but also because they had to win the game. The first half of the first period was dominated by the Hawks, and Jonathan Toews recorded what would end up being the game-winning goal during that span. After the ten minute mark, however, things evened out and eventually ended up leaning in the Blues’ favor.

The final shot totals in the game were St. Louis 34, and Chicago 25. The Blues outshot the 130107_gq_trout_aHawks in the first and third period, and nearly scored multiple times. Thanks to the incredible play of Corey Crawford, however, the Blues never registered a goal. Once Chicago took the lead, the play evened out. In the second period, both teams traded chances and powerplays (the Hawks had half a minute of 5 on 3), but no one scored. Then the third period happened.

This is where I get frustrated. The entire third period was spent in the Blackhawks’ own end with St. Louis firing shot after shot towards the net. I have never seen a team so obviously resort to strictly protecting a lead than the Blackhawks last night. It was as though they had no desire to get a huge second goal and give themselves some breathing room. Did they not learn anything from the first two games of this series when they tried this same tactic only to have the Blues tie the game in the final minutes/seconds both games?

For the Blackhawks to even up this series in Game 4 and go on to win it, they are going to have to regain that “killer” instinct, among other things. Aside from the final seconds of Game 3 when Kruger scored on the empty net, the Blackhawks have yet to have more than a one goal lead in this series. For obvious reasons, playing with a one goal lead is never safe and never comfortable. Getting even just a two goal lead will make a huge difference in terms of getting momentum in the game and providing themselves with some wiggle room. The third period of Game 3 was literally Chicago holding on for dear life and praying that the puck stayed out of their net, which it did. That can’t happen again if they enter the late stages of a game with a one goal lead.

Aside from building on their leads, the Hawks need to start:

  • Winning more board battles
  • Spending more time in the offensive zone
  • Converting on the powerplay
  • Avoiding dumb penalties

Through the first three games of this series, the Blackhawks are just 1/14 with a man advantage. That is unacceptable. Imagine what this series may look like if they had converted on even a couple of those powerplays. The good news for the Hawks is that the only team worse on the powerplay this postseason is St. Louis, who is just 1/16. Moving forward, both teams are going to have to be better on the PP if they want to start putting games away.

139990-330-0We saw a lot of it in the two games down in St. Louis, and there was a little more in Game 3 as well. The Blackhawks need to stop taking stupid penalties. Whether it’s after the whistle, unnecessary hits behind the play, whatever it may be, it needs to stop. Andrew Shaw took a dumb interference penalty in the first period of Game 3, and it’s the stuff like that that will end up killing the Hawks if it continues. The Blues are the team known for doing this stuff, which they have in this series, so let them be the ones to continue doing it and make them pay on the ensuing powerplay. There’s no need to play down to their level of stupidity.

Basically, the Blackhawks were lucky to get a win in Game 3. This strategy of “protecting the lead” late in games has killed them two out of three games already, and they have to start looking to bury the Blues instead. One way to do so is by converting on the powerplay, which they haven’t done. If it wasn’t for their success on the penalty kill thus far, they could be down 3-0 in this series (this gives me the chance to finally give Michal Handzus credit for the work he’s doing on the PK). They better expect the Blues to come with their best effort in Game 4, so the Hawks will need to at least match it. Let’s hope they do.

 

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