Blackhawks force Game 6

139990-330-0It wasn’t necessarily pretty, but the Blackhawks won Game 5 of the Western Conference Final on home ice to avoid elimination and send the series to a sixth game in LA. Down 3-1 in the series to the Kings, the Hawks knew they had to come out in Game 5 with their best effort to avoid being sent packing, and while they didn’t quite play with what appeared to be their best effort through the first 40 minutes, the next 43 minutes looked more like it.

Brent Seabrook’s powerplay goal less than two minutes into the game provided the Hawks with a huge spark, and they somewhat took off from their. Moments later, Johnny Oduya made it 2-0 after knocking home the rebound off a shot by Patrick Kane. The Kings would score to make it 2-1, but then Brandon Saad countered that with a goal of his own to reestablish the two-goal lead. Patrick Kane ended the first period with three assists.

The Kings would eventually score the next three goals in the game to go up 4-3 on the Hawks heading into the final frame.

Knowing that they must at least end the third period tied, the Hawks came out buzzing and Ben Smith scored 1:17 into the period to tie it up at 4 apiece. The rest of the period was pretty much all Chicago, but they couldn’t get another puck by Quick, sending Game 5 to overtime.

The first overtime was quite possibly one of the best overtime periods the NHL has seen in recent memory. The Hawks and Kings traded chance after chance with one another, while both Corey Crawford and Jonathan Quick made big save after big save. Anze Kopitar actually beat Crawford on a shot, but it rang off the pipe and left the game tied at 4. A second overtime period was needed for the second straight year in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final between the Hawks and Kings.

940-couture-loganOnce overtime number two began, it didn’t take long until Michal Handzus, of all people, scored the game winner on a beautiful backhand after a great feed from Brandon Saad left Zus all alone in front of Quick (Patrick Kane picked up his fourth assist of the game on the goal). Just like that, the series was sent back to LA for Game 6.

While the Blackhawks gained some obvious momentum with their thrilling OT victory in Game 5, they are still going to need to bring their absolute best effort to beat the Kings on their home ice with LA looking to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. Effort, and a few line changes could very well propel the Hawks to victory and make Game 7 a reality.

Here’s what needs to happen for the Hawks to avoid elimination again:

  • Kris Versteeg should not be dressed for Game 6. He was benched a little over halfway through the second period of Game 5 and never saw the ice again after that. He is becoming WAY too much of a liability on the ice to keep him in the lineup. Peter Regin should take his spot and play with on a line with Sharp and Handzus.
  • While I would like to see Brandon Bollig join Versteeg, it won’t happen. Quenneville won’t put Jeremy Morin (a rookie) into the lineup in an elimination game.
  • The Blackhawks’ powerplay HAS to convert in Game 6. It did in Game 5 and it provided them with a ton of momentum right off the bat.
  • Speaking of special teams, the Hawks’ PK was good in Game 5 and did not allow a goal against. That needs to happen again in LA.
  • Corey Crawford has to play his best game of the series. It’s that simple.
  • The Hawks’ defensemen have got to start boxing out Kings players in front of the net (I’m looking at you Seabrook…). There have been way too many goals scored by the Kings this series that could have been prevented if they were simply boxed out in front of Crawford and not allowed the inside position on a rebound.

Like always, I could continue going on and on, but I’ll leave it at that for now. If the Blackhawks can do those things I mentioned above, we’ll be talking about a Game 7. It won’t be easy though, as the Kings know they do not want to come back to Chicago. As Drew Doughty put it earlier today (Thursday), “We know we can’t let it go to Game 7. We need to win [Game 6].”

So do the Hawks.

Now or never

940-toews-jonathan-8colAfter dropping Game 3 to the Kings on Saturday night in LA, the Blackhawks now trail in the series two games to one. Despite playing a solid first 40 minutes in Game 3 much like they did in Game 2, the Hawks went silent for the final 20 and lost as a result. They know it’s time to step up and put together their best 60 minute effort of the season, or else they’ll be eye-to-eye with the exit door from the playoffs. It’s now or never for the Hawks.

Here is what needs to happen in Game 4 in order for the Blackhawks to even up this Western Conference Final at two games apiece.

