Blackhawks – Ducks quick hits

15-_DSC2491-toresizeMy series preview for the Blackhawks and Ducks has already been written and posted. I’m taking the Blackhawks in six games. These are two very good teams, and I’m sure each side would like to earn the bragging rights over the other. For a handful of years now, the Blackhawks and Ducks have finished at or near the top of the Western Conference, but have failed to meet in the playoffs. That all changes now. All signs are pointing towards a Sunday afternoon start time to Game 1 between these two, but the NHL has yet to confirm those rumors.

As I said, I already wrote my preview of this series. Today I’m going to touch on a few things that I failed to mention in my preview. So, here we go.

– I keep seeing statements from NHL analysts and reporters that read something like “The Ducks have been the most dominant team in this year’s playoffs.” Sure, they swept their first round series against the Jets and proceeded to eliminate the Flames in five games. Of all teams to advance to their respective conference final, the Ducks have played the fewest games this postseason. But let’s take a closer look at who Anaheim has played so far.

In the first round they got matched up against the West’s number two wild card team in the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets finished the regular season with 99 points and were making their first postseason appearance since the franchise returned to Winnipeg. The Jets were a good team and a big team, but not a great team. They were made up of a majority of players who were new to the playoffs.

Against the Jets, Anaheim saw themselves trailing heading into the third period on more than one occasion, and also needed overtime of Game 3 to pull out a victory. Nonetheless, they swept Winnipeg when most people didn’t think they would.

In the second round, it was the 97-point Flames that the Ducks went up against. Those 97 points were the fewest point total of any team to make this year’s postseason. I have nothing against Calgary and applaud them for the incredible season that they had, but they weren’t exactly a tough team to beat in a seven game series.

The Flames’ roster is/was full of young players who had never played in a playoff game prior to this spring. Needless to say, they were full of inexperienced players who happened to get on a bit of a roll this year and made it to the second round of the playoffs. Statistically, Calgary really didn’t have much business being in the postseason. Yet against the Ducks, the Flames put up a heck of fight in games 3 through 5 and could have easily won at least one more game than they did.

Here’s the point I’m trying to make:

If you want to call the Ducks’ performance so far this postseason “dominating,” then fine. Go ahead and do so. Just know that they have had the league’s easiest schedule so far in these playoffs. When they face the Blackhawks, they won’t be going up against a bunch of first, second, or third year players with no playoff experience. They won’t be playing a team who struggles to win road games, or home games for that matter, at this time of year. The Blackhawks are probably the most playoff-experienced team in hockey and have two Stanley Cup rings in the last five seasons to show for it. They will provide Anaheim with all they can handle and should act as a rude wakeup call for a Ducks team that has had it pretty easy so far in these playoffs.

 Let’s take a look at the Blackhawks now and how they did in their first two series.

In round one, it was the Nashville Predators that fell victim to the Hawks. Nashville, the team that led the Western Conference in points for most of the season and finished sixth league-wide in that category, couldn’t put up with the Hawks. They won two games over Chicago, both at home, but didn’t have the depth to walk away victorious at the end of the series.

Nashville has an incredible group of defensemen; arguably the best in the league. Yet they couldn’t hold down the Blackhawks’ offensive firepower. Nor could their Vezina Trophy finalist Pekka Rinne.

In the second round, the Hawks went up against the Minnesota Wild. Many considered the Wild to be the hottest team in the NHL heading into that series. They posted the best record in the league from January through the end of the season, and knocked out a Stanley Cup favorite in the St. Louis Blues in round one. Like Nashville, the Wild also had a Vezina finalist standing in their goal crease.

Yet, like Nashville, Minnesota couldn’t handle Chicago’s offensive firepower or depth. They also couldn’t seem to solve the Blackhawks’ defense or Corey Crawford.

When you look at who the Ducks and Hawks played in each of the first two rounds, and when you look at what both teams did to their opponents, one could easily argue that the Blackhawks were the more “dominant” team.

Some people may read this and get the impression that I’m hating on the Ducks or that I am biased towards the Blackhawks. That is not the case. I am simply sick of reading all of this crap about how incredible the Ducks have been this postseason when in actuality they’ve had the easiest schedule of anyone.

