With Sunday’s 4-2 win over the Predators, the Blackhawks find themselves up 2-1 in this best of seven series with Nashville heading into tonight’s Game 4. As was the case on Sunday, Scott Darling will be starting in goal for the Blackhawks as he looks to improve to 3-0 this postseason. Aside from his effort in Game 3, the Blackhawks as a team put forth their best effort in Game 3 as well. That can’t change tonight.
In Game 1 down in “Smashville” as they like to call themselves, the Hawks got badly outplayed the entire first period and trailed on the scoreboard 3-0 heading into the first intermission. Joel Quenneville replaced Corey Crawford with Scott Darling, the rest of the bunch decided to start playing hockey, the second period began, and the rest is history.
Game 2 saw a better first period from the Hawks, and an okay second. They trailed 3-2 heading into the third before the wheels eventually fell off as they lost the game 6-2.
Then came Game 3 at home on Sunday. You could tell right from the get go that the Blackhawks were playing with more energy than we had seen in either of the first two games. They ended up getting the game’s first goal, which is always big, built two one goal leads before surrendering both, and then finally put away the Preds with goals from Saad and Seabrook to make it 4-2. That was the final.
All around, the Blackhawks played with more energy and desperation than they had in Games 1 or 2. They tightened up on defense and didn’t allow many great scoring chances for Nashville, and they were successful with their zone entries for most of the game. Granted, Shea Weber wasn’t waiting for them at the blue line like usual.
Pretty much everything that the Hawks did in Game 3 needs to happen again tonight. They have the Predators’ backs against the wall right now, and a win tonight would all but put the nail in the coffin for this series.
We know Nashville is going to come out playing like it’s Game 7, and unless the Blackhawks match that same level of compete, this series will be tied heading back to Tennessee.
Here are my keys to a Hawks’ victory in Game 4:
- Puck possession. The Blackhawks were one of the top teams in the NHL this year in terms of puck possession, and it’s going to be crucial tonight. Keeping the puck in Nashville’s zone will only lead to shots on goal and scoring chances. Not to mention the fact that the more the Hawks have the puck, the more defense the Predators will have to play, ultimately wearing Nashville down.
- Scott Darling will need to keep his hot streak alive. Nashville is going to get their handful of scoring chances, and Darling is going to have to keep making the big saves. Like I already said, the Predators should theoretically come out flying tonight in an effort to tie the series, so Darling will need to come up big.
- The Hawks’ team defense was much better in Game 3 than in either of the first two. That has to continue.
- Depth. The Blackhawks have an overload of forwards capable of playing right now. Their fourth line recorded the game’s first goal on Sunday and produced a number of real good shifts. If the Hawks can get more scoring and production from their bottom two lines tonight, I like their chances. As I always say: you can’t win without having good depth.
- Lastly, score first. It is so much easier (for lack of a better term) to play with the lead than it is to always play catch-up. Scoring the first goal tonight will not only give the Hawks momentum, but will maybe plant a seed of doubt into Nashville’s minds.
I repeat, the Blackhawks cannot take their foot off the gas peddle in tonight’s Game 4. They have the Predators in a very vulnerable position and need to take advantage of that. Sending this series back to Nashville up 3-1 rather than tied 2-2 would be huge.