  • It’s time that Joel Quenneville reunites Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on the top line. I was calling for this to happen heading into Game 3, but now it’s really time to make the move. The Blackhawks need Kane to get hot, and what better way to help that happen than by putting him back on a line with Toews? Over the years during rough stretches of the playoffs, this has been Quenneville’s go-to move to get the Hawks back on the right track. He did it going into Game 4 in LA last year, and it worked beautifully. He did it in Game 4 in Boston during last year’s Stanley Cup Final, and it worked there as well. By reuniting Kane and Toews, the Kings won’t be able to blanket either player. If they do, then they’re risking leaving the other uncovered, which is not a good thing. Also, it opens up the chance to place Hossa and Sharp back on the second line together, another move that was made going into Game 4 against LA last year that worked like a charm.
  • Michal Handzus cannot center the second line any longer, or at least while Kane is on that line. If Q does put Kane on the top line and Sharp and Hossa on the second, it is possible that he leave Handzus with Sharp and Hossa. That trio did some good things last postseason. However, the lack of speed and offensive skill that you get with Handzus is so alarming that I wouldn’t mind seeing either Smith or Shaw center Sharp and Hossa, despite the success Handzus had with 10 and 81 last year. If Kane does remain on the second line with Sharp, then there is absolutely no way Handzus can stay on that line. Kane needs to play with fast, skilled players in order for him to be effective. Placing Smith or Shaw on his line as the center allows Kane to play with more speed and skill.
  • I’ve been saying this pretty much everyday, but Brandon Bollig needs to go. I don’t know that he even stepped on the ice during the entire third period of Game 3. What good is he to the team if that’s going to happen? In the meantime, you have Peter Regin and Jeremy Morin watching the game as spectators. It’s gotten to the point with Bollig where I’m starting to wonder if the front office (Stan Bowman) isn’t telling Quenneville to keep him in the lineup so that Bowman doesn’t look so bad for handing Bollig a three year extension earlier this season.
  • The Hawks’ penalty kill has to start killing off penalties. They were dominant on the PK through the first two rounds, but now they’ve allowed three powerplay goals to the Kings over the last two games.
  • The Jeff Carter line of the Kings needs to be slowed down. They have torched the Hawks this series, and it’s time Quenneville looks to shut them down. Heading into this series, the Hawks wanted to shut down the Kopitar line, which they have by matching the Toews line against them. Now it might be time to shift their focus to stopping Carter and his linemates. The only potential problem here is this: If Kane is reunited with Toews, then the Hawks lose their “shut down” line of Toews and Hossa.
  • The top line of the Hawks has been good all series, but it’s time that the other three lines quit watching and start playing as well. This series cannot be won by relying on just one line to score all of your goals.
  • Speaking of scoring, the Hawks’ powerplay cost them Game 3. They went 0-4 with the man advantage. They only have two powerplay goals on the road this postseason, which won’t get the job done. It’s time they start finding the back of the net when given the opportunity with an extra man.

Over the past 5-6 years, the Blackhawks have come up with huge win after huge win when they’ve needed it in the playoffs. Tonight calls for another one of those huge wins. If they don’t get it, then they’ll be down 3-1 and on their way out of the playoffs. They need to play a full 60 minutes in Game 4, and they need to step on the Kings’ throats once they get them in a vulnerable position in the game. Some are saying that the Hawks are simply out of gas after all the hockey they’ve played the last two years. While that may be true, if there’s one team who can find another gear and will themselves to victory, it’s the Blackhawks.

A win tonight is imperative for the Hawks.

Blackhawks – Kings thoughts

940-couture-loganWe’re through two games of the Western Conference Final already, and things are dead-locked at one game apiece. I don’t think anyone predicted either team to come away with a sweep, and we now know that we will not get a sweep from either team. After watching the first two games between the Hawks and Kings, it is obvious that these two teams match up very well with one another, and that this series has the potential to go the distance. Both sides are doing certain things very well against the other, and both sides are trying to figure out how to stop the other from being successful in specific areas.

Here’s what has stood out to me thus far.