I honestly expect this series between Chicago and Anaheim to be a very competitive one. The Ducks are big and fast with a couple of world class players on their top two lines. The Blackhawks are not as big, but are also a very quick team and possess even more world class players than the Ducks.

As I said in my preview, this series will come down to depth, team defense, and experience, and I would give the Blackhawks the upper hand in each category.

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What the Blackhawks should expect in Game 3

10-171460575-smallWith the Hawks now up two games to nothing in this best of seven series with the Wild, the series shifts up to St. Paul tonight for Game 3. The Blackhawks are coming off of what was arguably their best performance in a long time in Game 2, while Minnesota seems to be searching for answers. Wild head coach Mike Yeo was quoted as saying “I don’t know what team played that game tonight, but it wasn’t us,” following their Game 2 loss. All signs would indicate that the Hawks have the Wild backed into a corner and are ready to deliver the death blow. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

Minnesota knows that they cannot afford to lose Game 3, or Game 4 for that matter. Falling behind 3-0 or 3-1 in a best of seven series is a recipe for elimination, especially against a team like the Blackhawks who know how to close out a series better than anyone.

So what should the Hawks expect tonight? I’ll tell you.

First and foremost, they should expect a deafening arena. The Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul is one of the loudest buildings in the league. Add in the fact that those fans haven’t seen their team play on home ice since eliminating the Blues, and that the Wild need a victory tonight, and you’ve got yourself one amped up fan base ready to wreck havoc on the Blackhawks.

Secondly, the Blackhawks should expect Minnesota’s best effort of the season. They realize that they cannot afford another loss tonight, and they will do whatever it takes to ensure a victory. From the Wild’s perspective, they can’t let themselves get too over-hyped and try to do too much on the ice, causing them to make bad decisions or end up out of position. This whole “energy” factor could be a good or bad thing for the Wild, depending on how they use it.

To get a victory in tonight’s game and put a stranglehold on this series, here’s what the Blackhawks must do:

  • Survive the first ten minutes. The first ten minutes of this game will feature incredible noise coming from the fans and a Minnesota team that is jacked up on adrenaline. Needless to say, the Wild will come out flying. The Hawks need to stay calm and collected, play solid defense, and come out of the first ten minutes of the game either tied or ahead on the scoreboard.
  • Get the first goal. This one kind goes along with the first bullet point, and is just as important. If the Hawks can record the first goal of the game, that will not only provide them with energy and momentum, but it will plant a seed of doubt into the heads of the Wild players and fans. Taking the fans out of the game early would be huge. Also, it’s much nicer playing with the lead than it is trying to catch up all game.
  • Remember Game 2. Playing Game 3 like they did Game 2 can only yield positive results for the Hawks. Granted, they may even need to dial it up a notch from Game 2, but if they can do that they’ll win. When the Blackhawks dictate games like they did in the second game of this series, there’s not a team in hockey that can beat them.
  • Receive another good outing from Crawford. In a game like this on the road against a team who knows they cannot afford lose, the Blackhawks need Corey Crawford to be their best player, or at least one of them. Minnesota will have their fair chances at scoring tonight, and the only way the Hawks overcome that is if Crawford comes up with some big time saves. Getting help from the defense in front of him like he did in Game 2 wouldn’t hurt either.
  • The Hawks’ stars need to shine again. It’s been a common theme for the Blackhawks this postseason: their best players have been their best players. That can’t change in a game like this. Again, the atmosphere will be hostile, and the Wild are going to throw everything they’ve got at the Hawks. The star players for Chicago need to step up yet again and make the big plays. This doesn’t mean that the Hawks’ bottom two lines don’t mean anything tonight, because they certainly do. Speaking of them…
  • Roll four lines. Since adding Vermette back into the lineup, it has allowed Shaw to move down to the fourth line and play his natural position on the wing. That made the Hawks’ fourth line much more formidable and dangerous, and it’s paid off big time. Also, reinserting Teravainen into the lineup in Game 1 of this series and on the third line with Sharp and Vermette has lead to some great chemistry between the trio. They essentially have three top two-esque line now. My point here is that the Hawks have incredible forward depth, and they need all four line to continue being productive tonight.

One thing that I didn’t mention, which is somewhat of a given, is that the Blackhawks six defensemen need to be on their game. They’ll continue using basically five d-men, with Timonen receiving limited minutes, and they all need to have their heads in the game. This means no dumb plays or penalties from Rozsival. I singled him out because, well, he’s really the only regular that I’m consistently worried about.

As you may have gathered, Xcel Energy Center is going to be very loud and unkind to the Blackhawks tonight, and the Wild players are going to leave it all on the ice. The Hawks must try and replicate they way the played in Game 2, as well as step it up another level.

This is going to be one of the toughest tests for the Hawks this postseason, and I’m very anxious to see how they respond. Then again, they are the Blackhawks, and they never cease to amaze any of us.

Blackhawks – Wild preview

10-171460575-smallIt took both of these teams six games to advance to the second round of the playoffs, with the Blackhawks eliminating the Predators, and the Wild doing the same to the Blues (who seem to be everyone’s favorite to win the Cup on a yearly basis, but have now been sent packing in the first round three straight postseasons). Back in January, it wasn’t looking good for the Wild who sat about eight points out of a playoff spot at the time. That was before trading for Devan Dubnyk, however, who basically single-handedly got Minnesota into the playoffs. As for the Blackhawks, we all knew they’d be playing in April. The only question with them was which seed they’d receive.

This will be the third consecutive year in which the Blackhawks and Wild have met in the playoffs, with the Hawks winning both of the first two series. While the Blackhawks remain mostly the same team that eliminated the Wild the last two seasons, Minnesota has changed quite a bit without actually changing their personnel.

Two years ago when these two met in the first round of the playoffs, Minnesota was in its first season with this “new group.” By that, I mean it was their first year with Parise and Suter. They also had a bunch of young guys on that team like Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, and Charlie Coyle to name a few. Those guys were still learning the NHL game and weren’t much of a factor. Fast forward two years to now, and those same three guys, as well as others, are huge pieces to this Wild team. My point being that while you’ll see mostly the same names wearing Wild sweaters in this series, those guys have greatly improved over the last couple of seasons. They are more experienced and more confident than before, which is why the Wild are a better team than either one that lost to the Hawks the last two years.

For the first half of this season, Minnesota was really bad. Their offense wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t good enough, and their goaltending was horrendous. This prompted them to trade for Devan Dubnyk, who was having a solid year in Arizona with the Coyotes. After joining the Wild, Dubnyk started 39 games for Minnesota while going 27-9-2 with a 1.78 GAA and .936 save percentage. Those numbers are ridiculously good and are why he is a Vezina Trophy finalist. Once getting Dubnyk, Minnesota seemed to take their game to a new level and started playing like the team we expected them to be, and maybe even better. Defensively, they were strong, and offensively they became better than we’ve seen them in years past.

To compare, this year’s Wild team ranked 12th in the league in goals per game with a 2.72 average. Last season, they ranked 24th and averaged 2.43 a game. Defensively, they finished last season and this season with the same goals against average of 2.42 per game. When your offense jumps from 24th in the NHL to 12th and you stay in the top ten in fewest goals against per game, you know you’re doing something right. Their defense and shot suppression are a big reason why the eliminated the Blues in round one.

In summary, this is a much better team than the one the Blackhawks eliminated the past two years.

As for the Blackhawks, they looked just okay against Nashville in all honesty. They were outplayed in games 1, 2, and 5 for sure, as well as for decent stretches in another game or two. Yet they still won the series 4-2. That goes to show you just how good the Blackhawks are and can be. They tend to make the opponent pay for their mistakes, and they are somehow able to walk that fine line of playing dangerous without losing the series. It’s something we’ve seen from them in early rounds of past postseasons as well.

Surprisingly, goal scoring was a problem for the Hawks this season as they ranked 17th in that category. Their defense and goaltending made up for it, however. The Hawks finished only behind Montreal for fewest goals against per game, and Corey Crawford won his second career Jennings Trophy.

In the first round against Nashville, the script was somewhat flipped.