  • The Blackhawks had Game 2 in their back pocket, but never were able to get that all important three-goal lead. A lucky goal by LA at the end of the second period and two straight powerplays to begin the third for the Kings ultimately ended up being the difference.
  • LA is having a lot of trouble keeping up with the speed of the Blackhawks. This was far more evident in Game 2 than it was in Game 1. The Kings took a number of penalties through the first 40 minutes of Game 2 due to the fact that the Hawks were skating circles around them. This is something that will not change moving forward. The Blackhawks are the faster team, and it would appear they figured out how to use their speed effectively against the Kings. This could eventually end up winning the series for the Blackhawks if they continue to dominate the pace of the game.
  • The Kings were the far better team at the faceoff circle in Game 2, and rightfully so. They are one of the deepest teams (if not the deepest) in the NHL at the center position, and all of their centers are good at the dot. Seeing as how both the Kings and Blackhawks rely so much on puck possession in order to be successful, faceoffs could become a crucial factor in determining who wins this series.
  • LA’s powerplay is good. The Blackhawks got through the first two rounds in large part because of how good they were on the PK. Neither the Blues or the Wild had a powerplay as good as that of the Kings, and so the Hawks better adjust and find a way to slow LA’s man-advantage down. They scored two massive goals on the PP in Game 2.
  • Where are the Patricks? Both Kane and Sharp have disappeared through the first two games of the WCF. Sharp, while he hasn’t done much at all this whole postseason, has seen his scoring chances vanish this series. The same can be said for Kane, who seems to draw two or three King defenders every time he enters the offensive zone with the puck. One way to maybe try and get Kane going is to put him on a line with Jonathan Toews. The Kings can’t blanket both of those guys at the same time, meaning one should see a few more scoring chances. That would open up the opportunity to reunite the Sharp-Handzus-Hossa line that was so successful during last year’s Stanley Cup run.
  • The fourth line of the Blackhawks was phenomenal during the first two periods of Game 2, even with Bollig being on that line. Ben Smith scored the Hawks’ second goal of the game off a nice tip-pass by Bollig in the neutral zone. Moving forward, those guys are going to need to continue being effective. Now that Andrew Shaw is coming back into the lineup, that means someone needs to go. My vote is for Brandon Bollig to eat some pine and let Peter Regin play on the fourth line with Smith and Kruger. Bollig’s dumb penalty early in the third period of Game 2 might have earned him the right to watch from a sky-box.

All in all, this series is completely up for grabs at this point. I wouldn’t look into how the Blackhawks lost Game 2 too much. That was such a horrible collapse that you almost can’t count it against them. They were the victim of a couple soft penalty calls and a weird bounce/no-bounce of the puck behind Corey Crawford in the third period, all of which led to Kings’ goals. Don’t forget the Blackhawks dominated portions of Game 1 and 38 minutes of Game 2.

The Kings are a weak 3-3 at home these playoffs, and the Blackhawks have been one of the best road playoff teams over the last 5 years. I have all the confidence in the world that the Hawks can win at least one of the next two games in la la land. If they can do that, they will regain home ice advantage in the series.

Western Conference Final prediction

After the first two rounds of the playoffs, I have correctly predicted the outcome of nine of the twelve series played. So far, New York knocking out Pittsburgh has been my biggest upset pick. Hopefully I can keep my hot streak going here.

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So for the second year in a row, we get a Chicago-LA Western Conference Final. This is a matchup of the last two Stanley Cup winners, and many believe the winner of this series will go on and win the Cup again.

The Kings enter this series fresh off a dominating Game 7 win in Anaheim in which they beat the Ducks by a final of 6-2. I was anticipating the Kings to win that game, but not in that fashion. They are on a tear right now despite needing seven games to dispatch the Ducks. Marian Gaborik has done exactly what the Kings were praying he would do when they acquired him at the trade deadline a couple of months ago. He leads the playoffs with 9 goals, and also has 6 assists to go along with that. He also sits second in the league in points right now with 15, 4 points behind teammate Anze Kopitar. Speaking of Kopitar, this guy is playing in a different world right now. Neither Dallas or Anaheim could figure out a way to slow him down. To beat Chicago, the Kings will need those two guys to keep playing at their current pace. Besides those two, the Kings are one of the deeper teams in hockey at the forward position. They can roll four lines just about as well as anyone in the NHL, and all four of those lines have been valuable to them this postseason as the Kings are averaging the most goals per game of any team. Again, to beat the Blackhawks, they’ll need production from their depth guys. We all know the Kings are a top defensive team in the league, and they are proving that to us yet again right now. After allowing 22 goals in the first round to the Sharks, the Kings allowed just 15 to the Ducks in the second round. They rank fifth in the playoffs in GA/G, but would be higher had they not been asleep through the first 3 games of the first round against San Jose. Drew Doughty is having an excellent postseason defensively, and he is one of their most important players in the offensive zone as well. However, the Kings will need more defensemen than just Doughty to be good offensively if they want to advance. In goal, Jonathan Quick has been decent, but not outstanding like in years past. Going back to last year’s regular season and WCF, he has really struggled against the Hawks. Could Chicago already be in Quick’s head before the series even starts?