Corey Crawford was pulled from the net after the first period of Game 1 and struggled again in Game 2, leading to Scott Darling starting the next four games. He too ended up getting pulled after allowing three goals in the first period of Game 6, allowing Crawford to jump back in. The Hawks ended the first round with the second worst goals against average of the sixteen teams in the playoffs.

Offensively, the Blackhawks rank third in the league after the first round by scoring an average of a little over three goals per game. They got Patrick Kane back for the whole first round, and that paid off big time as he was a key reason for their offensive success. His presence not only in five on five play, but the powerplay as well is huge.

In terms of overall team defense, the Blackhawks looked both really good (the 40 minutes of Game 5 and the last 40 minutes of Game 6) and really bad. They had a tendency to give up a goal right after scoring, as well as give up goals in bunches. Look no further than the first period of Game 1 and the third period of games 2 and 5. I’m not sure if they lost focus during those times or what, but it wasn’t pretty to watch. Their team defense was just as much, if not more to blame for Crawford and Darling getting pulled as the two goalies were themselves.

So moving forward to the actual series between the Hawks and Wild, here are my five keys to a Blackhawks series victory:

  1. Goaltending. This goes for both teams. Corey Crawford, who will be the Game 1 starter for the Hawks, has to find his late season form again. He was arguably the team’s MVP for the regular season, and quite frankly, they need him to be just that if they want another parade in June. On the other hand, Devan Dubnyk is going to have his hands full against the Hawks’ offense. If he’s not great, the Wild will be in trouble.
  2. Defense. I know it sounds obvious, but it’s real concern of mine at the moment. Joel Quenneville basically used four and a half defensemen against the Predators due to Michal Rozsival being slow and a major liability and Kimmo Timonen playing the way you would expect a 40 year old to play. This resulted in the Hawks’ top four logging a ton of minutes in regulation, as well as the additional minutes from the five overtime periods that were played. Against Minnesota, Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, and Oduya need to be at their best. Rozsival and Timonen simply have to not make costly mistakes like they each did against Nashville.
  3. Special Teams. The Hawks’ penalty kill has been awful for the past month. They have got to start coming up with more kills if they want to advance. Their powerplay hasn’t been much better. They recorded two powerplay goals in Game 1 against Nashville, as well as another one in Game 6. That means their PP was scoreless for four straight games of that series. They need to start scoring with the man advantage. If they can’t do that, then at least generate shots on goal and momentum.
  4. Depth. Both of these teams have four solid forward lines, although I’d give the edge to the Blackhawks. Their fourth line caused some major problems for the Predators in round one, and they’ll need to keep it up against the Wild. The Hawks’ third line of Bickell, Vermette, and Sharp was alright, but not good enough. It looks like Teuvo Teravainen will be back in the lineup for Game 1 in place of Kris Versteeg, and he’ll be taking Bickell’s place on the third line with Bickell moving up with Kane and Richards. The trio of Teravainen, Vermette, and Sharp looks dangerous on paper, and they’ll have to be on the ice.
  5. Home Ice. The Blackhawks have home ice advantage this round, and have to make use of it. They went 3-0 at home against Nashville, which was huge after winning Game 1 on the road. Minnesota finished the season with 24 road wins this year, and went 2-1 in St. Louis in the first round. Needless to say, they don’t seem to mind playing in hostile environments. They are also a solid home team and play in one of the league’s loudest buildings. While the Blackhawks always seem to get a big road victory or two per round in the playoffs, they’ll need to win at home against this Wild team.

This is going to be a real tough test for both teams, but with Minnesota playing the better hockey at the moment, it may be a bigger test for the Hawks. They’ll be going up against another Vezina finalist after beating Rinne in the first round, and will have to somehow find a way to beat Dubnyk.

We’ve talked all year long about the Blackhawks needing to “flip their switch,” but now they really need to. However, if there is one team in the league who can seemingly take their game to the next level at a moment’s notice, it’s the Blackhawks. I’d expect them to do so starting Friday night at the UC.

Hawks in six.