As for the Blackhawks, they knocked off the Wild in six games in the second round to get to this point, but it wasn’t easy. The Wild did what the Kings will try and do, and that is win the neutral zone and force the Hawks to play a chip-and-chase game. The Blackhawks need to figure out how to be more effective on the forecheck after chipping pucks into the offensive zone than they were against Minnesota. If they can find a way to use their speed against the Kings and put LA on their heels, that would be ideal for Chicago. To do that, Kane and Toews will need to lead the way yet again. However, without more production from guys like Hossa, Sharp, Saad, and the depth guys, Chicago could find themselves in trouble. They are hoping to get Andrew Shaw back at some point during this series, and they’ll need him. His physical and pesty presence on the ice is key in the playoffs, not to mention his ability to screen goalies on the powerplay. One thing that the Blackhawks absolutely need to do better this series than in the first two is taking less penalties. The Kings can be a dangerous team with the man advantage, so the Hawks won’t want to test them too often. Having said that, the Blackhawks’ penalty kill has been outstanding thus far. They lead the playoffs with a 91.3 penalty kill percentage, and now is not the time for that trend to change. A big reason for that number is the play of Corey Crawford through the first two rounds. Your goalie is your most important man on the PK, and Crawford has come up huge time and time again for the Hawks while shorthanded. This postseason, Crawford has the best save percentage and goals against average of any goalie in the league. While most people will be focusing on Quick this series (as usual), it is Crawford who has actually been the better goalie for the second postseason in a row. He’ll need the help of his defensemen against LA, and so Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, and Oduya will need to be really good to beat the Kings. How well the pairing of Hjalmarsson and Oduya plays could determine how this series pans out.

This is not the same Kings team that lost to the Blackhawks in 5 games during last year’s Western Conference Final. They are healthy now and have more firepower than they did a year ago. That said, I still don’t think the Blackhawks have played their best game(s) yet. They didn’t really come close to doing so against the Wild, yet still won that series in six games. I’d anticipate the Hawks to take their game to the next level now, and it’ll be on the Kings to try and stop them. If they do, or if the Blackhawks run out of gas after all the hockey they’ve played the last two years, LA will advance. If Chicago does begin to play their game and find some new energy, it’ll be them going on to their second straight Stanley Cup Final.

This should be a good one.

-Chicago wins series, 4-2.

 

Eastern Conference Final prediction

So, how many people predicted THIS matchup for the ECF? I don’t think many people saw an Eastern Conference Final series that did not include either Boston and/or Pittsburgh. I did predict prior to the second round that the Rangers would upset the Penguins, and I also said the Bruins would eliminate the Canadiens in seven games, but that I had very little confidence in picking Boston. So I almost got it right….almost.

Let’s get to it.

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An “all Original Six” series is never a bad thing, and I don’t anticipate this one to be any different. The Rangers come into this series with a ton of confidence and momentum after storming back from a 3-1 series deficit to knock out Crosby and Malkin (I must admit that I was quite happy with that outcome). Henrik Lundqvist has continued to do what he does best, and that is keep the puck out of his net as well as anyone in the game. He ranks second this postseason in GAA and Save %. Only Corey Crawford has better numbers in those categories. Offensively, the Rangers are by far the worst team at scoring goals of any of the four teams remaining in the playoffs. They are averaging just 2.43 goals per game. While Rick Nash is still searching for his first goal of the playoffs, that’s not to say the rest of the Ranger forwards have been much better. The highest point total this postseason of any Ranger is 9 by Brad Richards. To compare, the Kings have four players with at least 11. New York absolutely has to step it up offensively if they want to advance, especially considering the fact that they’ll be going up against Carey Price. However, to neutralize their weak offense, the Rangers have the lowest GAA average in these playoffs. The phrase goes something like “defense wins championships,” so hopefully for New York’s sake that phrase will prove to be true. I think the keys for New York in this series will be slowing down PK Subban, who leads Montreal in points, and getting production from their third and fourth lines.

Montreal also comes into this series riding a huge wave of momentum after eliminating the President’s Trophy-winning Bruins in seven games. A surprising number of people actually picked the Canadiens to win that series, and sure enough here we are. How did the Habs do it? Well, they got some great goaltending from Carey Price throughout those seven games, their forechecking was relentless, their determination was through the roof, and they simply played with confidence. Those four things combine to make a great recipe for success (maybe something the Penguins might want to try in the future). PK Subban took his game to a totally new level against Boston and was undoubtedly Montreal’s MVP of that series. I doubt he’ll be able to play that same way this entire series against New York, so guys like Markov and Emelin are going to have to pick up their games even more. In goal, Carey Price has been stellar with 2.15 GAA and a .926 save %. Want an interesting and telling stat? Over the last six games that Price has started against New York, he has recorded FIVE shutouts and allowed just one goal total. Take a second to try and comprehend that… On offense, the Canadiens lead the playoffs by averaging 3.27 goals per game. Similar to the Rangers, their leading scorer, Subban, has 12 points in the playoffs, but he is the only guy in double digits. The next closest point total to Subban is 9, shared by Eller and Gallagher. The Canadiens cannot rely on PK Subban to carry their offense anymore. They need their top forwards (Vanek, Pacioretty) to take the lead on the offensive side. If they can get more offense from their top lines, as well as their bottom two lines, they’ll be in good shape. The key is just finding a way to get pucks past Lundqvist.

I think this should be a great series. A lot of people think that the passing of Martin St. Louis’ mother helped propel the Rangers to their comeback over Pittsburgh. Whether or not that is true, they are playing great hockey right now, but so is Montreal. It takes a hell of an effort to beat the President’s Trophy winner in a seven-game series, but the Habs did it. Both teams have incredible home-ice advantages, so winning on the road in this series will be huge. Much like the matchups in the second round, the outcome of this one is tough to determine.

-Montreal wins series, 4-2.

I’ll be back with my Blackhawks-Kings prediction sometime before the first puck-drop of that series.

Ducks or Kings: Who do the Hawks want next?

130107_gq_trout_aNow that the Blackhawks have finally sent the Minnesota Wild packing and on their way to the nearest golf course, we can shift our focus ahead to the Western Conference Final. The Hawks will play the winner of the Ducks-Kings series, which is headed to a seventh game tomorrow night. Both teams are strong in multiple areas of their game, so which one do the Blackhawks really want to play next?

Let’s start by taking a look at a potential Blackhawks-Kings series.

During the regular season, the Hawks went 3-0-0 against LA, outscoring them 9-4 in those 940-couture-loganthree games. However, that was the regular season, and the Kings are playing what may be their best hockey of the year right now. They are an elite defensive team as we have all seen in the past, and they have one of the best goaltenders in the world. If we thought the Wild did a good job at slowing down the pace of the Hawks and keeping them from using their speed to their advantage, just wait until we (potentially) see LA. They can shut their opposition down as well as anyone in the league and can force them to play a slow, chip-and-chase type game. That does not bode necessarily well for the Hawks. On top of that, Jonathan Quick has the ability to single handedly win a series.

david_rundblad_phx_030512As for the Ducks, they finished the regular season as the top team in the Western Conference. Despite that fact, the Blackhawks still went 2-0-1 against them in the regular season, with that one loss being a shootout/coin flip loss. The Ducks were one of the league’s top goal-scoring teams this season, but in the playoffs and against much tougher defenses, they rank eighth (fourth among the remaining teams). Their top line, which features Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, is always one of the most dangerous lines in hockey, but after that the Ducks offense takes a step back. On defense, Cam Fowler leads the way for Anaheim with a couple of other solid, but inexperienced d-men. They have the ability to shut down their opponent’s offense at times, but their lack of experience in the postseason is a problem. In net, it has been a circus for the Ducks this postseason. They started the playoffs with Frederik Andersen in goal, then turned to Jonas Hiller, and are now riding rookie John Gibson, who played in all of three games during the regular season. Who knows if/when they’ll switch it up again. The bottom line is that there is a lot of uncertainty regarding who their number one goalie is right now.

So, which one do the Hawks want to play? While the answer may seem obvious based on what was just said, there’s more to it than just that.

In a series against the Kings, the Blackhawks would get home-ice advantage. There is also somewhat of a “familiarity” with the Kings since the Hawks just played them in the Conference Final last year. Yes, the Kings are probably the better team compared to Anaheim, but there are advantages to playing against them in the Conference Final.

If the Blackhawks end up playing Anaheim, that matchup better favors the Hawks than one with LA. The lack of depth on the Ducks, their inexperience in late playoff rounds, and their goalie problems are not a good recipe when playing the Blackhawks. Yet, the Ducks would have the home-ice advantage over the Hawks based on regular season point totals.

While the Blackhawks would never admit it publicly, they would rather face the Ducks in the Conference Final. There are too many areas of Anaheim’s game that are inferior to those of the Hawks, and the Blackhawks are one of the best teams in the league (if not the best) at winning important games on the road. Having the home-ice advantage is always nice, but in this case I think the Hawks would trade it in for a less complicated matchup with the Ducks.