Hey Nashville, HERE WE COME

15-_DSC2491-toresizeWith the Wild losing today to the Blues down in St. Louis, the Blackhawks have now locked up third place in the Central Division, meaning a showdown with the Predators in the first round of the playoffs. There was some real concern coming into today regarding the Blackhawks and what seed they might get for the playoffs. If the Wild had won, that would have meant the Blackhawks would need to earn at least one point in tonight’s contest with the Avalanche to secure the number three spot in the division. With the way the Hawks have been playing lately, getting a point tonight is by no means a guarantee. Fortunately though, the Wild did us all a favor and lost. So tonight’s game is meaningless for the Blackhawks in terms of the standings, but not with regards to momentum.

Before we get into actual hockey talk, let me get back to Nashville for a minute.

I am confident in saying that there is no other organization in professional sports that is more concerned about an opposing team’s fan base than the Nashville Predators. The management down there is literally obsessed with trying to find ways to keep Blackhawks fans out of Bridgestone Arena (click here for evidence). Earlier this season, Hawks fans dominated the stands in Nashville during a contest between the two teams. This was after the Predators had already enacted their “Keep the Red Out” campaign last season; an attempt to limit the number of ways that Chicagoans could purchase tickets to games in Nashville. Since that game earlier this year, and really even going back further than that, the Predators front office has become fixated on finding ways to keep Hawks fans out of their stadium. In the meantime, their team on the ice was collapsing and lost their huge lead in the division.

So here we are on April 11th, less than a week before the Hawks and Preds will face off in Game One of their first round matchup. Have the Predators come up with an effective plan to keep Blackhawks fans out of their arena for the playoffs? I doubt it, and I would love nothing more than for that building to be an absolute see of red for Game One. And honestly, that’s a very real possibility.

Now back to hockey.

The Blackhawks come into tonight’s game in Colorado having lost three straight games to the Blues, Wild, and Blues again. They scored a TOTAL of three goals in those games, while only allowing six. Had they won all three, maybe they are in first in the division right now. Who knows.. Regardless, the offense is clearly struggling at the moment and desperately needs some sort of spark to get it going again.

Aside from the offense not being there, the energy doesn’t seem to be there either for the Hawks. While those two probably go hand-in-hand, they are both problems and need to be recognized as such. Last Sunday night against the Blues at the United Center, the Hawks came out flying, played a pretty decent game, but lost 2-1. Tuesday night with the Wild in town, the Blackhawks seemed to have less energy than Sunday and again lost 2-1. Then on Thursday in St. Louis, the Hawks appeared to have virtually zero energy or desperation and yet again found themselves on the losing end of a 2-1 game. In the final week of the season with a lot on the line in terms of seeding for the playoffs, one would think that this team would have played St. Louis and Minnesota with all the energy and desperation in the world. That wasn’t the case though, and fortunately for the Hawks it didn’t cost them a top three finish in the division.

Tonight, even though they have nothing left to play for, I hope to see the Blackhawks play as though it is a playoff game. They’ve got to get some kind of momentum or roll going heading into the postseason. You don’t want to end the year on a four-game losing streak and start the first round with doubts in your mind about anything. A win tonight, and a good win, should do a lot to help this team get ready for the playoffs from a mental standpoint.

NHL Update

  • With their win today, the Ottawa Senators have pulled off a semi-miracle and clinched a wild card spot in the playoffs. They went 23-4-4 over their final 31 games.
  • Ottawa getting in means either Pittsburgh or Boston won’t. That all depends on how each team does tonight.
  • The NHL’s defending Stanley Cup champion, the Kings, were eliminated from playoff contention Thursday night. Who would have guessed that would happen? The rest of the West is grateful for that.
  • The team who held off L.A. for the second wild card spot, Winnipeg, will make their first playoff appearance since the last time they called Winnipeg home.

I will hopefully get the time to post my first round predictions at some point before the first game on Wednesday. Until then, let’s just enjoy the fact that the postseason is only days away.

NHL goal horn power rankings

Recently the website wejustscored.com was developed where they let visitors listen to the goal horn and song of every team in the NHL. It’s pretty cool and you should check it out. As a result of this website being created, people have begun talking about which teams have the best goal horns and goal songs. Sports Illustrated actually came out with their rankings of all NHL goal horns and songs, which prompted to me to do the same. So, here’s my rankings:

30. ANAHEIM_DUCKS_LOGO Listen

I’ve always hated this one.

29. Minnesota-Wild-Wallpaper- Listen

Not a great horn, and what’s with the sound effects in the song?

28. bluejackets07-rgbjpg-8678ad1b3fbe2735 Listen

The horn is way too short, and I hate the stupid cannon they use.

27. 7327531 Listen

Just too generic.

26. WinnipegJets Listen

Bad all around.

25. 6cphie5heyvfwn6lbzfowe61h Listen

Not a terrible horn, but dumb, dumb song selection.

24. NHL-Nashville-Predators-Logo-Wallpaper Listen

There are worse horns, but Buffalo’s lasts too long. Plus, they have a bad song.

23. third_jersey_logo Listen

Kind of an annoying horn and a bad song choice.

22. 6cphie5heyvfwn6lbzfowe61h Listen

I could live with their horn, but they might have the worst goal song in hockey. Pitbull? Really?

21. crestonwht_rgb Listen

I don’t hate or love their horn, but a very common goal song.

20. ANAHEIM_DUCKS_LOGO Listen

Actually a decent horn. Just not a good song, even though it goes with the “Coyotes” name.

19. 6cphie5heyvfwn6lbzfowe61h Listen

A very mediocre horn, and somewhat of a decent song/chant.

18. NHL-Nashville-Predators-Logo-Wallpaper Listen

Not a huge fan of the horn they use in Nashville, but a very good song considering it’s a country town.

17. 161 Listen

Again, a mediocre horn and song. I’m not a huge fan of sirens mixed with goal horns.

16. 161 Listen

Good horn, horrible song.

15. 6cphie5heyvfwn6lbzfowe61h Listen

Another good horn, but the song is over-used in the NHL. Plus, the wildcat noises get to be too much at a certain point.

14. TampaBayLightning_LOGO Listen

Pretty good horn, and not a horrible song.

13. ANAHEIM_DUCKS_LOGO Listen

Good horn, decent song selection as well. I would have had them higher if they still used “Holiday” by Green Day.

12. 6cphie5heyvfwn6lbzfowe61h Listen

An okay horn, and one of the better goal songs in the league I think.

11. 144 Listen

Very powerful horn with a good song for the fans to sing along to.

10. DRW Logo Listen

Good horn and a custom song. Not bad.

9. New_Dallas_Stars Listen

I love this horn, but the song puts a damper on things here.

8. 174 Listen

Pretty good all around here for Pittsburgh. The horn is what holds it back a bit.

7. 6cphie5heyvfwn6lbzfowe61h Listen

It gets tough to rank now. Good horn and song.

6. st-louis-blues-logo Listen

I’ve always like the Blues’ horn even though I hate the team. Unique goal song.

5. jesus-clip-art-2 Listen

Great horn. Good song selection considering they’re the Flames.

4. si34dm1f9jex9eoexq9l1svqk Listen

Original horn and song. The song is in French and talks about the relationship between the people of Quebec and the Canadiens. Pretty cool.

3. Boston_Bruins_logo Listen

Great horn, but I wish it sounded three times instead of twice. Good goal song as well, especially when the fans are going nuts.

2. Minnesota-Wild-Wallpaper- Listen

Very tough to decide whether this should be one or two. No weaknesses with this one.

1. 56 Listen

The best horn in hockey and a very catchy, fan-friendly song.

Sports Illustrated also had the Blackhawks ranked number one, so don’t immediately call me bias even though I probably am.

Update: Sporting News also just ranked the Blackhawks number one overall in their rankings here.

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.

Minnesota Wild’s new road jersey

Well I said in my NHL jersey rankings post that if the Wild could get some better road uniforms that I’d have them ranked higher on my list. As it turns out, they have come up with new road jerseys since I made my rankings. I have to say, they’re a lot better than the ones they wore a year ago.

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I really like how they added more green to the jersey on the elbows and near the waist. I also love the lacing at the neck. I wish more teams would use that look. This is a significant improvement from their previous road jerseys.