Regardless of who the Blackhawks end up playing next, they need to elevate their game from where it was at against Minnesota. They can’t come out against the Ducks or Kings with they effort they displayed against the Wild and expect to win again. That just won’t work. They have to get back to being the better puck possession team and having more offensive zone time and shots on goal than they did this last round.

My gut feeling is that the Kings are going to end up winning Game 7 in Anaheim, meaning another showdown with the Hawks. If I’m right, people will be quite surprised when they watch the Kings this time around compared to last year. They are much healthier and want revenge. The Blackhawks will need their A-game to advance.

 

Quick thoughts after Blackhawks’ Game 4 loss

130107_gq_trout_aThis has to be the lowest point of the entire season for the Blackhawks. After going up 2-0 on Minnesota in this second round series, the Hawks dropped both games 3 and 4 in St. Paul and looked absolutely horrible in doing so. If you really sit back and think about it, the Blackhawks didn’t even look good in either of the first two games of the series in Chicago. The Wild outplayed the Hawks in both games, but couldn’t find the back of the net often enough to win. Most people thought the Hawks would win this series (I thought in 5 games), but now it looks like this could be a potential upset.

Here’s what’s on my mind following these last two losses:

  • Where is the energy from the Hawks? This entire series, the Blackhawks have looked less than interested in playing hockey, while the Wild are out there busting their butts doing whatever they can to win each night. If you think back to last year’s first round series with the Wild, the Hawks looked very lethargic there as well. The only difference this time around is that the Wild are a much better team than they were a year ago, and the Blackhawks can’t get away with putting in half their effort each game.
  • What in the world is going on with Quenneville and his line combinations? After losing Game 3, he decided to drastically switch up the lines for Game 4 (Bickell-Toews-Smith, Saad-Kruger-Kane, Sharp-Handzus-Hossa, Morin-Nordstrom-Bollig). Those lines lasted almost 7 minutes in Game 4 before Quenneville decided it was time to switch up the line combos every 5 minutes. He literally did not give any line except the second line a chance to develop chemistry or to be successful. How are these players supposed to feel comfortable out on the ice in hostile territory when they are hopping over the boards with two new linemates every shift? It makes no sense to me. It would appear that Quenneville hit the panic button early in Game 4 and never took his finger back off of it.
  • Speaking of line combinations, I would give anything in the world to find out why Brandon Bollig is STILL in the lineup, let alone professional hockey. What good has TampaBayLightning_LOGOthis guy done at any point this season? He is god awful offensively, he is a reliability on defense, and he has seen less than five minutes of ice time per game this postseason. Why the hell even play a guy who won’t be on the ice for more than four and a half minutes per game? Then when he IS on the ice, he goes and takes absolutely HORRIBLE penalties like he did in Game 4 when he illegally checked Keith Ballard into the glass from behind, thus putting the Hawks on the penalty kill (Bollig had a hearing with the NHL today regarding that hit. I would gladly accept a 15-game suspension for him just to force Quenneville to take him out of the lineup). When you have guys like Peter Regin, Jeremy Morin, and/or Kris Versteeg being scratched each night while Brandon Bollig plays less than five worthless minutes of hockey, one can only wonder what is going through the mind of Joel Quenneville. Think about it. With a healthy lineup, doesn’t a fourth line of Morin-Regin/Handzus-Versteeg sound A LOT better than Versteeg/Morin-Handzus-Bollig? And the Corsi numbers (via extraskater.com) back this up.
  • The Blackhawks top players (Toews, Kane, Hossa, Sharp) need to step up and start carrying this team again. Sharp scored in Game 4, and Hossa really hasn’t been bad this whole postseason, but Kane and Toews especially need to get going again. Game 4 was arguably Toews’ worst playoff performance of his career (granted he had new linemates every other shift), and he needs to pick it up starting with Game 5.
  • Corey Crawford had been outstanding this postseason until Game 4 the other night when he allowed at least two horrible goals in the second period. He can’t let his Game 4 performance affect his confidence moving forward.
  • Michal Rozsival was putrid in Game 4 against the Wild, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sheldon Brookbank return to the lineup in Rozsival’s spot for Game 5. Brookbank has played four games this postseason, and he really hasn’t been bad in any of them.

I could continue to go on and on, but those are the major things I wanted to mention. The bottom line is that the Blackhawks need to find their energy again and their desire to win, or else the Wild will no doubt pull off the upset here. This is now a best of three series with the Hawks holding home ice advantage, and while they haven’t played well this entire series, I still think they’ll advance to the next round.